Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Writing Violence: Problematizing Nationhood in Wole Soyinka's A Shuttle in the Crypt

Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Writing Violence: Problematizing Nationhood in Wole Soyinka's A Shuttle in the Crypt

Article excerpt


Wole Soyinka's A Shuttle in the Crypt chronicles the poet's plight and sojourn in detention in a Nigerian prison and his attendant reaction to the perceived physical and mental suffering caused by such incarceration. Soyinka, in an attempt to prevent the Biafran secession of becoming the Nigerian Civil War, was misunderstood by the Federal authorities, who subsequently hauled him into twenty-five months detention. A Shuttle in the Crypt is a retrospective anthology, uncovering the brutality and highhandedness of the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon in silencing dissent opinions.

This paper examines the inherent falsehood in Nigeria's journey to nationhood as grounded in this collection. The artificiality of the Nigerian federal state which reflects in the narrative of ethnic differences, mediated by the 1966 political crisis, which led to the destruction of social and political equilibrium in the country and metamorphosed into the Civil War (1967-70) will be evaluated.

Literature and African society

In the early post-independence era in Africa, several poets, playwrights and novelists sought to consolidate national unity and consciousness by producing works which celebrated the past as the harbinger of a glorious future. The most prominent example of this trend was the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, who demonstrated this in Things Fall Apart (1958) and Arrow of God (1964). The celebration of the past was followed by critical analyses of the present, as other African writers produced unsentimental portrayals of social and other problems which became manifest quite early after the attainment of independence. In Ghana, Ayi Kwei Armah wrote The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born (1968), in Season of Migration to the North (1966, 1969) the Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih analysed the psychological and other ambiguities of the African encounter with Europe; Cyprian Ekwensi established himself as Africa's premier urban novelist with books like People of the City (1954), Jagua Nana (1961) and Lokotown (1966).

As the euphoria of independence continued to wear off and the peculiar problems of many countries in the continent became increasingly intractable, many African writers felt they had no option than to incorporate socially relevant issues into their texts by focusing on the shortcomings and challenges of their societies. Chinua Achebe looked at moral and political corruption, and the tension between traditional and modern modes of living in No Longer at Ease (1960) and A Man of the People (1966). Okot p' Bitek dealt with the growing scourge of prostitution in 'Malaya', and the conflict between tradition and modernity in Song of Lawino (1966) and Song of Ocol (1970). The negative effects of western religious incursion into Kenyan society were depicted by Ngugiwa Thiong'o in The River Between (1965), the trauma of the anti-colonial struggle and its immediate aftermath in Weep Not Child (1964) and A Grain of Wheat, (1967) as well as the failure, incompetence and corruption of post-independence Kenya in Petals of Blood (1977) and Devil on the Cross (1980, 1982).

In his novels, poetry and drama, Soyinka consistently castigated the incompetence and insensitivity of many influential groups in society, including politicians (Kongi's Harvest, 1965), professionals (The Interpreters [1965]; Season of Anomy, [1973]; The Lion and the Jewel, [1959, 1962]) and the religious hierarchy (The Trials of Brother Jero [1964]; Jero'sMetamorphosis [1963, 1964]).

Literary texts from Africa are seen by many critics as social documents concerned with the culture and politics of the continent. In the view of F. B. O. Akporobaro, Nigerian literature belongs to this tradition, particularly those that were written in the realist mode. The fictional situations explored in them are often the writers' response to the often-harsh socio-political realities of contemporary society (38). …

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