Death and the King's Horseman Summary and Analysis: Act IV
by Wole Soyinka

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Summary and Analysis: Act IV

New Characters
The Prince of England and various other guests at the fancy-dress ball.

The Resident: A civilian colonial administrator who is Simon Pilkings’ superior.

Aide-de-Camp: A military assistant to the Resident.

Olunde: The eldest son of the Elesin Oba.

The fancy-dress ball is in full swing in the great hall of the Residency, a sort of “palace” for the Resident, who functions as the colonial stand-in for British royal power. Various guests dressed in a variety of costumes anxiously await the appearance of the crown Prince, who has been on a tour of British colonial holdings. The Prince makes his appearance at the ball as the guest of honor. The Resident proceeds to introduce, selectively, various couples to the Prince, including the Pilkingses. The Prince is fascinated with the Pilkingses’ traditional garb, and they proceed to show him the details of the costume and demonstrate the dance steps, clumsily and inaccurately imitating the sounds of the egungun ritual participants. A footservant enters with a note intended for Simon that the Resident intercepts. Having read it, the Resident interrupts the Pilkingses’ performance for the Prince and pulls Simon aside. The note, of course, refers to the ritual suicide that is to take place. The Resident expresses his concerns: first, that Simon has not properly done his job controlling the natives and second, that a riot might erupt on the very evening of the Prince’s visit—such an incident would be quite a disaster since Oyo is supposed to be a secure colony of His Majesty. Just then, Amusa and the two constables appear. The Resident mistakes them for the ring-leaders of the riot, but Simon admits that they are, in fact, native policemen. The Resident takes in their sloppy appearance and absent-mindedly wonders what happened to their uniform hats and sashes. Instructing Simon to send him a report first thing in the morning, the Resident returns to attend to the Prince and other guests at the ball. Dismissing Amusa from service because he still cannot bear to look at Simon while he is wearing the egungun outfit and mask, Simon runs out of the hall followed by the two constables, leaving Jane behind.

A young black man dressed in a Western suit emerges from the shadows at this time. Startled, Jane asks who he is. Olunde apologizes and explains that he seeks the District Officer. Jane recognizes him as the Elesin’s eldest son, whom Simon helped “escape” Oyo four years ago to attend medical school in England. She greets Olunde warmly, telling him he looks well. Olunde takes in her costume, tells her she looks well too, and asks why she is desecrating an ancestral mask. Jane expresses her disappointment that Olunde would take such a stance. Olunde responds that, having lived among her people for four years, he has realized that the English have no respect for what they do not understand. Jane asks him if he did not find his stay in England at all edifying.

Olunde tells her that he has been impressed by the English people’s courage and conduct during the war. This prompts Jane to provide Olunde with a war story of her own. Although as remote a colony as that of Oyo in Nigeria has not been much affected by the events of World War II, there is the occasional bit of excitement. Jane tells Olunde about the time a ship was intentionally blown up in the harbor, not through enemy action but by the captain of the ship himself. Jane says that the captain was obligated to blow up the ship because it had become dangerous to the surrounding ships and the city itself. The captain blew himself up with the ship deliberately because someone had to remain on board to light the fuse. Olunde tells Jane that he finds the story of the captain’s self-sacrifice to be inspiring—an affirmative commentary on life. Jane tells him that such a viewpoint is nonsense, that life should never be thrown away.

Olunde changes the subject, repeating his desire to locate Simon Pilkings. He tells...

(The entire section is 2,332 words.)