Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Soyinka is known primarily as a playwright. He is also a poet and a literary critic as well as a novelist. Season of Anomy is only his second novel; his first, The Interpreters (1965), examines the lives of intellectuals in Nigeria immediately after independence. Their newly acquired independence has left them in a state of limbo, still unsure of themselves and their roles in the new society but on the verge of commitment. Season of Anomy creates a set of characters who have made a commitment to transform society. Soyinka’s characters no doubt reflect his own struggle for social justice, for which he was imprisoned during the Biafran War, from 1967 to 1969. Violence became a fact of life for him. As he records in the journal of his prison experience, The Man Died (1972), he went through the kind of initiation that he attributes to Ofeyi in Season of Anomy.

As with other African writers since 1960, Soyinka’s themes never get far from the conflict between African and Western values. Novelists, especially, have taken on the responsibility of recording and interpreting the impact of colonialism on the African continent. Soyinka’s particular version of that historical occurrence is colored by his cultural bias, the Yoruba mythology of his ancestors. Soyinka has insisted that Africa has its own cultural past that gives meaning to contemporary life.

Some readers complain that Soyinka’s obscurantism interferes with his avowed role as interpreter for his people. While conceding the difficulty of his style, others point to his undisputed mastery of the language and of literary structures. The complexity of his novels may result from the enjoyment Soyinka takes in exploiting his natural talents as well as the complexity of the people, the society, and the African experience that he is interpreting. Soyinka’s accomplishments as dramatist, novelist, poet, critic, and spokesman for African culture were officially acknowledged in 1986, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.