Death and the King's Horseman Questions and Answers: Act IV

Wole Soyinka

Questions and Answers: Act IV

Study Questions
1. How is the Pilkingses’ mimicry of the egungun ritual different from the schoolgirls’ mimicry of the British?

2. How is it significant that the Resident does not recognize Amusa and the constables as part of the native police force?

3. What World War II story does Jane relate to Olunde? Why can’t Jane comprehend the ship captain’s action?

4. How does Olunde respond to Jane’s story, and why? What does this say about Olunde?

5. Why does Olunde deny that he has a father at the end of Scene Four?

Answers
1. The schoolgirls’ mimicry of the British demonstrates their cleverness and their resentment. The Pilkingses’ act of mimicry is clumsy and artless. The schoolgirls have something to gain from acting British—better treatment by the colonizers and the potential to rebel successfully. In contrast, the Pilkingses are arrogantly attempting to reproduce, authentically, a ritual that they have no interest in truly understanding. They gain only entertainment from their performance.

2. That the Resident doesn’t recognize the three West Africans as part of the native police force suggests that he views all Africans—all black people—as essentially similar in their inferiority to the Europeans. This is significant because it demonstrates the extent of the racism of colonialism. The colonizers cannot distinguish among individual Africans and see them as unique human beings; rather, all Africans are alike, and all need to be feared and controlled.

3. Jane tells Olunde about a World War II naval ship that has been blown up in the harbor by its captain in order to save the other ships and the town nearby from potential hazard. She cannot comprehend the naval captain’s duty to go down with the ship because, as she ignorantly tells Olunde, death is always unnecessary. She simply cannot conceive of self-sacrifice for the preservation of the community.

4. Having been raised as the son of the king’s horseman, Olunde has always understood that self-sacrifice for the greater good is an honorable and occasionally necessary action. He responds very positively to Jane’s story because the ship’s captain has played a heroic role that is similar to that of his father. This reaction suggests that Olunde has a strong sense of honor and self-sacrifice himself.

5. Like the rest of the community, Olunde believed that his father would fulfill his duty to the community. He is so shocked and disgusted to find his father still alive that he can hardly stand to look at him. Understanding that the honor of his family is at stake, as well as the harmony of the cosmos, he denies that he has a father.