Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Road is a play by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka. The central topic of the play is death. In fact, the titular road is not just a figurative "road to death" but also a literal one that the main characters travel on. The play is also mythological in nature, which incorporates various Yoruba folklore and cultural artifacts.

The road in question is ruled by the god of death, Ogun. He administers death and destruction through Professor. The latter would trick drivers on the road by displacing road signs that warn of dangers ahead. It could be interpreted that Professor is a metaphor for our blindness to danger. This blindness to the fragility of our mortality could stem from various sources: our unawareness of our existence's importance, single-minded focus towards ambitions, or being caught up in the drama of daily living to ponder the fragility of our existence.

Ogun is not evil for causing death; after all, it is his role. Ogun is simply doing his part to progress the mechanisms of life and death, which all living things in the universe have to take part in. Perhaps the play—along with an earlier poem Soyinka wrote exploring the topic of death, called "Death in the Dawn"—was a way for the famous playwright and poet to understand the losses in his life. Soyinka's friend, Segun Awolowo, died in an car accident before the play was written, and this could be a partial inspiration for the play.

All of the characters in the play are in some way connected to death. Some are agents of death, while others are "scholars of death," learning through their experiences with losses. There is a visible tension between the mortals and the gods. The play is prefaced with a poem about a Yoruba dance tradition. The dance is specifically choreographed to enact our attempt to suspend time and thus suspend or stall the coming of death.

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