Thursday, February 11, 2010

Extra Credit Quiz

I will raise the lowest commentary grade by one (1) letter for the first ten (10) people who answer any of the following questions about Death and the King's Horseman correctly. You can submit answers to all of the questions, but I will only raise one (1) commentary grade per respondent. Submit your answers as "comments" to this post. Answers must quote textual evidence and use proper citations. Here are the questions:

1. What does Olunde mean when he tells Elesin, "I have no father, eater of left-overs"? What is the significance of this line?

2. Who or what stops Elesin from transitioning to the realm of the ancestors at the proper moment? What is the significance to the community of this failure?

3. What is the central conflict of this play?

4. Soyinka goes to great pains to warn would-be producers against a "clash of cultures" interpretation? Why does Soyinka argue that such an interpretation is not only incorrect but impossible?

Please be ready to finish discussion of this play when we next meet, on Friday, 2/12.


  1. The central conflict of the play Death And The King's Horseman is between life and death. Soyinka writes, "Ah, companions of this living world
    What a thing this is, that even those
    We call immortal
    Should fear to die."(9) The characters struggle to find courage in times of fear where death seems to be nearing closer and closer every second.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Soyinka goes through such an effort to warn producers not to depict the play as a clash of cultures because he believes that the conflict is not a clash. In his opinion, in order for there to be a clash amongst two cultures, they must have an equal footing and be similar parties going against one another. However, in this play, it depicts the reality of the situation, one unfamiliar party dominating the native one.

    As Soyinka states in the author's note, "A prejudicial label which, quite apart from its frequent misapplication, presupposes a potential equality in every given situation of the alien culture and the indigenous, on the actual soil of the latter"(Soyinka 5).

    An interpretation of the play as a clash would be unrealistic. This interpretation would be impossible because the British came in, powerful and strong, and dominated the Africans. No clash existed where the two parties fought against each other. There was unequal footing and thus the possibility of a clash of equality had diminished. It was in fact domination.

    Soyinka, Wole and Gikandi, Simon, ed. "Death and the King's Horsemen." New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2003. Print

  4. The central conflict or main theme of this play is death. The Yoruba believed that life is a continuous cycle where the dead are not forgotten and the not-yet-born are treasured. They believe that the best parts of the life cycle are the transitions from one life to the next. The theme of death is what the main character, Elesin, faces through out the play because he has a responsibility as a king’s horseman to sacrifice himself after the king dies. They believe that by doing this, he is repaying a debt because he lived a fine life in the company of the king. His distraction in the end is his failure as he is arrested before being able to perform his duty. He is surrounded by people that have fulfilled their duties, and is the only one that failed. The very last line of the play reiterates the theme of the cycle of life “Now forget the dead, forget even the living. Turn your mind only to the unborn.”

  5. 2. In Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka, the failure of Elesin transitioning into the realm of the ancestors is clearly portrayed after the ritual was stopped by Mr. Pilkings at the moment Elesin had “began to follow the moon to the abode of the gods” (p. 51). Instead of letting him die, Mr. Pilkings believed he had done a great thing by saving his life; Elesin however does not see this interruption as a positive thing. The significance of his failure not only shames him but also messes with his community’s whole existence. As Elesin put it, “the world is set adrift and its inhabitants are lost” (p. 51) when referring to the destroyed ancient tradition he caused. Because they were failed by their leader, the people themselves in turn also failed to help their king find his way in the next world. Iyaloja represents the anger and shame for everyone as she comes with a burden (p. 57) and talks to Elesin before he kills himself. In the end, Olunde’s sacrifice was the only way that the community could hope for some future stability once again.

  6. 1) When Olunde tells Elesin, "I have no father, eater of left-overs," I feel that he is telling Elesin that he needs to finish what he had started. I say this because, as Iyaloja said at the beginning of page 56, " You have betrayed us. We fed you sweetmeats such as hoped awaited youon the other side. But you said No, I must eat the world's left-overs....You said No, I shall step in the vomit of cats and the droppings of mice; I shall fight them for the left-overs of the world."

  7. Shawna Bruell

    1.) The meaning behind the line "I have no father,eater of left-overs," that Olunde says, has the contextual meaning that,he is in a sense blaming his dad for the fact that he allowed himself to get sidetracked by the colonists objectives.

    3.) The main conflict of the play is not only the Yoruban people's strong beliefs in the cycle of life and death. That conflict feeds into the larger theme which is an exploration of conflict between the Yoruba culture and popular western culture. For example, when Elesin, must kill himself as part of a traditional ceremony so he can follow the king into the after-life. The colonists do not understand this custom,among others. The conflict between the two cultures is the central conflict of the "Death and the King's Horseman" play.

  8. 1. What Olunde is saying that since his father has betrayed his people and community that he has betrayed his son. Elesin is no longer his father because he allowed himself to be distracted by the young woman instead of doing his duty. Since Olunde's father was not able to fulfill his purpose, Olunde has to.

    2.There are many things that stop Elesin from transcending to the realm of the ancestors. There is the young woman who he feels he must marry and put to bed, he blames the gods for deserting him, and he blames the white man for preventing him. I believe that is Elesin's lust that truly stops him from committing the deed. It is only Elesins fault for not transcending when he was supposed to. This is significant to the community because it shows an outright display of going against customs and tradition. Despite Elesin saying he will follow the King onto the next life he doesn't. The people believe that the life and the world is not in order and how it should be now.

    3. The central conflict of this play is the conflict within Elesin. His purpose is to kill himself and follow the King, yet he allows himself to get distracted causing him to not fulfill his duty and being a failure to the community and the King.

    4. Soyinka goes to great lengths to warn people to not misinterpret the play because it is not about white colonization or supremacy. It is about one mans role to his community and his failure. This interpretation is impossible because the play is based around Elesin and his actions, or lack there of, which leads to him getting thrown in jail by the white man.

  9. Roxanne Rohr
    Death and the King’s Horseman
    Wole Soyinka

    Option 3
    The central conflict of this play are the differences between cultures and how what one culture thinks is correct over another. The African culture believes what they are doing, by proceeding with the death of the king’s horseman, is right. The Europeans believe what they are doing, stopping the death over grieving the king, is right as well, but each cultures' actions conflicts with the other’s during the ceremony. The Europeans think the Africans are wrong, and the Africans think the Europeans are wrong by their actions. The character Olunde who is part of the African culture is telling the European woman, "Yet another error into which your people fall. You believe that everything which appears to make sense was learnt from you." (Soyinka 43). This man is telling the Europeans, that just because you have never been taught to think that the African ceremony is a good thing, does not mean it is categorized as a bad thing. The African culture in this story seems to see that what they are doing seems wrong to the Europeans, however, they need to proceed with what their culture should do. The Europeans cannot see both sides. They are blind to the African way, making them think that this is a criminal act, but really it is only different than how the Europeans would grieve a king. The Europeans are not accepting a cultural difference. The underlying tone to this story would be, to not be prejudice to what is seems different to you.

    Soyinka, Wole., and Gikandi, Simon, ed. “Death and the King’s Horseman”. New York:
    W. W. Norton and Company, Inc, 2003. Print

  10. Colleen Bogert

    3. The central conflict of Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka is the clash between cultures. The Western Culture did not believe and suicide and therefore thought it was a criminal act to commit suicide. However, the Yoruba culture expected Elesin to commit suicide and if he did not then he had went against his people. The conflict between the two cultures is the issue of life and death. Amusa said, "I am here to arrest Elesin for criminal intent" (28). The criminal intent here is Elesin planning to commit suicide. It is an issue between the beliefs and practices of two different cultures.

  11. Kelsey Souleret

    1. Olunde is referring to Elesin’s failure to fulfill his duties as the King’s horseman. Since Elesin failed to crossover to the realm of the ancestors, Olunde no longer recognizes him as his father. The phrase “eater of leftovers” is an insult that compares Elesin to a dog, not fit to eat at the table. This metaphor is continued in other insults, such as when Iyaloja says that Elesin will "step in the vomit of cats and the droppings of mice" (pg. 56). Iyaloja is also calling Elesin unfit for civilized contact. She also makes a reference to Elesin as a dog when she says the "his son (Olunde) will feast on the meat and throw him the bones" (pg. 62).

    2. Although it is Pilking’s interference that keeps Elesin from transitioning to the realm of the ancestors at the proper moment, it is also arguably Elesin’s fault for allowing Pilking’s to interrupt and not being committed enough to cross over despite the interruption. This is how the community views the incident since they place the blame on Elesin and not on Pilkings. Elesin himself even feels shamed by his failure saying that “more than deserves (their) scorn” (pg. 55).

    3. The central conflict of the play is the struggle between life and death. It is a metaphysical struggle within Elesin. The British are ignorant of the importance of this conflict and act as antagonists in the play. The struggle ends when death and duty prevail and Olunde takes the place of his father. At that point, Elesin’s suicide is just that, and no longer has any greater meaning or purpose. Iyaloja says that "He (Elesin) is gone in to the passage but oh, how late it all is. His son will feast on the meat and throw him the bones" (pg. 62).

    4. Soyinka’s argues against an interpretation of the play as a “clash of cultures” because there is no equality between the two cultures represented in the play. When one culture is inequitably dominant over the other, than there is no “clash”. Soyinka does not want his play to be centered around the differene between the Britain and Nigeria, but about the "essence of death and lamentation" (pg. 3 see footnotes).

    Source: Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King's Horseman. New York: Norton & Company, 1975.

  12. Danielle Kuykendall

    3. The central conflict of Death and the King's Horseman is the clashing cultures of the British colonialists and the Yoruba people. The main conflict occurs when the District Officer Simon Pilkings tries to prevent the horseman's ritual suicide from taking place. Elesin says "You did not save my life, District Officer. You destroyed it," (50).

  13. Natasha Bauer

    Olunde’s statement, “ I have no father, eater of left-overs” (50) is in very simple language, however, its message is in fact very bold and complex. Because Elesin failed to martyr himself at the proper time, he has shamed not only himself, but his people and most of all, his son. Olunde, who we find out is brave enough to kill himself to try and fix the faults of his father, is largely disgusted by Elesin’s shameful efforts, or lack thereof. First he declares how he had disowned his father the second that he found out Elesin had not yet died in the name of their culture’s tradition when he begins his fury, “ I have no father…” (50). Then he uses a very strong metaphorical insult to convey his rage. When Olunde claims that his father resembles the level of dignity of left-overs, he is flat out calling attention to Elesin’s cowardly behavior, a quality that almost kills any level of character or strength. By “eater of left-overs”, Olunde is referring to the fact that Elesin is not only living on borrowed time, but that he has been discarded from any resemblance of the father figure, protector or leader. Elesin to Olunde, is literally living on recycled time, considering that his purpose in life was to escort the King through the gates of heaven. Elesin’s time to die a proper death has passed, he is not supposed to be living, his usefulness as a human being, a mortal, has passed and been discarded. He is expired and recycled and his existence serves no purpose, or at least that is what Olunde thinks, vividly.

    Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King's Horseman. New York: Norton & Company, 1975.