Analysis of Half of a Yellow Sun and The Interrogation of The Postcolonial


The novel, Half of a Yellow sun, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can be found in your local library under the heading of postcolonial text. This is so because the literature addresses European-Western colonialism and domination and its aftermath (which is commonly referred to as the post-colonial era).  However, this classification of time has been deemed linguistically inadequate by many critics who suggest the term makes history seem fissured – as if theHalf-of-A-Yellow-Sun_Nigeria.jpg independent generation has completely freed itself from the after-effects of colonialism. It is evident that the societies termed as post-colonial are “still subject in one way or another to overt or subtle forms of neo-colonial domination, and independence has not solved this problem” (Ashcroft, 2). As opposed to visualizing the human race in a state of postcoloniality[1], post-colonial literatures, such as Half of a Yellow Sun, become “the discourse of oppositionality which colonialism brings into being” (Appiah, 117). Adichie’s novel investigates the African country, Nigeria, in part, during the Biafran war, and highlights the issues inherent in the concept of a “post-colonial” society or a society after independence. The story is told through the lives of four characters: Odenigbo, Olanna, Ugwu and Richard against the backdrop of a Nigerian society infiltrated, both literally and psychologically, by the British empire. Adichie additionally focuses on the civil war of 1967-70 which was instigated by the growing internal divisions amid a hundred or more ethnic and cultural groups under the influence of formal colonial powers. The political vision of a unified state therefore eluded Nigerian realities; instead, the nation witnessed the “development of new elites…often buttressed by neo-colonial institutions…[ethnic], racial linguistic or religious discriminations [and] the continuing unequal treatment of ‘indigenous’[2] peoples in settler/invader societies” (Ashcroft, 4). Adichie investigates this volatile period in Nigerian history through the polyvocal, interwoven discourses of characters and the third person omniscient, re-cognizing the Euro-based, essentialist, dichotomous concept of the post-colonial.

It is not enough to blame colonial forces for the Biafran war, however, one cannot ignore how British decolonization strategies, which included political supervision and dividing Nigeria into three regions, intensified the differences among the Nigerian ethnic groups. Moreover, the British provided a kind of colonial culture which morphed with pre-colonial Nigerian cultures, developing new and divergent political, caste/class, racial, gendered, ethnic ideologies and actions.  Adichie interrogates this through the main narrative and ‘The Book’ which provides a “de-personalised, global point of view [and back-story]” which “rehistoricises the postcolonial” through a reliable journalistic account lacking in the world outside Nigeria (Akpome, 32). Within the novel, three predominant ethnic groups are mentioned: Igbo (forming the Southeast), the Hausa-Fulani (of the North) and Yoruba (in the Southwest) who have varying cultures, religions and languages. Their system of governance is also disparate, with the Igbos exercising more democratic systems, demonstrated by the general assembly one notes in Half of a Yellow Sun with the elders gathered under the Udala tree (623). The rift between the groups widen when the North becomes the preferred British site for indirect political rule after independence; of the three regions, the North held the majority. This disproportion dominates the ensuing Nigerian political system which not only fuels the Hausa public’s sense of entitlement against “western dressed” African ‘infidels’ but inspires the coup d’etat which later provokes a counter-coup. Prior to this event, the 1960 independence marked an increase in Christian households and the much sought after western education; many Igbos (the wealthy in particular) send their children to British universities which is the case for the majority of the professionals and professors in the novel (along with Olanna and Kainene). Other regions are also said to be “competing so fiercely” for “white salaries” and a white way of life (510). However, the Muslim Hausas do not wholly absorb European cultural imperialism in the same way the Igbos and the Yorubas do. The Northerners, therefore, become the less literate and socio-economically thriving group in the Nigerian population. This fuels the resentment between ethnicities which is exemplified when a man on the plane, next to Olanna, expresses how the bothersome Igbos “own all the shops; they control the civil service, even the police” (738). Similarly, many Nigerians inadvertently adopt the skepticism and stereotypes that the Europeans cast on their ethnic groups. The North is therefore regarded as a site for the authoritarian, self-righteous posse of Hausas, the Igbos are considered to be the “money-loving” clan and the Yoruba are seen as fawning subordinates to their long time British contacts (184). Thus, the desire for all things Eurocentric along with the colonial seeds of mistrust, intolerance and political inequity matured in the ‘free’ state.

The notion of the postcolonial typically speaks to the fascination with novelty in modern/modernizing society; subjects therefore cling to a politics of fulfillment and view themselves as free from old (colonial, traditional) ties. Adichie, counters this misguided presentism in the text and reveals how Eurocentric powers remain in the “new” Nigerian economic and social space. White expatriates remain behind in Nsukka for instance, present at major social events, they rub shoulders with black Nigerians who maintain a mutual relationship with them of give and gain, get and gain. They exert influence and maintain the hegemonic bonds of imperial Britain. They may have left their government posts but they still own many resources and slide easily into the master-servant relationship from the master-slave relationship. However, black men and women can take the role of the dominant or oppressor as well. To illustrate, the white female, Susan, expresses stereotypical racist views, however, she dulls in comparison to Olanna’s parents. Chief Ozobia and his wife are certainly haughty and exhibit their material possessions to give the population something to “covet” as Kainene mockingly puts it. They do not “acknowledge the humanity” of their servants and Art herself severely chastises a worker for simply stealing some rice to feed his family.  Olanna realizes how “[her] father and his politician friends steal money with their contracts, but nobody makes them kneel to beg for forgiveness…they build houses with their stolen money and rent them out to people like [the] man [who stels the rice] and charge inflated rents that make it impossible to buy food” (226).  Their actions indicate that it is not enough to blame the “white man” in a binary of we the blacks versus whites. As Trinh Minh-ha states, “ if we try to find the centre of the empire, we will never find it, even in Piccadilly or Buckingham Palace, because this structural notion omits the institutions and process by which power is disseminated and maintained. Clearly that process is one set in train by the imperial project and continues throughout the colonial world. This is why ‘postcolonial’ can [and should] apply to white settler/invader colonies as much as to the indigenous people” (213). Although Odenigbo and Olanna are kind to Ugwu, his position as the Master and hers as Madam reflects how black faces can imperceptibly reinforce the failed colonial logic of inferior versus superior lifestyle or tastes.

The idea of a unified Nigeria with no ethnic boundaries becomes a political vision for moving forward from colonialism. However, the adoption of modern enlightenment (an intellectual, philosophical European movement that stresses the development of a state in the present) leads many political leaders and their followers in the text to assume that tribal and ethnic differences have to be cast-off.  Moreover, the colonial imposition of European culture carries the idea that ethnic is heathen, “Other” or not fully civilized, thus, difference becomes the enemy. Although “oneness” emphasizes the mutual movement of a people from colonial backgrounds towards a better future, this line of reasoning still has its faults. In particular, it proves difficult to develop a nation-politics which works towards unity by suppressing difference and identities instead of employing them in a constructive way. This generalizing symptom of the postcolonial has partly led to the Biafran war as the nation does not fully subvert English language and culture to decolonize meanings. The characters are all ethnically positioned in some sense but it is crucial to have a sense of self. As Stuart Hall declares, this does not have to be an ethnicity “doomed to survive, as Englishness was, only by marginalizing, dispossessing, displacing and forgetting other ethnicities” (227).  The character Richard rightly states in his letter to an overseas newspaper that “the tribes of the North and the South have long had contact, at least as far back as the ninth century” without engaging in hostile retaliations and killings as seen in the war. Pre-colonial Africa with all its “ancient tribal” struggles had a more “humanistic ethical-orientated”[3] approach to governance and community than the British “informal divide and rule policies” (567).

Through the actions and lifestyle of the characters, the reader observes the ways in which occidental culture acts as “a source of transformative (or modernizing) possibilities” for the ‘encountered’[4] nation (40). However, as formerly indicated, the movement towards “progress” in Half of a Yellow Sun becomes, ironically at times, a regressive move. Take, for instance, the civility of an individual which is not often determined by his/her disposition or actions but by his/her proximity to Europeans, ability to access Euro-based products and mimic European attitudes. This belief also fuels the assumption in the novel that the city typically represents a domain where progress (Euro-consumerism) is centered while the rural landscape, like African cultural traditions[5], is said to support a retrograde way of living. This is communicated within the affluent world of Nsukka when the reader witnesses Ugwu’s growth from unschooled houseboy to learnt boy with modern sensibilities.  Ugwu lived in a small village and on becoming the houseboy, his life of household appliances, “real meals” and “butter” becomes more desirable than what he had known. Thus, the meals that are eaten become symbols of the “innovative” which explains why Harrison (Richard’s cook) only wishes to make western foods, regarding Nigerian foods and herbs as either outdated or “devilish”.  When Ugwu and his guardian Odenigbo are forced to flee Nsukku and end up in Umuahia, Ugwu notes how the “ugly” “unpainted” compound is “unworthy of Master” (645). Adichie deconstructs these assumptions of forwardness and backwardness through “a specific spatialisation of narrative action…swinging between the village and the city” (Akpome, 10), revealing what each location lacks along with the symbiotic relevance of both spheres. She does so in particular with Olanna who reveals an underlying snobbishness in Umuahia when she becomes concerned with who were the “right kind” of people to hang around her child, Baby. She also notes how her aunt’s home is squalid and small compared to the ten rooms of her parent’s home. Yet, the long hallways could not remedy the artificiality of her parents’ relationship, hinting at how literal space or what I call postcolonial architecture can often suppress intimate, familial and communal space. Olanna and Odenigbo fail to fully recognize the usefulness of their culture, they do not consider that the present does not have to mean a rejection of the past. As Jay Ciaffa aptly declares, African beliefs characterized as ‘superstitious’ (witch) are “no more incompatible with scientific development, for instance, than religious beliefs (Saints) that were widely held in the West” at the onset of the modernized age (131). Olanna eventually senses this when she is forced to recognize the appeal of African cosmology, that is, the belief in reincarnation and signs when Kainene goes missing. Thus, Adichie launches Olanna from the periphery into the belly of the war so that the reader is able to learn the significance of the interconnected community and Nigerian convention. If the war had taken place in an impersonal city setting with houses “not so close” as in Umuahia, there probably would have been no character like Mrs. Muokela to guide Olanna or Okoromadu’s mother whose orality enables her son to recognize Olanna and give her dried egg yolks to save Baby’s life.

Apart from location, education and language become an indication of progress in the post-colonial society. The languages of the ethnic groups are displaced in the name of almighty English which is the standard against all other “tainted” languages. English, with its typifying tendencies, becomes a carrier of imperialist culture. Within the novel, characters who are able to speak English are met with better treatment, service, recognition and respect. As noted by Braj B. Kachru, “the alchemy of English (present and future), then, does not only provide social status, it also gives access to attitudinally and materially desirable domains of power and knowledge. It provides a powerful linguistic tool for manipulation and control” (295). Notice the way that Odenigbo constantly says “my good man” or “ignoramus” – how ironic that an anti-colonialist utilizes Edwardian language. Before his article is submitted to the Daily Times, Olanna has to “edit it and tone down his rhetoric, so that his argument…was clearer” (434). This speaks to what Chinweizu Madubuike expresses in his article “Towards the Decolonization of African Literature”: some African intellectuals do feel the need to place “sophisticated” works in the postcolonial space, yet, this “syntactic jugglery” of language denies the validity of the Nigerian culture and also causes Odenigbo to lead his readers into a “wilderness of insipidity” (2). His encrypted ideas should be easily accessible to the public in order to provoke extensive critical thinking. There is also the case of Odanna’s flat versus Ugwu’s “small bush”, the case of the firewood versus the kerosene stove. Ugwu’s home is debased, not so much by Olanna’s tone but by the words which have suggestive in them, the underdevelopment of a people.  Ngugi Thiong’O rightly states that “language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world.” (290). It is important that Nigerians use English to empower themselves instead of becoming human bridges that convey race and class discrimination into the present.

In concluding, Half of a Yellow Sun, as an historical text, provides the reader with a valuable critique of the concept of the postcolonial. Through the mouthpiece of multiple characters, the author reveals how easy it is to repeat the mistakes of the past. Adichie has effectively shown the reader that Nigeria has colourful people with potential and heart. The character Richard, the assumed white outsider, nonetheless, raises the question of who should be responsible to write for the Other[6] as he actually expresses more love for Nigerian culture and food. Ultimately, the text communicates that the signs of progress and success need to be restructured so what Adichie calls the “rich African world” may thrive. Africans then, must evade linguistic traps and the western ornamental (without vilifying them) and think critically about what works best for their individual/communal selves[7], with location and time period(s) in mind.


Take what is needed and run – P. Marshall.




Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Anchor, 2007.

Adichie, Chimamanda. “African “Authenticity” and the Biafran Experience.” Transition, No. 99 (2008), pp. 42-53. Indiana University Press: W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. Web 6 Sept 2011.


Akpome, Aghogho. “Focalisation and Polyvocality in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s  Half of a Yellow Sun.” English Studies in Africa. Routledge, 2013.

Appiah, Kwame. “The Postcolonial and The Postmodern.”  Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, 2005.

Ciaffa, Jay. “Tradition and Modernity in Postcolonial African Philosophy.” Humanitas Volume XXI (2008): 121-144. Gonzaga University. Web. 6 March  2015.

Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth; Tiffin, Helen. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, 2005.

Hall, Stuart. “New Ethnicities.” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, 2005.

Kachru, B. Braj, “The Alchemy of English.” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, 2005.

Korang, Kwaku. “Where is Africa? When Is the West’s Other?: Literary Postcoloniality in a

Comparative Anthropology.” Diacritics 34.2: 38–61 (2004). Project Muse.

Madubuike, Chinweizu. “Towards the Decolonization of African Literature.” Transition. Duke University Press, 2007.

Minh-ha, Trinh. “No Master Territories.” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, 2005.

Sollors, Werner. “Who is ethnic?” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, 2005.

“The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, And Lessons Learnt.” Web. 5 March 2015.


Thiong’O, Ngugi. “The Language of African Literature.” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, 2005.


[1] A state of being that is uncontaminated by colonialism.

[2] Problematic term as Nigeria no longer has a pure, native society untainted by colonialism.

[3] Qtd from “Tradition and Modernity” by Jay Ciaffa, p.  127

[4] Non-European/non-Western colonized world

[5] Odenigbo, Olanna and Harrison label African cosmology, folklore and bad medicine as “rubbish” and demonic.

[6] Nigerians (like Ugwu) should be the ones who value their culture enough to write the story of their people.

[7] Note Mrs. Ozobia’s excessive jewelry and Olanna’s desire for “real flowers” at her wedding.


Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ in Death and the King’s Horseman


The play, Death and the King’s Horseman, interpreted on a superficial level, can be summarized as the failure of a horseman (due to alien forces) to follow his King into the afterlife thereby causing the death of his son. However, this ‘reductionist tendency’ would not suffice for Soyinka or the drama which involves more than ‘the colonial factor’ or a clash of culture (Death and the King’s Horseman, 3).  The play, although based on an historical event in Oyo society, transcends into the metaphysical where the Yoruba community and mind is explored beyond what is discernable to the senses. This also treads into the philosophical realm where Soyinka’s work touches on Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” theory which presents a way of looking at the world. Will to power “is psycho-physiological, it is the commanding thought or the drive of the superman (Elesin Oba) to perfect and transcend the self through the possession and exercise of creative power (actions, proverbs, metaphor, dance)” ( This meta-will also aims to achieve the highest possible station in life (through Elesin’s seduction and appeal to status or Pilking’s desire for recognition). Thus, while Death and the King’s Horseman presents conflicting cultures interacting, these conflicts do not produce the problem but accelerate and complicate it. If we are to consider that human behaviour is an expression of will, then the essence of the play can be found in the ‘Will to Power’ which reworks how the readers assign responsibility to a character’s thoughts and actions within his or her distinct community.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory is highly radical and calls into question the structure of human understanding. This, according to philosopher Arthur C. Danto, makes his theory enlightening but “if we have succeeded in understanding it, in our terms, it would automatically follow that we had misunderstood it, for our own terms are suggested to be the wrong ones” (560). Thus, I aim to extract useful points in Nietzsche’s already unsystematic theory and critique those in opposition with a positive construction of will and community. As stated in the introduction of Death and the King’s Horseman, Soyinka’s work draws its principles from the legends of “Ogun, the Yoruba god of war and creativity” as much as from Nietzsche’s “anti-traditional and rebellious philosophy” (viii). The theorist differentiates between what he calls Kraft (Force) and Macht (Power). Macht is the deliberate channeling of Kraft (exercise of strength) for inventive purposes. It stresses ‘self-overcoming’ which is similar to Soyinka’s idea of “self-apprehension”[1] as the “route forward for Nigeria” (194). Within the Yoruba world, there is also force (Ase: Life Force) which is a mix of performative power and wisdom, giving the individual the ability to act and make changes. Like the play, Nietzsche’s theory “necessarily assumes the character of myth[2], these myths were intimately associated with value-judgments which Nietzsche asserted with passion. And it is perhaps these value-judgments more than anything else which have been the source of his great influence” ( It would follow then, that the characters in Death and the King’s Horseman are ideological messengers who not only comment on the colonial incident but human instincts that essentially shape history and culture.

The Yoruban village of Oyo is presented as a place which values communal wholeness, particularly the marketplace which is a site of kinship and a focalized center to the Otherworld. The Mother of the market, Iyaloja and the praise singers will be responsible for ushering Elesin Oba into the world of his ancestors where he will accompany his dead King, which is his cultural role. However, Elesin is sidetracked by his desire for fine clothes, wine and a beautiful girl betrothed to Iyaloja’s son. He even becomes irritated when they remind him of his impending death. Thus, his subsequent arrest by the District Officer, Simon Pilkings, can be said to be an external factor for his failure. It is apparent that his will power is not colossal; his egoistic intentions hindered his divine journey. Yet, Eldred Jones makes us aware that “when confronted with the ultimate sacrifice, the human will is apt to flinch…self-sacrifice is no mere mechanical ritual” (152).  Similarly, if Nietzsche had critiqued the play, he would have noted how unreasoned it would be to expect a human being to carry out altruistic actions. He would state how the “selfless” ritual Elesin will undergo progresses from a conceited drive, that is, from the will to power. As Olunde tells Jane, his sacrifice guarantees that he would have “peace of mind [and the] honour and veneration of his own people” (43). I understand what he is trying to say because at some point in time we have all done a good deed but have we ever questioned what motivates it? Perhaps to feel good about ourselves or to make peace with God; at any rate, the will to power comes through. However, this will to power does not have to be exclusively self-fulfilling which I would term a primary-egoism[3]; this force would only destroy society and what Soyinka sees as the well-being of man. Elesin confirms this assumption when he displays selfish-egoism with his material and sexual desires. It is not obvious that he does so because of what Nietzsche labels as a ‘disguised form of the will to power’. This means that the will appears to stem from something else, such as the dying wish of an honorable, self-sacrificing man, when it really originates from Elesin’s instinct to possess the flesh and the glory. Iyaloja reluctantly but finally agrees to grant Elesin this. Friedrich calls this disguised form of will: enrollment. This form involves compliance and praise to those in power in order to secure a certain degree of control over them. The Yorubans had to makes themselves indispensable to their superiors in order to coerce them into gratitude. Sending the Horseman into the afterlife in a bitter state might cause him to curse the living community of Orun. With the acquisition of his bride, it is hoped that Elesin will fulfill his duty for the sake of the spirited and civic-enrolled[4] society.

When the moment of reckoning comes, Elesin blames his failure on the “alien hand [which] pollutes the sources of will” (56). Yet, it is his own weakness which weighed down his “earth-held limbs” making it harder to “lift” his “feet” before the “white ghost entered and all was defiled” (209).  It is even said by Nietzsche that the will to power is stronger than the will to survive. Olunde says the white races’ “greatest art is the art of survival” (43). Thus, Pilkings creative force only understands the will to life which sees being as a necessity that people naturally uphold or enforce on others as their civilized duty. However, the willing of a “monitored dissolution almost anesthetic in essence”[5] to be forever remembered in the worlds one synchronized is the “deepest protection the mind can conceive” (43). Thus, it is the stronger will, so how could Pilkings’ weaker will cause Elesin to fail? It is Elesin himself who “squelched” his own will by seeing Pilking’s intervention as a dilatory blessing from the gods. Hence, no matter what another does, your conviction is your will. D.S Izevbaye recalls how this colonial blame is the popular explanation for social change in Africa which prevents true self-reflection about what truly prompts the erosion of African culture. This is not to assume that a traditional Africa exists to go back to as Soyinka’s play is not an accurate depiction of Oyo society in any event. Regardless, his work offers insight as to how accusing others for the situation that one initiates is nothing more than the act of searching for a scapegoat.

Additionally, if one notes the theatrical production of Death and the King’s Horseman, then it is evident that the cyclical dance of the women around Elesin was broken when, unresponsive to them and declining in will to rejoin harmony, he lustfully eyes the Bride. The circle is symbolic of the Yoruba cosmos where the past is a reachable pool and exemplary guide for the present. It is believed that persons live, die and are reborn with every individual emerging from the gods or their ancestors. Everyone is seen as important in helping the community function with the “recognition of the uniqueness and autonomy of the ase of persons” (73). It is similar to the concept of ‘Eternal Recurrence’ in a Will to Power where Nietzsche considers existence to be an ongoing struggle of one will against other wills. It would be possible to claim that these wills operate in equilibrium where individual forces can resist, relate and/or come to an arrangement (union power) such as the Yoruban community.

The European state can be defined as an arrangement of central wills upholding colonial intervention which pins Simon Pilkings and Jane Pilkings into what Nietzsche calls the British ideology of ‘what is good is what is “normal/natural/conventional”. It fuels their defense of the ‘civilized’ against the ‘barbaric’. As the Resident tells Simon, “if [the British] let these little things slip past [them], where would the empire be?” (38). It is this instinct that weakens their power to comprehend what is not in the will of their society to understand. Simon Pilkings only roams into a crisis that was already underway with Elesin trying to will himself to understand the Yoruba worldview. This was paradoxically easier for Amusa whose “conceptual universe still remains deeply tied to traditional Yoruba culture” even though his job requires “colonial modernity” (George, 213). Similarly, Olunde’s knowledge acts as a tool of power that enables him to defend tradition, questioning Mrs. Pilking’s power of habit (Eurocentric norms) which she initially resists. In assigning ‘decadence’ to the Masque, his linguistic Will repels the pigeonhole language of the West with its own force – which neutralizes it. On the other hand, Amusa and Joseph (the houseboy) are bound by the institutional power that Simon exercises. In some ways, they too engage in disguised forms of will in order to secure economic gain and recognition. This is in contrast to the school girls that Amusa and his constables try to bully.  They are able to access Simon’s power more so as they are educated. Yet, as Olakunle George notes, they use this education as a force which mimics the colonial (216). If Elesin’s blaming of the White man can be taken as a valid excuse, then the school girls’ will to defend the honour of their community is stronger than his. Even with prolonged knowledge of European culture, they did not submit to foreign logic.

Before Elesin’s histrionic decline, he was able to employ the power of language, music and dance matured by what Nietzsche calls his Becoming (what all his will in life lead him to).  According to Nietzsche, “words are ‘seductions’ within the process of self-mastery and self-overcoming” (24). His proverbs and riddles are strategies of persuasion in the Will to Power dynamic which delays death and allows him to marry his bride. Thus, his song about the Not-I-Bird proclaims his dedication and trustworthiness through a willful, stirring argument symbolic of his appetite for life. Here, his “egocentricity soars” as he strives to become chief over all space and to spread his force (will to power) beyond “the natural world, beyond the world of men, beyond the gods” (Richards, 197). With a loss of will which is the force of energy and creativity in a human, Elesin is no longer superman but a degraded man, ironically defeated by his own master morality[6] which causes him to doubt the rite of passage. Yet, Elesin’s “cynical preoccupation with pleasure and the spoils of office” or skepticism about “the credibility of his destiny….is not unrelated to the fact that the hegemony of Oyo empire had long ago been fissured by internal contradictions as well as the antagonistic logic supplied by the conquering invaders” (Williams, 190). He is the latter weak willed product of an enfeebled communal will. Elesin’s psychic considerations weaken his resolve once more as he realizes the inequities in his culture: the ruling ‘blood’ is tasked with mustering the ultimate will to die. Unable to embrace this, his personality changes and he no longer possesses the vitality of language, filled with rich imagery and metaphor. Iyaloja, on the other hand, still retains dialectical force with her pertinent proverbs. It seems as if the will of the community reinforced the Horseman’s link to the Yoruba mindset. It is like the myth of Ogun which David Richards mentions, as like the god, Elesin, “having made the world by his creative ritual acts…unmakes it” in a performance of caustic will (206).

The related circumstances would cause Nietzsche to term the Oyo society as a ‘life denying place’ as change is not embraced and in the will to power, change is unceasing in the world. The community did not welcome Elesin’s change in will which symbolizes the change of African society. In not summoning the will to complete his role, his son Olunde, takes the rein and sacrifices himself to make up for the loss of honour. This is not the order of the Yoruban ritual as the will to power has been inverted from the parent stalk to the sap. Elesin would therefore only eat the left overs of the other world. (68) His suicide thereafter can be defined as the will to access personal release from pain but Nietzsche would label it as the social instinct working to destroy the superman. This is because “communal order and communal will are inextricable elements in the Elesin tragedy, which not only reflects but amplify his own failure of will” (157). Elesin represents the will of the community and as such must value the whole against the one. Many critics agree, however, that the metaphysical Yoruban kingdom is patriarchal and feudalistic which makes many readers less remorseful about its deferral at the hands of Elesin. Biodun Jefiyo asks for a better pre-colonial representation of Africa that does not negatively suppress the instincts of the individual to acquire power (“more egalitarian”[7]), thus, everyone has the potential to move above the level of the ‘herd’[8]. Yet, this is not a cry for outright individualism which European hegemonic society encouraged, thus, leading to the invasion and enslavement of Africans in the first place. This is why the machinery of the community is still needed to keep the will to power in productive form. It is true that defiant wills can often be chastised for the “morale of the nation” (44). Afterall, before Iyaloja visits Elesin in lock up, Simon asks him for his word of honour.  According to the Nietzche’s theory, honour is an acknowledgement of the similar and equal in power. It is a form of social will founded on the willingness and aptitude of ranked people (Officer and Horseman) to use force to live up to the role society has bestowed upon them. But in the case of Elesin, he ironically points out that something about society’s habitualness is in need of change. It is good enough that humans can acquire rank and recognition but leaving the will unrestrained and self-centered could lead society into a state of anarchy with fractured relationships. This is why the literal Oyo society preaches caution, composure, patience and respect as the will of others is never certain.

The play ends in a way which suggests that there is hope for the community. Iyaloja tells the bride to “forget the dead. Forget even the living. Turn your mind only to the unborn” (76). Elesin’s failing will does not seem to represent the irredeemable failing will of the people. Will Power, like a battery’s energy, is not shared even if it can be united for strength. It is up to every human then to negotiate between his values and society’s values for a better future.

In conclusion, Death and the King’s Horseman is not so much about an ostensive clash of culture but about the network of metaphysical human wills that affect culture and fates. It is about the questioning of the extent to which we allow alien hands to “bore away the mind and muscle of the race” (6).  Life as Will to Power in the play is fundamentally an act of understanding, a placing of perspectives, a theorizing of values which produce horizons. In the end, communal and individual will can only thrive if it is engaged in the preservation and enhancement of itself and others.



[1] Self-understanding/ introspection

[2] As agreed by Henry Louis Gates Jr pg 156

[3] A will that can buoy other wills while improving itself but refuses to. Unlike Nietzsche, I consider this a weaker will as one’s force is only exerted upon oneself.

[4] Communal will.

[5] Said by Olakunle George “Cultural Ciriticism in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman” pg 208

[6] Nietzsche defines the person with master morality as a superman, the ‘noble man’ who only sees himself as the measure of all things. Slave morality (oddly enough) is linked to the masses that seek the good of the community. He calls for a revaluation of these wills which I think would enable the balancing of self and communal will (Median morality).

[7] Extracted from page 171 in “Ideology and Tragedy”.

[8] What Nietzsche calls the community.

Works Cited

Arthur C. Danto. “Nietzsche” in A Critical History of Western Philosophy. Ed D.J. O’Connor. Free Press, 1985.

Gates, Henry. “Being, the Will, and the Semantics of Death” Harvard Educational Review 51. No 1. Feb 1981

George, Okalunle. “Tragedy, Mimicry and “The African World.” Cultural Criticism in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. Representations 67. University of California, 1999.

Izebaye, D.S. “Mediation in Soyinka” Critical Perspectives on Wole Soyinka. Ed. James Gibbs. London Heinemann, 1980.

Jefiyo, Biodun. “Ideology and Tragedy.” The Truthful Lie: Essays in a Sociology of African Drama. London: New Beacon, 1985.

Jones, Eldred. “Death and the King’s Horseman” The Writing of Wole Soyinka. Third Edition. Heinemann, 1988

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Ed. Walter Kaufman. Vintage, 1968.

“Nietzsche Philosophy”. Caroll Education. Web. 11 March 2015.


Richards, David. “Death and the King’s Horseman and the Mask of Language.” Masks of Difference: Cultural Representations in Literature, Anthropology, and Art. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horseman. Ed. Simon Gikandi. New York: W.W Norton & Company Inc, 2003.

“Will to Power” Merriam Webster. Web 12 March 2015.


“Wille Zu Macht” Narkhive. Web. 13 March 2015.