Sunday, March 27, 2011

"The Color Thing"

Olunde: Don’t think it was just the war. Before that even started I had plenty of time to study your people. I saw nothing, finally, that gave you the right to pass judgment on other people and their ways. Nothing at all.
Jane: [hesitantly] Was it the…color thing? I know there is some discrimination.
Olunde: Don’t make it so simple, Mrs Pilkings. You make it sounds as if when I left, I took nothing at all with me.

Soyinka, Wolfe. Death and the King’s Horseman. New York: W. W. North & Company, 2003. Print.

This part of the conversation between Olunde (an educated Nigerian native) and Mrs. Pilkings (a European woman living in Africa) shows some of the more subtle underlying ignorance in the Pilkings’ outlooks. Simon Pilkings’s outbursts at African natives quite clearly show his ignorance, but in those instances he is well aware of his ignorance. He of course still believes he is superios and correct, but he knows that he does not understand African culture. In the above lines, however, the reader can see that the scant ideas Mrs. Pilkings about cultural relationships is insufficient: she is ignorant of her ignorance.
It is easy to proclaim a belief structure for a group of people, but we must realize that no one is entirely aware of his or her own belief structures. Mrs. Pilkings is the most sympathetic European character in the play, but this hesitance to face an issue she believes to be at the crux of the colonization issue shows that she does not understand the relationship. Another interesting aspect is that the reader does not know what Olunde took with him, so we too are left in the simple and misunderstanding role of colonizers.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I agree with this argument. Mrs. Pilkings comes off in a better light in contrast to her husband, but her ignorance is evident and, in its own way, just as demeaning as her husband's blatant disrespect for the religions of others. Mrs. Pilkings oversimplifies the argument that Olunde makes as if "the color thing" as if that is the only problem that Olunde would face. It is true that she acknowledges the fact that there would be racial discrimination against Olunde, but she cannot seem to stomach the fact that Olunde is critiquing the culture of her people. He is actually saying that he believes that they have no right to criticize others because they are not, contrary to their beliefs, in any way superior; they are merely different. Mrs. Pilkings does not appear to believe that Olunde is capable of making this kind of assessment and, as a result, condescendingly concludes that the only problem Olunde could possibly be talking about is the issue of race.