Themes and Meanings

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated August 8, 2023.

Guilt and Redemption

The related themes of guilt and redemption are central to Song of a Goat. Zifa feels guilty for not being able to provide Ebiere with a child. This guilt leads to his anger and bitterness. He blames Ebiere and Tonye for his misfortune and demands that they be punished. However, Zifa's guilt eventually consumes him, and he drowns himself in the sea.

These themes are integrally related to the play's setting, where tradition and superstition are strong. In the world of this story, people are quick to judge and punish those who break the rules. This is what happens to Zifa and Tonye. Even though they each die by their own hands, their deaths are a form of punishment for their transgressions.

The play's ending is ambiguous but suggests that redemption is sometimes possible. Zifa's death may have been a necessary step in his journey toward atonement. By dying, he can escape the cycle of guilt and violence that had consumed him. Tonye's death, on the other hand, is a reminder that redemption is not always an option. Sometimes, the guilt is too much to bear.

Arrogance and Hubris

Zifa is a proud and traditional man who believes he is superior to others. He is quick to judge and condemn those who do not live up to his professed standards. Zifa also believes that he is immune to the consequences of his actions. Although he knows his sacrilegious transgressions and their consequences, he denies that he needs any purification.

As is common among tragic heroes, Zifa arrogantly believes that he can defy fate and control the outcome of events larger than himself. He dismisses the advice of Masseur and Orukorere, people more knowledgeable in discerning the will of the gods, believing that he knows best.

When Masseur suggests a possible solution to his impotence, Zifa is more concerned with how others will view him. He rejects the idea because he is too proud. To Zifa, public embarrassment is the ultimate shame.

ZIFA: Next everybody would be saying, there

Goes the cock with the flaming red crest

But touch the thing and you'll find it

Colder than a dog's nose.

This attitude eventually leads Zifa and his family to tragic ends.

The Wisdom of Elders

Masseur and Orukorere are both elders with wise and important advice for the younger generation. These two repeatedly offer guidance and share premonitions, both asked for and not. However, Zifa and Ebiere dismiss them and their advice to their own detriment. 

Masseur is disregarded because Zifa and Ebiere find his suggestion shameful, while Orukorere is dismissed as mentally unstable. The fact that Zifa and Ebiere ignore the elders' advice and then meet tragic ends places great value on the teachings of elders: it is wise to follow their advice, and ignoring it can lead to catastrophe. 

The play also includes the message that elders are not necessarily to blame for their advice being ignored. Zifa and Ebiere are deeply troubled characters struggling to cope with their emotions and flaws. They are not in a state of mind to listen to reason, no matter how wise the advice may be. Thus, sage advice is not always enough to change people's minds, and even wise elders can be powerless to stop a cycle of violence and destruction.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access