Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316

The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a novel by Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola. The novel was the first major African literary work to be published in English outside of Africa. One of the most prominent themes of the novel is the depiction and integration of Yoruba culture in the narrative, as well as in the prose style itself. Tutuola uses a modified version of English based on the manner Yoruba people speak. The author also incorporates a Pidgin type of language developed in Nigeria and among the Nigerian diaspora. The story itself is either based on, or references, Yoruba folklore and mythology. In this regard, the novel can be considered an ethnographic-based literary work that depicts various cultural artifacts and elements.

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The other major theme of the novel is the journey trope found in many epic stories. The main character, who loves to drink palm wine, journeys through a supernatural realm in order to revive his wine tapper, who had recently died. The journey is filled with obstacles and tests. During the journey, the protagonist meets various characters from Yoruba folklore. The fact that the main character is a wino illustrates that the author tried to make an analogy between escapism through alcohol and an escape from reality by journeying through the supernatural world.

Another major theme in the story is the importance of magic and ceremonies in Yoruba culture, and in West African culture in general. Even the palm wine at the center of the narrative is used in West African ceremonies, and thus serves a symbol of the culture within the story. The main character is someone who abuses the recreational usage of palm wine, which could be the author's attempt of articulating the loss of a drink or item's cultural significance when used constantly for personal pleasure. However, the palm wine's symbolism could also be a way to reiterate the importance Yoruba folklore and ceremonies.

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