The Interpreters has no central plot; it is instead a sequence of dramatic scenes and lyric descriptions that follow a chronological line, interrupted by periodic flashbacks and recollections, during the rainy season in Nigeria from May through July. The action shifts from Lagos and the university city of Ibadan to the back country and lagoons outside populated areas. The main characters are university graduates, who have studied and traveled abroad and have just returned to Nigeria because of the country’s newly obtained independence. These intellectuals, interpreters of the new Nigeria, are trying to find their way within the new political structure, within a society dominated by confusion, insensitivity, social climbing, and corruption. One thing that holds the novel together is the gradual movement of the interpreters Bandele, Egbo, Biodun Sagoe, Kola, Sekoni toward an awareness of their situation.
The first story that Wole Soyinka introduces is that of Egbo, the grandson and heir of a tribal chief and warlord. His dilemma is whether he should return to the old village and assume his powers and privileges (including polygamy) or abandon them and adapt to the new Nigeria. By delaying his return (he does make one abortive trip toward his home country), he in effect chooses to remain in the present, though the alternatives plague him throughout the novel. The dilemma is compounded by another: Should he remain with his mistress, Simi, a nationally famous courtesan with whom he forms an intimate relationship early in the novel, or abandon her to commit himself to a university student, a feminist, who is pregnant with his child and who challenges the moral prudishness of the university elite? The old African society, which Egbo has forfeited, has a social structure permitting him to keep both. The new society demands that he...
(The entire section is 756 words.)