Wole to interfere, but it was all in vain.

 Wole Soyinka
is Africa’s chief writer and most prominent fictional figure. He was Born 13
July 1934 near Abeokuta, Western Nigeria. He received his early education in
Nigeria and later attended University of Leeds, where he earned a Bachelor of
Arts degree in English. Soyinka genres including autobiography, literary
criticism, political essays, poetry, drama and novel. He is most recognized for
his creative writing, and in 1986 he became the first African to win the Nobel
Prize for Literature.

HISTORICAL
CONTEXT

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Synopsis

‘Death and the king’s Horseman’ is a play that took
place in Nigeria during British colonial rule. It narrates the responsibility
of Elesin, who was a noticeable chief and the king’s chief horseman. It tells
that the king had died a month ago and was to be buried that night. So
according to the local law, his dog, his horseman and his desired horse must escort
him to the world of ancestors. Before leaving this world, Elesin notices a
beautiful girl at the market whom he chooses to marry. It happened that the
girl was already in relationship with his son, Iyaloja, the ‘Mother’ of the
market, does not refuse the wish of the dying man.

When the district officer Pilkings learnt about the
prepared ritual suicide from his black sergeant Amusa, he orders him to arrest
Elesin and the couple. who hands him his report on a piece of paper.  Amusa seeing what they were wearing; “an
African costume of a death cult” he refuses to speak to the couple because the
clothes they were wearing have the power of death.

Amusa unable to achieve his mission goes back to
report his failure to Pilkings who leaves to command the operation himself.  Olunde who had comes home to bury his father
asked Pilkings not to interfere, but it was all in vain. He leaves to see his father’s
dead body after hearing distant drums announcement. After sometime, Elesin is
brought in, humiliated and painfully ashamed. He falls at Olunde’s feet, but he
refuses to identify him.

We later see Elesin at his improvised prison where
Pilkings gives him a regrets message from his son Olunde, for his reaction.  Soon afterwards, Elesin’s people comes in with
burden, a courier by which Elesin should send the waiting king a message to
tell him that he must set out on the journey alone. The courier contained the
face of Olunde. Seeing the face Elesin strangles himself to death.  The young wife closed his eyes unable to
withstand the scene.

THE
BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN

AYI KWEI ARMAH

Ayi Kwei Armah who was born in 1939 in the port city
of Takoradi, Ghana, belonged to the first generation of postcolonial African
writers. He left Ghana in 1959 to attend the Graton School in Graton, MA.
Afterwards, he attended Harvard. His writing has been profoundly influenced by
the pungent combination of political, cultural and economic ideologies in the
struggles to end colonialism.  His career
has included journalism, letter campaigns, and pedagogical theory as well as
fiction.

THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN.

“The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born” is st in
Takoradi Ghana. It mainly focuses the period when corruption was well-known and
one was judged by the wealth one has, without asking how that wealth was made.
This resulted to wealth, spiritual and environment decadence reached it peak.

The story opens and closes on the road. A picture of
a decrepit bus bearing the man, who is fast asleep, splutters to a stop in the
dark night. When we come to the end of the book, we are told that it is early
morning when the man just woke up from a long sleep. He is watching the very
new bus, taking off on its long journey. The man just woke up from a long
sleep. These link us with the beginning of the story. This is man on the road
walking home.

Synopsis:

The unnamed hero of The Beautyfly Ones are Not Yet
Born, has been thoroughly disheartened by his country’s weakening. We see a
high school-educated civil servant for the national railroad; being torn
between two conflicting desires. Man want to provide a comfortable life for his
wife and children and at the same time, he is disgusted by what is required to
get rich in Ghana; partaking in the bribery and corruption that go along with
almost every public business. His refusal to engage to fraud and corruption hurts
his family; this makes him feel embarrassed of his own honesty.

To escape from the reality of life, the protagonist
goes to visit a friend the Teacher, to whom he pours out his problems. The
teacher provides an uneasy sort of ease, although he does not argue with his
friend’s right to remain honest. What the teacher does is to clarify the
protagonist’s sense of his own dilemma.

Koomson is seen coming to man’s home to seek for
help when the regime is overthrown in a coup. Man smuggles Koomson out through
the latrine hole. After getting him safely away on the fishing boat, he swims
ashore and returns home to a country run by a new government and the round of
corruption begins again.

A crisis take place when the regime is overthrown in
a coup and Koomson, a corrupted character comes to his home to seek help. ‘The
man’ helps to smuggle Koomson out through the latrine hole. After getting him
safely away on the fishing boat, he swims ashore and returns home to a country
run by a new government and the round of corruption begins again.

The novel’s portrayal of an alienated and confused
individual has elicited comparisons to the existential novels of French writers
Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus; its lengthy passages of psychological
description and its difficult syntax mark it as an heir to the works of
European modernists such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and D.H. Lawrence.
(Brooks, p. 127). The novel was criticized by various African writers like
Chinua Achebe who took Armah to task for insufficient respect for Africa.
(Achebe p.40)

COMPARING THE IMAGE OF DEATH IN DEATH
AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN AND THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN

The similarities
between these two novels are that they are both postcolonial novels. The
writers try to show the impact of the colonizers among the local people.
Soyinka in his play “Death and the King’s horseman” shows the distraction the
colonizers did to the Yoruba people. This occurs when Pilkings tried to hinder
Elesin ritual. This caused deaths of two people. Elesin and Olunde in the
community. In “The Beautyful ones are Not Yet Born”, Armah emphases on some
forms of corruption that depart from valued values and principles of
post-colonialism. 

In death and the king’s
horseman, the image of death is viewed as phenomena. The whole play is centred
on death.  It revolves around the
attempts s of a Yoruban village chief to commit rituals suicide against the
efforts of the local British magistrate. 
It is an escape. He has nothing left to live for and has shamed himself
by not dying when he meant to. Without thinking, he quickly kills himself. Iyaloja
says these in the final line of the play, “Now forget the dead, and forget the
living, turn your mind only to the unborn” (p.63). She highlights the
significance of death in the society and acknowledges its role. It is answerable
for making the unborn, the future, and realistic. Olunde choices suicide as a
means of redeeming the honour of his society and expiating what must have
seemed to him as his father’s abominable cowardice and treachery. But rather
than easing the burden of the people, Olunde’s suicide only compounds their desolation.
The praise singer again captures this moment of historic stress:

“…What the end will be, we are not Gods
to tell. But this young sprout has poured its sap into the parent stalk, and we
know this is not the way of life. Our world is plummeting in the void of
strangers.” (p.75)

 

It is difficult to identify
the point at which Olunde’s role as a cultural hero ends and where his role as
the rear-guard defender of a backward looking political order succeeds.

 In The
Beautyful ones are not yet born, the writer uses a metaphor of death. Death of
conscious. We see that the optimism of bright young hope is replaced by
cynicism and consciousness of failure. Over the entire country broods a mood of
hopeless gloom. The prospect for most of these people is bleak. Their lives are
marked by spiritual sterility, boredom, and loneliness; from the night clerk’s
cry of anguish: “but l sat here alone, and l was wishing somebody would come
in, and all night long there was nobody. The soul destroying monotony of
colourless jobs, in oppressive offices is hardly more endurable because home is
much worse. The optimism of bright young hope is all too easily replaced by
cynicism and consciousness of failure: but along the streets, those who can,
soon learn to recognize in ordinary faces being whom the spirit has moved, but
who cannot follow where it beckons, so heavy and the small, ordinary days of
the time” despair is written on the face of almost every character.

Death is desirable in ‘Death and the King’s horseman,
In the Yoruba culture, death is not something that is feared. It moves one past
the earthly confines of the body and moves one soul to a better dwelling. Death
also functions as a means to attain honour in the society. Elesin’s death would
confirm that he lived obediently and would save his people. When he fails to
die and destroys his chances of attaining this honourable status, it is his son
Olunde who steps up and fulfils what his father could not. Death is not
something that either man fears, but rather something that should bring admiration.

In ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, death is
consuming everything and it is destroying. Rama Krishna, horrified by the
threat of decay he saw around him, he had and decay, withdrawn into the
spiritual life, practising yoga, and living on a frugal vegetarian diet. In a
frantic attempt to avoid corruption and decay, he decided never to touch a
woman, but to save his semen, and rejuvenate his brain by standing on his head.
In spite of his efforts, corruption and decay overtook him:

“…It was of ingesting
that he died, so very young, but already his body inside had undergone far more
decay than any living body, however old and near death, can expect to see. It
was whispered-how indeed are such things ever known, the disease had completely
eaten up the frail matter of his lungs, and that where his heart ought to have
been there was only a living lot of worms gathered together tightly in the
shape of a heart”. (p.56)

Maanan being a symbol of patient suffering
represented the millions of Ghanaian women betrayed by husbands who have failed
them and politicians who have exploited and destroyed them. Maanan’s
disillusionment drives her to insanity. When we last see her she looks “like
something that had been finally destroyed a long time back”. She is the fine
sand through her fingers and muttering: They have mixed it all together!
Everything!”

In Death and in King’s horseman, death is a rite of
passage. A cycle of birth, death and after life. The dead are not forgotten. The
ancestors are pleased and valued as guides and companions. The not yet born are
also cherished, and new babies might be ancestors returning to physical life.
Elesin’s accountability as king’s horseman is to ratify the changeover from
life into death in a ritual manner, to remind the whole community through his
death that life is a range. We see Elesin and the women of the village are
preparing for his death, and the masqueraders take the ceremonial seriously, as
a reminder that the ancestors are present. Amusa being a muslim too shows that
he has respect for the stolen clothes Pilkngses wear to the ball shows the idea
of death through the play.

Elesin being on transition has special rights. His appeal
for the Bride, although unforeseen, must be approved. Since “the claims of one
whose foot is on the threshold of their abode surpasses even the claims of
blood.” Iyaloja knows that the child to born of Elesin and the Bride will be strange,
“neither of this world nor of the next”. As if the timelessness of the ancestor
world and the unborn have joined the spirits.”

Olunde dies in his place and Elesin since he didn’t
complete his transition. He did so after seeing the disorder established by the
father and son retrogressive roles, kills himself. Simon and Jane are dismayed,
but Iyaloja and the bride are docile and accepting. The Bride “walks coolly
into the cell” to close Elesin’s eyes in the appropriate, ceremonial way. In
the last line of the play, spoken by Iyaloja to the Bride, “Now forget the
dead, forget even the living and turn your mind only to the unborn.”

In the Beautyful ones are not yet born, death is a cycle
of birth, death and decay, mostly notable in the form of a man-child through
Aboliga the frog who goes through the whole life cycle in seven years. This man-child
is a symbol for the post-independence Ghana. According to the story, the
picture was the, man-child in its grey old age; totally old in everything save
for the smallness of its size, a thing that deepened the element of the
grotesque. The manchild looked more irretrievably old, far more thoroughly
decayed, then any ordinary old man could ever have looked “… it had been born
with all the features of a human baby, but within seven years it had completed
the cycle from babyhood to infancy, to youth, to maturity, and old age, in its
seventh year it had died a normal death.” (p.63). The argument Armah is making
here is that the childhood advances almost immediately into the events
associated with adulthood. That is, beautiful marriage, war, wrecked dreams,
corrupts government, disease, and manifold deaths. Ghana is a newly independent
country but deep in corruption, just like the manchild looks ‘irreversibly old,
in too short a time and undermine. Far more through the activities of the man,
new hopes of better life in future begin to be felt.

The man, in chapter fourteen of the novel, comes
home happy and met the wife in front of his hall door; being happy, he had an analectic
look into the past ‘thinking of youth and days in school when the eyes ‘something
he could only think of as a deep kind of love, a great respect (p.160) the
result of this is the warm embrace that follows between them, a union of the
Man and the wife after a long period problem of disunity. According to Ogede,
this type of alliance of husband and wife, ‘signals the Ghana in their struggle
to rid it of corrupt practices, despite its apparent lack of remedy as depicted
by the ‘irretrievable old’ nature of the old man-child.

Koomson used to live in an insolent luxury at the
expense of others when he was a minister. After the military coup which
overthrows his Party, he is afraid of being killed and seeks refuge in the
man’s room. The stench that emanates from his body especially his mouth due to
his decay is unbearable to the man:

“…The smell was
something the man had not at all foreseeable. It was over pouring, as if some
corrosive gas, already filled half liquid, had filled the whole room,
irritating not only nostrils, but also inside, of eyes, ears, mouth,
throat…..the man though he would surely vomit if he did not get out from this
foul smell” (p.161-163)

The passage above, shows how Koomson’s decay suggest
moral corruption.

Death as a ritual of sacrifice.

When Elesin first appears on stage he is full of
determination to carry out his duty both to the king and to the entire
community. He has a duty to be loyal to the king as his personal friend and to
the community because only by going through the sacrificial death will order in
the community be maintained. Failure to die would be a violation of a
prevailing tradition and as far as the people are concerned, it would cause
their king to wander endlessly and this would have disastrous results on the
community.

Elesin’s determination to face death is dramatized
through the “Not- l bird song” he does not only recite, but perform the song.
He dances and moves towards the market square, chanting the words and mimicking
characters. Elesin seek death willingly sets him above other people in the
community.  “…It is not he who calls
himself Elesin Oba it is his blood that says so”.

In The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ death can be
seen as Alienation. The man moves through a dystopia of fragmented individuals
and lost connections. He identifies with ‘lone and empty’ departing trains
(p.15) and his fellow commuters travel in pockets of isolation; everyone alone
with his troubles. (p.103) the Atlantic caprice, which should serve as a
rallying point for communal indignation against the new power-structures,
divides and isolates, making the ‘angry ones’ feel the loneliness of mourners
at a festival of crazy joy.” (p.10)  in
the fourth chapter, we see a lamp lit tableau of solitaries, prostitute, market
mammy, Madonna and child each wait in silent isolation from one another.
(p.35), and in The Teacher believes that anyone in his society who wants to be
happy end up must involve in corruption practices. This makes it is difficult for
him to look after his parents and marry, hence he runs away from his home to
leave lonely life. When the man goes to him he finds the teacher sleeping
naked, reading and listening to music (p.91) we also see that, The teacher,
Maanan and Koffi Billy are alienated from themselves by resorting to drug
abuse. The man is alone in his decency and loneliness is a burden to him.

 

CONCLUSION:

Soyinka and Armah have
devoted themselves to building national cultures. In the above discussed text,
they use the image of death to criticize corruption and betrayal of the class
of African leaders that occurred after independence.