The African world-view in Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman
In his play, Death and the King's Horseman, Wole Soyinka uses certain literary forms and devices to intermix Yoruba culture and a predominantly European dramatic form to create a play easily understood by the audience, but that allows the introduction of a foreign influence. These devices include the use of a songlike quality in dialogue and the telling of stories, the use of personification and metaphor to give an exotic quality to the play, and the use of certain elements to provide the reader with a sense of the mystic traditions that are Africa. These Yoruban elements are best explained by the character Jane with "You talk! Your people with your long-winded, round-about way of making conversation" (1171), and the character Pilkings with "What is she saying now? Christ! Must your people forever speak in riddles?" (1176). The use of rhythm and a songlike quality in the dialogue and the telling of stories is used by Soyinka to transport the reader to another place. In the following excerpt, the character Elesin uses a rhythmic, song-like chant to tell the story of the Not-I bird, the bird itself being symbolic of fear.
Elesin: (Executes a brief, half-taunting dance . . . as he chants the story of the Not-I bird, his voice changing dexterously to mimic his characters . . . )
Death came calling.
Who does not know his rasp of reeds?
A twilight whisper in the leaves before
The great araba falls? Did you hear it?
Not I! Swears the farmer. He snaps
His fingers round his head, abandons
A hard-worn harvest and begins
A rapid dialogue with his legs. (1158)
Soyinka uses personification and metaphor to lend an exotic, poetic quality to the play. In this excerpt from page 1159, Elesin personifies envy, symbolizing its attacking quality, uses houseposts as a metaphor to symbolize the building of trust, and termites as a metaphor to symbolize the way in which time eats at all things. Elesin...