Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Proverbs in Wole Soyinka's Construction of Paradox in the Lion and the Jewel and Death and the King's Horseman

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Proverbs in Wole Soyinka's Construction of Paradox in the Lion and the Jewel and Death and the King's Horseman

Article excerpt


Paradox, which is one means through which conflict is resolved in Soyinka's works, also accounts for the difficulty in interpreting his works. Proverbs play a significant role as a creative tool in the playwright's construction of paradox for the representation of the reality of his society and envisioning a better one. The article focuses on how proverbs have been strategically infused into the plays to lend a paradoxical edge to characterisation and the ironic resolution of conflict in the plays. A critical study of the proverbial idioms employed in the plays (these idioms are critically related to some salient Yoruba proverbs outside the texts) show that the charge of obscurity that is often levelled against Soyinka is attributable to his deployment of the tool of paradox to achieve aesthetic and philosophical significance. The study is informed by an agential approach to literary criticism which makes possible the establishment of connections between authorial intention and the agency of the text.


Paradoks, een wyse waarop konflik in Soyinka se werke opgelos word, verklaar ook waarom sy werke so moeilik is omte interpreteer. Spreekwoorde speel 'n belangrike rol as 'n kreatiewe werktuig in die toneelskrywer se konstruksie van paradoks vir die voorstelling van die realiteit van sy samelewing en om 'n beter samelewing te visualiseer. Die artkel fokus op hoe spreekwoorde strategies in toneelstukke geintegreer is om 'n paradoksale kant aan karakterisering en die ironiese oplossing van konflik in die toneelstukke te gee. 'n Kritiese studie van die spreekwoordelike idiome wat in die toneelstukke aangewend word (hierdie idiome staan in 'n kritiese verwantskap met sommige treffende Joroeba-spreekwoorde buite die tekste) sal aantoon dat die obskuriteit waarvan Soyinka dikwels beskuldig word, toe te skryf is aan sy aanwending van die paradokswerktuig om estetiese en filosofiese betekenis te verwerf. In die studie word 'n agentgerigte benadering tot literere kritiek gevolg, wat die bewerkstelliging van aansluitings tussen die skrywer se bedoeling en die teks as agent moontlik maak.


Many interpretations of Soy inka's works have revealed that tile playwright is a gifted literary writer whose writings reveal his full consciousness of the significance of literary art as a means of interrogating and charting a course for the transformation of society. In spite of this, the tedious task of uncovering meanings embodied in his works has given rise to another critical consensus that the playwright is fond of indulging in obscurantism. By way of analogy, his much-criticised work, A Dance of the Forests, written in commemoration of Nigerian independence is appropriate to mediate the foregoing critical positions. A Dance of the Forests, like most of the playwright's works that cut across the three conventional genres of literature, might not adequately communicate the ideal of the pursuit of social well-being which is behind its composition from a non-culture-specific perspective. The idioms of the play which derive from the culture of the playwright undergo an intricate process of symbolic functionality as the idioms themselves transit from their original genre of orality to another within a new literary practice which the colonial epoch inaugurated in various African societies--written drama.

The anti-proverbial dimension to the use of language in the two texts as explicated in the present study may be seen as one way in which the playwright deliberately manipulates the African oral resource (Yoruba proverbs) to reflect his acceptance of modernity on the one hand and his rejection and contention of a "racialist understanding of culture and modernity upon which European imperialism rationalized its violence" (George 2003: 138) on the other hand. His works can, therefore, be best described as "symbolic artefacts" which, as Paisley Livingston argues, can be so identified for meaningful interpretation on the basis of "a number of important assumptions about the activity of sentient agents, beginning with the writers whose efforts are indispensable to the existence of literary works" (Livingston 1991:10). …

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