The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Professor, the protagonist of The Road, searches for the Word, or Logos, the inward rational principle of language, consciousness, and the natural universe. As the proprietor of the Aksident Store, Professor also dedicates his life to the knowledge and propagation of death, which the Word symbolizes: “The Word may be found companion not to life, but death.” Life is the field of activity, while death, as represented by the Word, is an absolute stasis in which all activity has its unified source. Pursuing the Word can involve the fear of death, which for the Yorubas (the people to which Wole Soyinka belongs) is not considered to be the cessation of life. Professor tries to cheat the illusion of death and embrace the Word, but he ends up only cheating himself.

Death is a constant companion on the road, the synecdoche for the industrial states of Europeanized Africa. The characters in The Road live in ignorance of the true interplay between life and death. Professor’s most intimate medium in his quest for the enigmatic Word is Murano, who is accidentally run over by the truck driver Kotonu during the annual Drivers’ Festival. Murano had been masquerading as the god Ogun, the Yoruba god of carvers, metal, engineering, technology, war, and fire. Ogun symbolizes the creative-destructive principle. Murano dies in a phase known to the Yorubas as agemo and is therefore in a state of suspension: “Agemo, the mere phase, includes the passage of transition from the human to the divine essence.” Murano is a dramatic embodiment of the Word: He is mute, arrested in time, and vanishes during daylight; the Word is silent, eternal, and to most people hidden by the darkness of ignorance.

When Murano is killed, just before the play opens, Kotonu and his tout Samson hide his body in their truck to avoid the frenzied worshipers. Professor discovers Murano and engages him in his former occupation as wine-tapper and companion who might reveal the secrets of freedom from incarnate bondage. As Professor explains, Murano walks with a limp because “when a man has one leg in each world, his legs are never the same.” Murano has one foot on the Word, and the Professor hopes to find rehabilitation in this connection.

Professor’s following consists of a group of drivers and truck-park layabouts who congregate every evening for “communion service,” in which they share palm wine tapped and delivered by Murano. Kotonu asks Professor whether Murano is the “god apparent,” since he was killed in possession by Ogun. Professor thinks that by holding a god captive he can anticipate and cheat the final confrontation with death.

Kotonu, after killing Murano and witnessing an accident at the broken bridge, abandons the road and becomes manager of the Aksident Store. An ambiguous figure, Professor stocks the store from the abundant sacrifice of wrecks and road victims, forging licenses and removing traffic signs to keep his business flourishing. His rationale of reverent purpose—the search for the Word—belies his affinity to the gang of layabouts, whose consciousness of death lacks only his style of spiritual exploitation. Wole Soyinka satirizes Professor by showing how his search leads down the perverse road of madness and megalomania.

The Road consists of two parts, with a series of five major mimes in which one of the characters is in a state of possession. In the opening mime,...

(The entire section is 1414 words.)