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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Taking the Moral High Ground from the West

Olunde, the son of Elesin in Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman”, takes a powerful and convincing stance against western colonialism of his country. Adebayo Williams, in his article titled “Ritual and the Political Unconscious”, describes him as “a perfect match and counterfoil to the arrogance and chauvinism of the colonial administrators” (191). This aspect of his persona is best demonstrated in the play by his conversation with Jane Pilkings during the ball.
In arguing with Jane about the ceremonial suicide about to occur with his father, Elesin, Olunde manages not so much to justify the savage customs of his culture but to point out the savage and immoral customs of western culture and in doing so appears to the reader to gain the moral high ground against the colonial administrators. Jane touts the imperialism of Great Britain in Olunde’s country as a positive thing and cites their prevention of his father’s ritual suicide as evidence to the morality of the West and the savagery of his nation that they wish to eradicate by their involvement. Olunde is quick to respond with “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 [WWII]? Of course you have also mastered the art of calling things by names which don’t remotely describe them” (44). He implies that the West is no less if not more savage than his own nation based on the large scale war that is raging throughout Europe.
Olunde also serves as a foil to the positive view of western imperialism by citing their arrogance and disrespect for his culture. The interruption of their sacred ritual of Elesin’s suicide and the desecration of an ancestral mask for the sake of Mr. Pilking’s costume are two such examples. “No I am not shocked Mrs. Pilkings. You forget that I have spent four years among your people. I discovered that you have no respect for what you do not understand” (41). Olunde is pointing to the arrogance of the western imperialists who have taken control of his country. He does not see their involvement and their intervention, no matter how good their intentions are, as a positive impact on his country and he continues to oppose them throughout the play.

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