Politics And Aesthetics In Selected Plays Of Wole Soyinka

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Politics And Aesthetics In Selected Plays Of Wole Soyinka


This study has been embarked upon to present the politics and aesthetics in selected plays of Wole Soyinka paying much attention to his The Beatification of Area Boy and Kongi’s Harvest. The study has been able to extract and discuss the ways in which Wole Soyinka applied cultural artifacts to political issues to depict the happenings in his immediate society. The sociological approach has been used in respect to the Marxist theory. The study has conclusively pointed to the fact that the society can only be changed positively if everyone is ready to make huge sacrifices to realize positive changes.

Chapter One

General Introduction

1.1 Politics and Aesthetics

According to Leftwich (1983) politics consists of all the activities of cooperation and conflict within and between societies, whereby the human species go about obtaining, using, producing and distributing resources in the course of the production and reproduction of its social and political life.

Politics in this sense therefore enables the writer to examine the problems which occur within or between societies, institutions or groups, whether it is unemployment, war, famine, disease, overcrowding or various forms of conflict. Writers are members of the society and they make it a point of duty to write on all these political problems in the Society and suggest viable solutions to these problems.

Politics as can be defined by the Webster’s dictionary is the art and science of the government of a state opinions, principles or policies by which a person orders his participation in such affairs.

Aesthetics can also be defined as the formal study of art especially relating to the enjoyment or study of beauty. The term aesthetics can also be defined as the description of an object or a work of art that shows great beauty.

Geoffrey Poton also throws light on what the concept of politics is. He opines that politics is the way in which we understand and order our social affairs especially in relation to the allocation of scarce resources, the principle underlying this, and the means by which some people or groups acquire and maintain a greater control over the situation than others. Going by this definition, one sees that politics is above all a social activity that is concerned with people’s social and material relationships. It is varied in expression in different spatial areas and continually changing through time.

Therefore writers employ the concept of politics as part of the models or mental framework through which the writer interpret and try to understand their environment and world around them. Aesthetics is concerned with the beauty, arts, and the understanding of beautiful things.

Obafemi (2008) says “aesthetics deals with any art form and theatrical arts in particular which is a corporate multi-dimensional, multi-sensory art that depends on its social context and its audience”. This implies the sociology of the context and the other material imperatives of culture in the historical development of the country from the beginning to the present. Aesthetics can also be defined as the formal study of art especially relating to the enjoyment or study of beauty.

Politics and aesthetics in selected plays of Wole Soyinka can be viewed can be viewed to be the ways and tools Soyinka uses to beautify the plays in relation to political issues in each play.

Every writer exists within a society and as a member of such society, he preoccupies himself with issues that arise within it.

1.2 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to examine the way wole Soyinka applied cultural artifacts to political issues to depict the happenings in his immediate society. This project will evaluate and underscore the ways in which political issues are exemplified in the plays.

1.3 Scope of the Study

This project is limited to two of Wole Soyinka’s plays namely The Beatification of Area boy and Kongi’s harvest. Politics and aesthetics in selected plays of Wole Soyinka aim at finding out certain aesthetic tools that were used by the playwright to portray politics in the selected plays in relation to the society. This research will also focus on the ways these tools were used by the playwright and how the playwright achieves his goal of portraying to the readers how politics in the plays is a mirror of the happenings in his society.

1.4 Justification of the Study

This study seeks to look into the politics and aesthetics used in the selected plays of Wole Soyinka in relation to Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Previous works have attempted to focus on the political and aesthetic tools used in the works of other playwrights but this study will attempt to pay a critical attention to the aesthetics used in Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy and Kongi’s Harvest in other to pass the message of good governance and equity in the society.

1.5 Methodology

This study will employ a textual analysis of both plays putting into consideration the military, the masses, traditional rulers, literary devices and elements. The data consists of critical and primary sources from the library and the internet. Marxism under sociological theory is applied.

1.5.1 Sociology of Literature

The term ‘sociology of literature’ was coined by Taine, the French philosopher and critic. The desire to develop a completely scientific outlook, to submit literature and art to the same research methods as those employed in the physical and natural sciences, led to the founding of this relatively new field of literary study.

Sociology is the science of social relationships as well as the consequences of those relationships for ongoing social systems and the process of social change. Sociology concerns itself with all that happens to human beings as a result of their relations to each other. Sociology deals with the world of man’s experience- man behaviour with regard to his fellows, but its main focus is the group or its larger social entity. To sociology man, man’s existence is in essence, social; his life is bound up with various groups which encompass the social group called society. The goal of sociology is to understand the society through scientific means. Thus it sets itself the task of finding solutions to question of how society is possible, how it works, why it persists. This is achieved through a rigorous examination of the social institutions, religious, economic, political and filial.

Sociology attempts to present a picture of the mechanisms of socialisation, the process of cultural learning, whereby individuals are allocated to accept their respective roles in the social structure.

Bisi Ogunsina (2006) quotes Christopher Caudwell thus ’at one time men are doing different things and therefore stand in relation to one another. The study of these human relations in general form is sociology.’

But sociology is more than the mere study of human relations, it is also concerned with the process of change with the society; that is, how society changes gradually or radically from one to another and the effects these changes have on the social structure.

For the purpose of this study, the Marxist approach in sociology will be used in analysing politics and aesthetics in Wole Soyinka’s plays.

1.5.2 A Review of Marxist Theory

Marxist literary criticism has a fairly long history. This is because Karl Marx himself made important general statements about culture and society in the 1840s. In spite of this fact it is not erroneous to think of Marxist criticism as a twentieth century phenomenon.

The Marxist literary approach derives from the ideas and thought of Karl Marx and Fredric Engels, published in ‘the communist manifesto’. In their writings Marx and Engels argue that the history of man is the history of class struggle. it is their contention that the main goal of man’s struggle is to liberate himself from certain forms of oppression.

Terry Eagleton elaborates on this struggle for liberation ‘Marxism is a scientific theory of human societies and of the practice of transforming them: and what that means, rather more concretely, is what the narrative Marxism has to deliver is the story of the struggles of men and women to free themselves from certain forms of exploitation and oppression.’

Thus the main message of Marxism is the struggle for the transformation of the human society, so that man can be liberated from exploitation and oppression in all its forms and ramifications.

1.6 Research Question

What are the aesthetic tools employed by Wole Soyinka to portray politics relatively to his The Beatification of Area Boy and Kongi’s Harvest

1.7 Research Hypothesis

Cultural artifacts are more paramount in most works of Wole Soyinka’s works.

1.8 Biography of Wole Soyinka

Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka is a dramatist, poet, novelist, literary critic, theatre director and sometime actor; a political activist per excellence; the first black Nobel Prize literature winner for literature; and arguably the prolific and most distinguished African writer writing in the English language. Four rather untraditional biographies to date (one political, three literary) conveniently introduce the reader to the author’s cultural background and strong political commitments. Born in colonial Nigeria of Christian well educated Nigerian parentage, wole Soyinka was born on the 13th of July 1934, in Abeokuta, Ogun state. He received his secondary education in Ibadan. From 1952-1954, he attended the University college of Ibadan and later proceeded to Leeds, England, where he obtained an honours degree in English.

Soyinka has written much of plays compared to volumes of poetry and novels. He has many plays to his credit. Among these plays are: Cam wood on the leaves(1956), A Dance of the Forest(1960), The Swamp Dwellers, The Trials of Brother Jero, The Strong Breed(1969), The Road(1965), Kongi’s Harvest(1967), Madman and Specialists(1971), A Play of Giants(1984) and many others.

Chapter Five

Summary, Findings and Conclusion

5.1 Summary

In this chapter which is the last chapter, an attempt will be made to look at the over and all view of politics and aesthetics in Wole Soyinka’s ‘The Beatification of Area Boy’ and Kongi’s Harvest.

Both plays by Wole Soyinka has portrayed to the readers and audience that politically the beauty of the society we find ourselves in have been covered up with corruption, selfishness, mans’ inhumanity to man by the supposed leaders and the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, amidst these vices there can be a group of people who are willing to curb these vices and societal ills, to take their destinies in their hands as Judge in The Beatification of Area Boy noted in page 9 to bring about a peaceful and healthy co- existence among citizens- the upper and lower class in the society.

Aesthetically, the cultural social and physical artifacts used by Wole Soyinka brought out a reasonable amount of beauty encapsulated in the tense and serious issues discussed in the plays.

In construction and discourse the plays inspires us to look back at the past and present. Furthermore, it raises salient questions about the horizons of future development.

5.2 Findings

  1. This study has guided in finding out the way proletariats are oppressed, intimidated and tortured by the bourgeoisies in the society as reflected by wole Soyinka in the two plays used for the study.
  2. During the course of these research work songs, allusions, imageries have been discovered as essential aesthetic tools used by the playwright to portray different happenings in the society.
  3. In line with the findings made in the process of completing this research work, Ogun mythology is seen as a great aspect in which the playwright has used in depicting some issues and Ogun as a form of symbolism for Sanda’s character in his The Beatification of Area Boy .
  4. Sanda’s character in Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy vis-a-vis Daodu and Segilola’s character in Kongi’s Harvest has been discovered according to this research work as revolutionary in nature. This is so in the sense that they were all in one way or the other interested in positive change.

5.3 Conclusion

In conclusion, Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy and Kongi’s Harvest have shown the inner mind and feelings of the playwright towards certain issues in his society. The ways at which these unruly behaviour can be dissolved is by standing up to ones right and out rightly challenging the power that be.

Aesthetically, Soyinka has made a great effort in actualising and portraying the rich cultural heritage of his people and society. The use of Yoruba mythology, chants, songs and dances are all dominant features of the unique characteristics of the playwright’s people and society. These features added unquantifiable amount of beauty to happenings in the play. In a way all aesthetic features that the playwright employed made serious issues in the play look rather unserious and mild.

Politically, the likes of kongi should be swept off the ruling class so as to allow prospective leaders who put aside their personal interests and work hand in hand with his subjects to give the masses a true voice of their own. Military officer as a character in The Beatification of Area Boy should not be given a chance to oppress and destabilize the masses. This is so because instead of being in charge of safeguarding the lives and properties of the people, they loot, kill mercilessly and behave like ‘area boys’. Characters like Sanda who restore lost hopes to the citizenry should be given a chance to govern the affairs of the people.

In respect of this research work politics and aesthetics in wole Soyinka’s plays that the playwright aims at sensitizing to the problems of present day Nigeria but also at convincing the reader that much of the problems faced by the downtrodden is imposed on them by the political class. The political leaders are presented as being wicked, merciless and exploitative. They engage in politics not to change the society but to have power for themselves and deal ruthlessly with anybody that might pose as a threat to their authority.

On the whole both plays can be said to be pointing to the fact that a society can only be reformed if everyone is aware of the happenings in that society and ready to make huge sacrifices to realize positive changes

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