Sunday, March 27, 2011

Physical and Metaphorical Entrapment by the British

"Elesin: I know who that must be. So she found out your hiding-place. Well, it was not difficult. My stench of shame is so strong it requires no hunter's dog to follow it." (54)

Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka

A brief background about what is happening at this point in the production. Elesin has just been captured and put into prison by Pilkings and his men. They heard that he was about to undergo a sacrificial killing of himself and felt this was not just. Therefore, the British men went and arrested Elesin in order to keep this from occurring. As Elesin is sitting in his cell, he says these lines to Pilkings who informs him that someone has come to see him.

These lines spoken by Elesin really stood out to me as important ones in the play. The play as a whole up to this point has been about the British mocking the traditions of the African tribe by using their headdresses at the Ball as a form of entertainment, when they should be used for formal ceremonies. Throughout we see the British people constantly interfering with the cultural traditions that have been going on for years amongst this tribe because they find them not following what they feel is right. It is a play about the British exercising the colonial powers in an effort to spread British imperialism and their beliefs throughout the entire world. This particular line was stuck out to me because as Elesin is saying it, he is physically trapped in a room by the British people. Not only has he been forced into submission by the beliefs of the British people, but he has not been allowed to carry out those beliefs that he holds meaningful with his own native people. By locking him in a room he is physically trapped, but he is also metaphorically trapped and surrounded by all of the beliefs that British feel he should begin to believe in. By keeping him he is no longer allowed to partake in those actions, and they are limiting his actions to a limited number of things. This is the British way of enacting control over the tribe, by taking away their main traditions and trying to replace them with their own. A key line in the above quote is "My stench of shame is so strong, it requires no hunter's dog to follow it." The shame referenced can be looked at several ways also. He obviously has taken on the shame of failing his tribe members for not carrying out his role in the sacrifice, but he has also been forced into more shame from the British. As they tell him that the actions he is doing are wrong and put him in the isolated room, he is no longer accepted in either society. He has been isolated by both, and has let them both down. This was a huge part of colonialism, as the British tore apart the traditions and value systems of the ancient tribes and replaced them with their own on the belief that they were superior. Here we see Elesin shunned from both and left with nothing but shame. No matter what happened he was in a lose lose situation. Regardless of what Soyinka intended I find it very hard to read this text in any other way than through a Post-Colonial lense.

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