Critical Context

Amos Tutuola has the same reputation in the literary world as “primitive” painters in the art world. His novels are “unsophisticated,” meaning that their structure is episodic and dreamlike, their syntax awkward, and their diction childlike. From a psychological point of view, however, their settings, situations, and characters are archetypal: intense symbolic evocations of the essential human experience of birth, maturity, and death. From a literary point of view, Tutuola’s work has the virtue of simplicity in that it always tells an unself-conscious story and the virtue of freshness in that it injects new life into old words. In My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, for example, “ghost” accommodates “ghostess,” and “television” becomes “Television-handed Ghostess.” In The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town (1952), the novel for which Tutuola is best known, the “dead” become the “deads” and “drunkard,” “drinkard.” Furthermore, Tutuola is unperturbed by the conflict between the folk tradition to which he is heir and the religion and technology which are replacing it, but includes the latter in the former in the same “primitive” pastiche. In his stories, Tutuola sees with the unrestrained eyes and speaks with the incautious voice of a child, and this sets them apart from much of the overcivilized fiction of today.