Wole Soyinka: Death and the King's Horseman

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In his play, Death and the King's Horseman, Wole Soyinka would have us examine every clash and conflict, save for the one involving culture. Certainly this may seem the most obvious part of the play, but we would do the general understanding of Death a disservice if we ignored one of the central conflicts in the play. Every element of the play is placed in terms of two extremes, and the cultures must be considered one of those pairs. Suicide is no exception to this examination; it must be seen in the conflicting lights that Soyinka gives us: British vs. Yoruban, physical vs. metaphysical, personal vs. social; and an expression of failure vs. a form of redemption. In examining how the play divides suicide so completely through these lenses, we can better understand the actions of Elesin and Olunde.In the Yoruban world, it is clear that everything exists in a large backdrop of history and awareness of the gods and the universe. While living is a personal experience, everyone is a fragment of reality. Thus every action has an impact on everything. All Yorubans and the entire world are interconnected. This is why the community is so close and so attentive when it comes time for Elesin to follow his king to the afterworld. Elesin's suicide is a communal act. It affects everyone, alive or dead, because it has little to do with Elesin personally. It is not his choice or decision; it is something that will happen. So, on one hand, suicide is a social act in this play.However, if we examine the lenses that Soyinka gives us to see his play, we can see the conflicts develop. In the Western world, suicide is mainly seen as a personal experience. Although there is religion - Christianity - there is nothing that ties the death of one person to another in the supernatural world. If you kill yourself, that's it. You face God separately from everyone else; your life is viewed by itself. This is closely connected to the Western belief of free will. No...
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