Literary Criticism, the Interpreters: Soyinka's Prose Style

By Goddard, Horace I. | Kola, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Literary Criticism, the Interpreters: Soyinka's Prose Style


Goddard, Horace I., Kola


A writer's first task is to make himself understood by his intended audience so that he may stimulate and motivate them into intellectual, social or political action. To do this, the writer must be committed to his subject of discourse to the extent of producing literature that is engage. Soyinka's The Interpreters fires the imagination both intellectually and politically by exposing the socio-cultural seepage, the colonial decadence and the post-colonial moral decay in modern Nigeria. His prose style reflects the growing rift between the past and present, between action and inaction, between abandonment of social responsibilities and commitment to progress and change finally between individualism and group solidarity.

Chinweizu, Onwuchekwu Jemie and Ichechukwu Madubiuke criticize Soyinka for this obscurantist style, which is seemingly derived from his poetry. There is some merit to their argument if Soyinka is writing for the masses, which clearly he is not doing at all times, since vast numbers of Nigerian are illiterate. I would argue that the syntactic complexities, the difficulty in understanding some of his diction and the deliberate manipulation of English prose patterns, give Soyinka's prose that sometimes hard and sometimes brittle and pliable quality that best symbolize the economic, political and social realities of present-day Nigeria. This prose style is sustained by language that is iconographic, language that shows a society in transition and language that reveals the moral bankruptcy of leadership in Nigeria.

Niyi Osundare refers to Soyinka as a "rugged wordsmith" whose forge casts words with cryptic hardness packed into sentences whose compactness strikes like a thunderbolt." Soyinka's manipulation of language shows the malleability of language and demonstrates how best the writer can use language to unravel and reveal his deepest mysteries and most private philosophy. In this paper, I shall explore some of the language forms that Soyinka employs in his prose style.

To begin then, we must agree that language is a multi-purpose tool in society and that its primary function is affording a means of communication among the members of that social entity. Language is also provides a group with an identity and a sense of solidarity. People who do not belong to a particular linguistic community, but who acquire its speech, gain acceptance and are able to function with a degree of ease. These people are said to have the 'common touch.'

Language is classified according to its usage, by linguists and others, as standard, dialect, idiolect, register, slang, vulgar, colloquial, regional, local, international, and the classification goes on. Language is also used to distinguish social class, status and even racial and cultural backgrounds. The writer's choice of language for his writings creates a situation for an interesting analysis. At any given point in his/her career, the writer might use some or all of the above forms of language. However, no matter what linguistic form is appropriated in a piece of writing, the writer has a commitment and a social responsibility to facilitate the comprehension of his works.

I would caution the reader at this point that Soyinka uses language in a very complex way in -ret~. The language is tailored to suit h is particular needs. It has specific icons, rhythms, nuances and references that easily recognized as distinct from Englishes. I agree with Kenneth Ramchand that writers cultivate languages of their own. That is why the literatures of the various Commonwealth regions differ drastically although similar motifs cut across them. A European language cannot sustain what Ramchand calls the "sub-phonemic responses to language." It is for this reason that a non-native users of English are forced into their own culture for equivalents to express a particular consciousness, and h s results in a hybridization of language forms.

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