Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Religion

The primary theme of Wole Soyinka’s play is religion. All the characters are drawn together in some way through the festival of Ogun, which tragically results in the death of the protagonist, Professor, who is a deeply spiritual person. Furthermore, the metaphorical association between mundane practices and spiritual motivation is suggested both by the title The Road and by many of the characters’s professional association with driving.

The public side of religious beliefs assumes a large share of the action through the celebration of Ogun’s festival, which includes the masked egungun dancing. Professor’s devotion moves outside acceptable bounds, however, when the palm wine he supplies helps turn a celebration into a fracas. Kotonu’s transgression in running over the mask and initial desire to hide from the mob turns into a conversion experience as he is surrounded by the sacrificial blood in the costume. Professor also pays with his life, but at the hands of Say Tokyo, who is abetted by Salubi. The egungun’s power is ultimately superior, though, as the masked one in turn takes Say Tokyo’s life.

Ethics and Legality

Another important theme is the relationship between ethics and legality. Many characters engage in business practices that are outside the law, but the playwright suggests that their practices are often socially necessary and need not be unethical or immoral. It might seem that the devout elements in Professor’s nature would create an internal contradiction with his business, but he compartmentalizes the two areas. This shows that what is illegal might not necessarily be unethical or considered wrong from a religious perspective.

Socioeconomic Inequality

The socioeconomic urgency of transportation is highlighted within the social world that Soyinka depicts. Because the process of becoming a legally licensed driver is out of the reach of most people, drivers often obtain their credentials illegally. Passengers and the clients who contract with trucking services to move goods participate in the underground economy. In doing so, they support a variety of illegal businesses, such as forging documents that is the Professor’s specialty. The economic difficulties also mean that many potential workers find no employment; the unemployed drivers that Say Tokyo Kid organizes take on paid odd jobs that include supporting political bosses who might steer patronage jobs their way.

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Characters