Death and the King's Horseman

by Wole Soyinka

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Questions and Answers: Act III

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Study Questions
1. Why do the market women insult Amusa’s manliness?

2. How do the schoolgirls overpower Amusa and his constables?

3. What is the significance of the schoolgirls’ mimicry of Englishness?

4. Explain the competing definitions of “official business” and “duty” in this scene.

5. How does Elesin commence the suicide ritual, and who will assist him?

1. The market women insult Amusa’s manliness because they perceive that he has deserted his culture. Rather than contribute to the Yoruban community by building roads, as his father did, or continue the culture by participating in Yoruban beliefs or raising a Yoruban family, Amusa has joined forces with the colonial authorities. The women metaphorically equate this choice to abandon Yoruban culture and community with a lack of true manliness.

2. At first the school girls overpower the constables because there are more of them, and because they quickly steal the batons and back the constables into a corner. However, their tactics become less physical and more psychological when they begin making fun of the British, Amusa’s superiors whom he obeys and tries to emulate.

3. Through mimicry, the school girls defeat and humiliate the three constables. On a deeper level, the mimicry is significant because it demonstrates that the girls are resentful and critical of the British rulers although they first learned to mimic English people by attending colonial schools.

4. Both the native policeman and Elesin believe they are doing their duty, but these concepts of duty conflict. The native policemen derive their sense of duty out of their occupations under the colonial government. Their official business is to prevent the ritual suicide from happening by taking Elesin into custody. Elesin derives his sense of duty from the pivotal cultural role of king’s horseman that he has inherited from his father as well as from his obligations to his community to preserve cosmic harmony. His official business is divided between consummating his marriage and leaving behind an heir, and performing the ritual suicide.

5. Elesin wills himself into the hypnotic condition of the death-trance by dancing and chanting. He has asked his new bride to close his eyes. The Praise Singer also assists by talking with Elesin in the voice of the dead king and then by praising the deeds and life of the Elesin as he dances around.

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