R. Saravana Selvakumar Assistant Professor Department of English V.V.College of Engineering Tisaiyanvilai
The role of woman in Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel, Death and the King’s Horseman and The Swamp Dwellers.
African American community remained silent about gender even as race has moved to the forefront of our nation’s consciousness. Hard-hitting and brilliant in its analysis of culture and sexual politics; Gender Talk asserts boldly that gender matters are critical to the Black community in the twenty-first century. In the Black community, rape, violence against women and sexual harassment are as much the legacy of slavery as is racism. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheft all argue powerfully that the only way to defeat this legacy is to focus on the intersection of race and gender. Gender Talk examines why the race problem has become so male-centered and how this has opened a deep divide between Black women and men. The authors turn to their own lives, offering intimate accounts of their experiences as daughters, wives, and leaders. They examine pivotal moments in African American history when race and gender issues collided with explosive results-from the struggle for women’s suffrage in the nineteenth century to women’s attempts to gain a voice in the Black Baptist movement and on into the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement and the upsurge of Black Power transformed the Black community while sidelining women. Through the centuries, the Hindu woman in literature has been based on the mythic models from Ramayana and Puranas: Sita, the silent sufferer – the archetype of Indian womanhood; the Earth-Mother, forbearance personified; the playmate and beloved Radha; the devotee Meera. Patterned on these Hindu models, the woman is often passive accepting the dynamic role of the men in her life.
Indian woman, for this very reason of pride in suffering, and due to years of inculcation about the necessity to accept her role, may not like her husband to step in and do her work. She is taught the importance and necessity of a stable marriage and family – family as security as a source of emotional strength. Even in sexual matters she has very little choice; her husband’s needs must be fulfilled first. Sex becomes routine, for there is no overt discussion of sex. He does not think of her as a human being with whom he can have a conversation, can communicate. He visualizes her as a sex object, someone he can enjoy in bed, and one who can produce his children – at least one male child to continue his family line. In her anxiety to please, in her yearning to be recognized, in her desire to gain a prominent position in the family hierarchy, the woman longs for a son – her social redeemer, thus perpetrating male dominance and patriarchy. -Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen- (Uma 1). These words spoken by a black woman could very well have been uttered by an Indian woman. May be some of the troubles are different, may be the Indian woman was not uprooted, enslaved, and violated by the white man. But in her own way, she, the Indian woman, has carried the burden of the family, has slaved for the husband, her children, and her family – whether extended or nuclear. Like the Indo-Anglian woman, the Afro-American woman is -to use of Harlem, subjective, willful and complexly and compellingly human- (Uma 10). But -strong’ is what an Afro-American woman is commonly labeled as. Not strong as much as domineering what most people fail to realize is that historical reality automatically overrules the term domineering. In Africa, the conditions of the black race deteriorated under the rule of the white men. The main factor in this respect was the dislocation which affected the old village community and disturbed the natural balance between males and females. The black woman, aware of her man’s exploitative relationship with her, is unenthusiastic about the birth of a son. For her, feminity represents respectability, dependability. Since the age of Aristotle, patriarchy has been working on the assumption that women are incapable of rational thought and therefore, they are naturally inferior to men. Women constitute half the humanity. Women are being extolled in literature; the saying goes that there is a woman behind every successful man. Bacon accords a very significant place for woman in man’s life. His statement amply explains the concept, wives are young men’s mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men’s mistresses. In the life of man, woman plays a vital role as mother, sister and wife. But still, it is disputable whether woman is given a due place she deserves. All along, she is treated only as -the other’. She is considered as physically weak and very emotional in nature. So she cannot be independent to take decisions of her own as she is not mature enough to decide her future. Since most human societies are male-dominated, women are subjected to many social evils like -purdah’ system, female infanticide, child marriage, dowry system, enforced widowhood and denial of education. She is made to act as an unpaid domestic servant and is subjected to perpetual torture by a demanding husband, a ruthless mother-in-law and a nagging sister in law. It is said that man’s cruelty towards man is exceeded only by man’s cruelty to woman. Woman’s subjugation is master-minded by patriarchal systems. The patriarchal systems do not allow women to realize their aspirations and ambitions. Every girl is taught and brought up as a subordinate to the male member. She is made aware that she is different from a boy and so her aspirations and ambitions are different from those of boys. Boys are nurtured to grow up as ambitious, rational and dynamic. The girls are encouraged to cultivate qualities like grace, gentleness and docility. In order to bring out woman to the forefront and to fight for her liberty, feminist movement comes into existence. The main aim of the feminist’s movement is to liberate woman from all kinds of shackles which do not allow her to develop her full potential as a free and an autonomous individual. All Feminists are not necessarily women, as there are also men who fight for the rights of women. Thus feminism is a social, political and cultural movement that focuses on gender differences due to biological difference. It questions the rationale behind the culturally determined notions of superiority. It asserts that men have historically imposed their will on women to convince them of their inferiority. Wole Soyinka’s women are built on the African traditional setup. Though they are considered as an inferior subject in Africa, Soyinka’s women are equally treated with men. Soyinka’s play The Lion and Jewel is a spirited and ribald account of African village life that explores the conflicts between traditional and modern values, third World reality against first world ideals, and the power of men against the influence of women. The action is interspersed with raucous African song and dance. The visit of the photographer is told as a play within a play, a musical re-enactment with the villagers acting out the events of that day. Soyinka’s Sidi in The Lion and the Jewel opts for tradition. When the teacher Lakunle and Chief Baroka vie for her affection, at first she will have nothing to do with them. She is a free woman. Yet the kind of -westernization’ which Sidi might have adored is chafed at in Soyinka’s play. The pedantic schoolmaster’s ideas of what is -civilized’ are truly laughable. Lakunle promises Sidi that they will eat: Together we shall sit at table -Not on the floor – and eat, Not with fingers, but with knives And forks and breakable plates Like civilized beings. (9) Finally she agrees to marry Lakunle if he will pay the bride-price: I’ve told you, and I say it again I shall marry you today, next week Or any day you name But my bride-price must first be paid. (7)
The sympathies of the audience are entirely with Sidi. All through the play the use of mime, masquerade, and dance is most convincing, anticipating for instance Sidi’s seduction scene, emphasizing the virility of the Baroka and the tawdriness of the school teacher and the European photographer. Sidi’s zest for life makes her not only an individual but an individualist. Soyinka has advanced the process of individual assertiveness one step further; to Sidi her own personal values are what matter, she never compromises. It is Sadiku, the chief wife of Baroka, very cleverly tries to inveigle Sidi into a visit to the Palace. So that Baroka may use coaxing or force according to circumstances. She invites Sidi to a supper party to be given by the chief. Sidi declines and says that Baroka is in the habit of inviting to his parties only girls on whom he has designs. Always, they become his wives or concubines by the next day. As a woman in a polygamous society, Sadiku has been trained to put with many things which may hurt her self-respect as an individual. She has not merely to put up with the favourites her husband has been choosing from time to time, but also to invite the woman on whom his fancy falls to marry him. On the surface, she is loyal to her husband and, if her attempts to persuade Sidi are typical, she puts her heart and soul in recruiting new brides for her husband. But Soyinka portrays her individuality in revealing to us her long-standing resentment at sharing her husband with many women. Her stifled self-respect asserts itself in her dance of triumph at the supposed loss of manliness by Baroka and in her attempt to celebrate it by a mummer’s show: Sadiku: Ask no questions my girl. Just join my victory dance. Oh Sango my lord, who of us possessed your lightning and ran like fire through that lion’s tail- Sadiku: – Is Baroka not more of a man than you? And if he is no longer a man than what are you?… (33-34) Sadiku is interesting by herself, an old woman who is not soured by life and whom age has not deprived of high spirits. The Iyaloja, leader of the market women in Death and the King’s Horseman, taunts Elesin because he insisted on tasting a young girl on the eve of his death and allowed the taste to weaken his resolve. That this insistence was in itself startling, even unprecedented, is indicated in the earlier scene where he hints at his desire for the girl, who is already promised to the Iyaloja’s son. The Iyaloja dare not understand him, but he clarifies his meaning beyond doubt. The Elesin’s speech is sophistical, with its imagery of earth, seed and plantain shoots, its scorn of mere desire, its insistence upon his sanctity as a man already dedicated to death, and hence upon the sanctity of his wishes. But his desire is nevertheless apparent, and it is one which holds him to life instead of freeing him from it. It is also, although Soyinka does not emphasize this, profoundly contrary to the usual rituals of preparing oneself for a great spiritual task; rituals which stress abstinence, whether from food, drink or sex, rather than indulgence of senses which may cloud the will. Yet the Iyaloja grants his wish without a struggle, because she appears to accept his argument for its sanctity as coming from one already touched by the waiting fingers of out departed. Only when preparing him for the marriage bed does she remind him that it must also be the bed of death. In terms, in the play, the future is not really separable from the past, and must suffer whatever contamination today’s events may spill upon it. It is only in this restricted sense that the Iyaloja can tell us, in the play’s closing words: -Now forget the dead, forget even the living. Turn your mind only to the unborn- (219). Iyaloja gives sanction to the marriage of Elesin Oba and the young girl with the hope that any child born of the woman should be -neither of this world nor of the next. Nor of the one behind us. As if the timelessness of the ancestor world and the unborn have joined spirits to wring an issue of the elusive being of passage- Elesin!- (162). Iyaloja asserts her faith in the unborn. All the character roles in The Swamp Dwellers were very strong. Alu is shown as a very determined and focused woman. She shows many good characteristics in the story, but as a woman for that time, era and setting, her manor was quite different. Alu represents determination. This is determination in many ways. One side of her determination is to locate where she -believers’ her lost son Igwezu is. As any mother would do, she shows such determination to find him and will do whatever it takes to bring him home to the country. While discussing her son with her husband, Makuri, she shows her determination as she states: Alu: I’m going after him. I don’t want to lose him too. I don’t want him missing his foothold and vanishing without a cry, without a chance for anyone to save him- Alu: I’m going out to shout his name until he hears me- (83) The two women in the family – Igwezu’s mother, Alu and his wife, Desala – are sharply contrasted. The weakness and infidelity of Igwezu’s wife provide a contrast to the strength and virtue of his mother. Despite temptations from visiting traders, Alu had remained faithful to her husband. Similarly, the mutual understanding and affection between the old couple, Makuri and Alu, despite their bickering and finding fault with each other, contrast itself with the awful lack of the same between the young couple Igwezu and Desala. Soyinka’s Alu in The Swamp Dwellers is the strong figure hopelessly fettered by her rigid concept of tradition. Alu has her virtues in not being carried away by the glitter of city life or the lure of city-traders’ money. Makuri, Alu’s husband, had reason to be really proud of his steadfast wife, who -turned their traders’ heads but- kept her own- (108). In spite of her strength of character, Alu can exercise no influence over her twin sons. The story of Igwezu, one of the twins, is a story of poignant loss on all sides. He lives to lose his wife, Desala, to his brother in the city and loses his harvest to the flood and swamp in the village. Igwezu returns to the city, belonging neither to the village nor the city, which merely swallows another victim down its gargantuan throat. Once again Alu manifests her limitation by losing both her sons through her blind adherence to traditional values. Alu shows a mother’s concern for the safety of her sons who have ventured into the city and away from the maternal protection. One of her sons, Awuchike, has been away from home for ten years, and to his mother he is dead. Makuri scolds her: The older you get, the more of a fraud you become. Every day for the past ten years, you’ve done nothing but swear that your son was dead in the marshes. And now you sit there like a crow and tell me that you’re waiting for news about him. Alu: [stubbornly] I know he’s dead. (82) Although her husband understands the reason why the young will drift away from the land and tries to explain it to her – Awuchike got sick of this place and went into the city’ Alu remains firm in her conviction that he was drowned in the swamps. The assumption is that if he had stayed at home, she would have offered him the protection he needed. Soyinka’s women enjoy prestige in the hierarchy of marriage in The Lion and the Jewel. The second or third wife holds higher status over a single woman, the first wife maintains the most privilege among the women in the family. Traditionally, the first wife would choose her husband’s second and third wives and act as a go-between or Alarena, to propose the marriage. Sadiku in The Lion and the Jewel act as the go-between Sidi and Baroka and plays a major role in getting her married to Baroka. The final surrender of Sidi to Baroka is evidence of the victory of traditional African values over the modern European ones in the African context. The weakness and strength, infidelity and virtue are contrasted with the two women- Igwezu’s mother and his wife in The swamp Dwellers. The pain and agony of Alu moves the play to the theme of motherhood. The love for her lost sons and later the depressed Igwezu makes her remains faithful to her husband. It is understood that Soyinka’s women are built on the African traditional set up. Though they are considered as an inferior subject in Africa, Soyinka’s women are equally treated with men, sometimes these women direct men and advice them. For example Iyaloja in Death and the Kings Horseman represents traditional wisdom. Whereas Sidi in The Lion and the Jewel is a girl of high spirit and she respects the traditional values throughout the play. Finally Alu and Igwezu’s wife in The Swamp Dwellers remain faithful to their husbands. It is clear that women enjoy prestige in the traditional Nigerian society
1. Soyinka, Wole. Collected Plays I: The Swamp Dwellers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.
2. ——————-. Collected Plays II: Includes The Lion and the Jewel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.
3. ——————-. Six Plays: Death and the King’s Horseman. London: Methuen, 1984.
4. Uma, Alladi. Woman and Her Family Indian and Afro-American: A Literary Perspective. New York: Envoy Press, 1989.