Close Reading: Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsemen Free Essay

Differences in European and African Views Based on Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsemen

 

JOSEPH: No master. He will not kill anybody and no one will kill him. He will simply die.

JANE: But why Joseph?

JOSEPH: It is native law and custom. The King die last month. Tonight is his burial. But before they can bury him, the Elesin must die so as to accompany him to heaven. (Soyinka 2.66-68)

The conversation between Joseph and Jane uncover the essence of the ritual of suicide of the King and his horsemen to Jane, who cannot get the point from her European/Christian perspective. At the same time, this dialogue has multiple implications and reveals the relationship of power, the relationship between the native population of Africa and European colonists, reveals the difference in the attitude of the native population of Africa and Europeans to life and death, authorities, religion, and other issues. The brief passage reveals the striking difference between Joseph, the native born African, and Jane, a typical representative of Europen civilization, who has absorbed Christian values and can hardly view the world from a different angle, until she arrives to Africa, where she uncovers a new, different world with absolutely different worldview which is incomprehensible and mysterious for her.

The opening line of the passage clearly shows the relationship of power between Joseph and Jane. Joseph refers to Jane as ‘master’ that reveals the intrinsic inferiority and subordination of Joseph to Jane, while Jane holds the absolutely superior position of the master. The difference in the position of Joseph and Jane is particularly significant because Jane is a woman, who holds the inferior position among whites, where the gender inequality persists. However, Joseph turns out to be even lower than Jane, who holds the lower standing in the social hierarchy of the white society. In such a way, the author emphasizes the actual position of Africans in their relations with Europeans and their social standing. The author reveals that the whites viewed Africans as absolutely inferior and European had strong supremacist views and beliefs. At the same time, as Joseph takes such position for granted, the author shows that the native population of Africa has developed that strong sense of inferiority imposed on them by European colonists, who have taken power in Africa and interfere into the life of the local population to the extent that they intervene into traditional rituals and change the traditional way of life of the local population. However, such intervention ruins the traditional life style and is destructive for the life of people in Africa because their traditional social ties and structures just fall apart.

At the same time, the passage reveals the attitude of Jane and Joseph to death. Joseph is absolutely calm and talks about death as some routine. Instead, Jane apparently cannot understand why Elesin has to die and is probably appalled with the upcoming act of suicide. This is why she needs explanation. Her only remark in the passage “But why Joseph?” is very short but very eloquent because it shows that she is literally speechless. She cannot debate with Joseph whether the death is right or wrong. She just cannot understand it. Instead, Joseph takes the suicide and death for granted. For him, Elesin’s suicide is just as routine as taking a meal day after day to keep living and doing activities which are essential for his regular life. Such difference in their words reveals the difference in their attitude to death. Joseph views death as natural, while Jane is appalled and frightened to death as she cannot understand the ritual suicide and views it as a barbaric act that makes her literally speechless.

Works Cited:

Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horsemen. In Martin Banham and Jane Plastow Contemporary African  Plays. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 1999.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]
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