Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Text to Context: Re-Interpreting Suicide in Ola Rotimi's Kurunmi

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Text to Context: Re-Interpreting Suicide in Ola Rotimi's Kurunmi

Article excerpt


Prelude 1: Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim

And he was quietly arrayed,

And he was always human

When he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses, when he said,

"Good-morning" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich-yes, richer than a kingAnd

admirably schooled in every race:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish we were in his place

So, on we worked, and waited for the light

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head

(Robinson, 1953)

Prelude 2: Personal Observations

The year 1999 was my first encounter with Edwin Arlington's poem; Richard Cory. As a high school student, I read the first lines of the poem with admiration and felt a momentary feeling of literary envy for the great man that Richard Cory was. I almost felt being like him especially with the pulse and impulse that accompanied his description. But as the lines of the poem flipped out of my 'recite-ment' and made an imagined way to my memory, I was confronted with the terrible ending; "[he]...went home and put a bullet through his head." Within a moment, I had to pause to come to terms with the fact that a man like that could actually kill himself - the envy of all. Because I could not place exactly from the poem what had ignited Cory's suicide, I decided alongside my mates to ask our teacher; why did Richard Cory kill himself? Our teacher wobbled with the reasons especially as it was not stated in the poem nor could the reason be traced. That was my first encounter with the act of suicide (self -termination of life) in literature.

In 2003, four years after I left high school and became a university undergraduate at Benue State University in north central Nigeria and a fresh drama student, I was exposed as is the normal routine to the basics of the drama discipline. Though I was not quite interested as a student in the art of dramatic performances, I was caught up in a careful study of some of the plays that were recommended for reading and practical presentation. My interest I think was because literature was my best subject in high school where I read novels, plays and recited a number of poems. I read in my first year a number of plays some of which I was also opportune to play a role. The first play I read was A Restless run of locust (1975) written by one of Nigeria's famous playwrights; Femi Osofisan.

In the play, two conflicting characters were engaged in a serious political battle. As opponents, they employed all the tricks, treachery and machinations in order to ensure victory. It was a battle between the young and the old. The old thought they have the wisdom to lead, the young considered their strength. However, at the end of the play, the young politician won the election. The old man to avoid shame from the defeat and considering how much money he had spent, went inside and committed suicide.

In 2010 at the University of Ibadan during the course of my postgraduate programme for my Master's degree, I once again came across and read a number of plays; The Gods are not to blame (1968) by Ola Rotimi (Ojuala a female character committed suicide), A song of a Goat (1964) by J.P Clark (Tonye a male character committed suicide), Kurunmi (1971) by Ola Rotimi (Kurunmi committed suicide). The several suicide acts in these plays raised concerns for me to investigate the phenomenon of suicide. In July of 2010, I wrote and presented a research paper for the 7th International conference on sustainable development held at the University of Calabar, Nigeria titled; "Between interest culture and Murder culture: Reflections in Nigerian dramatic literature." In the paper, I tried to examine the predominant culture of murder in some literary texts that I had read. …

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