Monday, March 31, 2008

Death and the King's Horseman: Jones & The Elesin's Hesitation

Elesin Oba: "My will was squelched in the spittle of an alien race; and all because I had committed this blasphemy of thought-that there might be the hand of gods in a stranger's intervention" (57).

Just as Shakespeare's Hamlet ritually abstains from taking his uncle's life, thus also Elesin Oba, the anti-hero of Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman, avoids taking his own. In fact, Jones comments that Elesin Oba's wish to remain in the world of the living is neurotically present from the beginning of the play; he writes, "By the end of the first section of the play the Elesin's involvement with things of this world and his evident irritation at being reminded of his coming death have sown doubts about the firmness of his will" (152).

Jones insists that just as the colonial authority Pilkings ignores the religious significance of the Yoruba people, so also does Iyaloja dimiss the significance of colonial intervention in Elesin Oba's failure to perform his own suicide. Regardless of his father's fatal pause and its significance in the Yoruba community, Jones argues that Elesin Oba is redeemed by the sacrifice of his son and the child he may have planted in his newly taken bride. "In this willing acceptance of his role, and in the promise latent in the unborn child, lie the society's hope of regeneration and of continuity" (154). Elesin Oba, on the other hand, appears to be the victim of an unyielding fate: his people blame him for the failure of the suicide ritual.

Jones' secondary focus upon the temporal relationships present within the play; that being the triad of the dead, living, and unborn; is of no consequence, and in fact betray the far more provocative and telling implications of his analysis of Elesin Oba's death, of the pause that preceeds his death. Elesin Oba, is perceived by himself to be the victim of insensitivity: the insensitivity of his own people to the role played by Pilkings in delaying his death, and the insensitivity of Pilkings to the role played by his own people in causing his death. Understood correctly, both the oppressor and the oppressed powers in this situation have cruelly juxtaposed Elesin Oba between them in this circumstance. However, I would argue that this relationship is particularly destructive for the Elesin and Iyaloja, for while she even refuses to recognize the significance of Pilkings' interference in Elesin's ritual, at least Pilkings is willing to subject the situation to his own gaze-in one case we have an particularly disturbing lack of recognition, while in the other we have a mere instance of insensitivity. I would argue that one must at least be aware in order to be insensitive, but Pilkings' seeming invisibility to Iyaloja expresses an inability to recognize power-and therefore the right to assert that power upon one's self.

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