Sunday, March 27, 2011

Postcolonial Analysis: The Power of Names in Death and the King's Horseman

OLUNDE: By all logical and natural laws this war should end with all the white races wiping out one another, wiping out their so-called civilization for all time and reverting to a state of primitivism the like of which has so far only existed in your imagination when you thought of us. I thought all that at the beginning. Then I slowly realized that your greatest art is the art of survival. But at least have the humility to let others survive in their own way.
JANE: Through ritual suicide?
OLUNDE: Is that worse than mass suicide? Mrs. Pilkings, what do you call what those young men are sent to do by their generals in this war? Of course you have also mastered the art of calling things by names which don’t remotely describe them.

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

The above excerpt from Soyinka’s play takes place Olunde, a native of Nigera, and Jane, a European living in Nigeria. Olunde, who has been schooled in Europe and has returned for his father Elesin’s death, argues with Jane about the nature of WWII. He claims that the whites, with their gigantic war, are no less “barbaric” than the Nigerian natives’ ritual suicide—in fact, he states, war is worse—it’s mass suicide. His sardonic invective that Jane has “mastered the art of calling things by names which don’t remotely describe them” sums his sentiment up neatly.

But his statement also hides a deeper statement on the nature of colonized peoples. A postcolonial analysis of the text reveals the power inherent in the colonizer’s ability to control the names of things. The European’s define “primitivism” and the transparent line dividing “war” and “suicide.” By controlling the names of things, the colonizers also control the identities and self-perceptions of the colonized—the Europeans define “civilization.” Here, Olunde, a medium of both the Nigerian and European cultures, forces Jane to question her pre-conceived notions of Nigerian savagery by forcing her to view European customs and ideals through a new lens. In this way, he is able to subvert her European ethnocentrism and offers a retaliation to her accusations of primitive ignorance by shedding light on her own biased ignorance.

No comments:

Post a Comment