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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Being Pathetic in Williams' "Ritual and the Political Unconscious"

I found Williams’ argument that “Soyinka exposes the absurdity inherent in all assumptions of cultural superiority (188)” simply fascinating because of the amount of double oppression seen in the play, but was even more intrigued by the reasons that Williams gave for support. Most interesting to me was the idea that “in its dying moment, the empire can only produce an Elesin. (190)” Williams goes on to belittle Elesin to display the indecisiveness of the character. Describing him as pathetic allows the reader of the essay to understand the generality of a culture that has and is being slowly colonized and stripped of identity.

By showing the history of the tribe through such a “pathetic” character, Soyinka is demonstrating the lack of certainty in the outcome of tribal struggles in the mind of Elesin and his own mind. As Williams says, “the playwright is an unabashed horseman of a besieged culture fighting a desperate battle against the cultural ‘other’. (194)” Although Soyinka is clearly showing the consequences of westernization of a feudal tribal system, Williams believes that Soyinka is uncertain about the true identification of the tribe. Having the main character be so pathetic, uncertain, and lost between the “inequities of the traditional hierarchy” and “realizing that the culture he was defending had already succumbed to… history (194)” shows the author’s own internal struggle. The only saving grace for Soyinka, and what Williams calls “the most sensitively drawn character in the play (190)”, is Olunde. Williams, and I tend to agree, contends that Olunde’s education and time spent with the colonizers give him a better perspective on which base the “inequities” and his ruined culture’s pros and cons.

Because of his ties to the British and the tribe, Olunde’s comments to Mrs. Pilkings, his disowning of his inept father, and his suicide carry much more weight. Although Williams states the contrary, I believe this is Olunde accepting the “inequities of the traditional hierarchy.” Olunde becomes the defender for the tribe and its traditions, whereas his shamed father metaphorically becomes the acceptance of resignation to a higher oppressor.

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