Adebayo Williams’ analysis of Death and The King’s Horseman seems to be at odds with that of several Marxist critics. Williams opens his piece with formalists praising almost every aspect of the piece. However, another critic, namely Biodun Jeyifo, states that the beauty of the poem is really just an instrument to lull us into viewing the situation from Soyinka’s point of view. Williams then proceeds to detail the clash of Western imperialism, and the ignorance of the imperialists, and the conquered people and their traditions.
Williams mentions that the marketplace is a place of particular reverence in the Yoruba culture because much of what happens as a part of Yoruba society happens in the marketplace. It makes sense that Elesin would travel through the marketplace on his way to his ritual suicide simply because it was that much apart of Yoruba culture.
According to Williams, Elesin’s relatively minor role as the king’s horseman is elevated due to the nature and time of his taking part in this tradition. The success or failure of him to perform the ritual is indicative of the success or failure of the entire culture.
Olunde, Elesin’s son, is portrayed in this article as the voice of reason, having been raised in the traditional Yoruba culture then being sent to the west for school. His voice critiques the entire Western imperial world, saying that they do not respect things that they do not understand. He is westernized yet not arrogant like the Pilkings. Olunde then commits suicide in an attempt to bring about some normalcy, proving that he still honors the traditions of his society.
Williams details the left’s thoughts on Olunde’s suicide as an action that was a product of a “reactionary culture and a flagrantly feudalistic ethos” (p.191). Feudalism plays a big role in Jeyifo’s argument against Soyinka. Jeyifo basically says that Soyinka supports the feudal system that feeds the bourgeoisies (the king) of the Yoruba society. Williams acknowledges Jeyifo’s point, but also mentions that this form of suicide and accompanying the king to the afterlife to bring back order to the cosmos is, in fact, beneficial to the entire society, not just the bourgeoisie.