The Interpreters: Soyinka's Prose Style. (Literary Criticism).A writer's first task is to make himself understood by his intended audience so that he may stimulate and motivate them into intellectual, social or political action. To do this, the writer must be committed to his subject of dicourse to the extent of producing literature that is engage. Soyinka's The Interpreters_fires the imagination both intellectually and politically by exposing the socio-cultural seepage, the colonial decadence and the post-colonial moral decay Moral decay may mean:
Chinweizu, Onwuchekwu Jemie and Ichechukwu Madubiuke criticize Soyinka for this obscurantist ob·scur·ant·ism
1. The principles or practice of obscurants.
2. A policy of withholding information from the public.
a. style, which is seemingly derived from his poetry. There is some merit to their argument if Soyinka is writing for the masses, which clearly he is not doing at all times, since vast numbers of Nigerian are illiterate. I would argue that the syntactic complexities, the difficulty in understanding some of his diction and the deliberate manipulation of English prose patterns, give Soyinka's prose that sometimes hard and sometimes brittle and pliable quality that best symbloize the economic, political and social realities of present-day Nigeria. This prose style is sustained by language that is iconographic, language that shows a society in transition and language that reveals the moral bankruptcy of leadership in Nigeria.
Niyi Osundare Niyi Osundare (born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ondo State, Nigeria) is a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic. He gained degrees at the University of Ibadan (BA), the University of Leeds (MA) and York University, Canada (PhD, 1979). refers to Soyinka as a "rugged wordsmith word·smith
1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
2. An expert on words.
Noun 1. " whose forge casts words with cryptic hardness packed into sentences whose compactness strikes like a thunderbolt." Soyinka's manipulation of language shows the malleability of language and demonstrates how best the writer can use language to unravel and reveal his deepest mysteries and most private philosophy. In this paper, I shall explore some of the language forms that Soyinka employs in his prose style.
To begin then, we must agree that language is a multi-purpose tool in society and that its primary function is affording a means of communication among the members of that social entity. Language is also provides a group with an identity and a sense of solidarity. People who do not belong to a particular linguistic community, but who acquire its speech, gain acceptance and are able to function with a degree of ease. These people are said to have the 'common touch.'
Language is classified according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. its usage, by linguists and others, as standard, dialect, idiolect id·i·o·lect
The speech of an individual, considered as a linguistic pattern unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect.
[idio- + (dia)lect. , register, slang, vulgar, colloquial col·lo·qui·al
1. Characteristic of or appropriate to the spoken language or to writing that seeks the effect of speech; informal.
2. Relating to conversation; conversational. , regional, local, international, and the classification goes on. Language is also used to distinguish social class, status and even racial and cultural backgrounds. The writer's choice of language for his writings creates a situation for an interesting analysis. At any given point in his/her career, the writer might use some or all of the above forms of language. However, no matter what linguistic form linguistic form
A meaningful unit of language, such as an affix, a word, a phrase, or a sentence. is appropriated in a piece of writing, the writer has a commitment and a social responsibility to facilitate the comprehension of his/her works.
I would caution the reader at this point that Soyinka uses language in a very complex way in The Interpreters. The language is tailored to suit h is particular needs. It has specific icons, rhythms, nuances and references that easily recognized as distinct from Englishes. I agree with Kenneth Ramchand Kenneth Ramchand, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies and an Independent Senator in the Senate of Trinidad and Tobago. Ramchand is a well known and widely respected literary critic. that writers cultivate languages of their own. That is why the literatures of the various Commonwealth regions differ drastically although similar motifs cut across them. A European language cannot sustain what Ramchand calls the "sub-phonemic responses to language." It is for this reason that a nonnative users of English are forced into their own culture for equivalents to express a particular consciousness, and this results in a hybridization hybridization /hy·brid·iza·tion/ (hi?brid-i-za´shun)
1. crossbreeding; the act or process of producing hybrids.
2. molecular hybridization
3. of language forms.
Chiweizu et al seem to think that Soyinka deliberately sets out to baffle his readers and that:
Soyinka's obscurantism ob·scur·ant·ism
1. The principles or practice of obscurants.
2. A policy of withholding information from the public.
a. would seem more readily explainable in terms of his fidelity to Hopkins butchery of English syntax and semantics, and to his deliberate choice of Shakespearean and other archaisms as models for his poetic diction Poetic diction is the term used to refer to the linguistic style, the vocabulary, and the metaphors used in the writing of poetry. In the Western tradition, all these elements were thought of as properly different in poetry and prose up to the time of the Romantic revolution, when .
In an interview that I conducted with Wole Soyinka Akinwande Oluwole "Wole" Soyinka (born 13 July 1934) is a Nigerian writer, poet and playwright. Some consider him Africa's most distinguished playwright, as he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, the first African since Albert Camus so honored. in Montreal, he counters this criticism by stating:
Language is a tool and therefore I manipulate language anyway I like, anyway that seems to me appropriate to the very theme which I am concentrating on that particular moment. Yes, I agree that I use language in a complex way sometimes. I agree that I use it in a complex way as, in the same way, it is obvious, that in certain writings, I use it in a far more straightforward manner. It depends on the burden which that language is supposed to carry at any given time.
Looking at the range of language used in the novel, there is pidgin pidgin (pĭj`ən), a lingua franca that is not the mother tongue of anyone using it and that has a simplified grammar and a restricted, often polyglot vocabulary. , poetic prose and West African English, to name a few elements. Soyinka uses lexical, emotive and poetic meanings in a fusion to create and convey his own philosophical point of view. A few passages will amplify this:
'Still!' Egbo bellowed. 'Still! O still that passeth all understanding. Transcendental stillness of the distanced godhead! The maid of Sango after possession is still. A bed after impassioned loving is still. Still! From the deep vast centre of love--still?"
The language here contains elements of the musical and ritual forms of Yoruba society. The impassioned plea for stillness releases an orgasmic tension that builds up in Egbo as he watches the dancer, Owolebi, perform. Here Soyinka fuses physical and emotional tensions into a religio-ritual act of worship of the dancer by Egbo. In this passage, the writer uses constricted con·strict
v. con·strict·ed, con·strict·ing, con·stricts
1. To make smaller or narrower by binding or squeezing.
2. To squeeze or compress.
3. syntax as a means of focussing on the emotive quality of words. Sometimes what appears between two periods is not necessarily a prose sentence, but rather a poetic image.
In an article, "Words of Iron, Sentences of Thunder: Soyinka's Prose Style," Niyi Osundare illuminates some of the complexities found in Soyinka's prose style. Osundare feels that Soyinka's use of poetic language creates a problem for the reader. I do not subscribe to this, although I would concede that the reader must spend a longer time trying to get at the message than would otherwise be necessary. A few scrambled metaphors will indicate some of the difficulties in grasping the essence of Soyinka's prose the first time around:
(i) Metal on concrete jars my drink lobes (T.I., p.7)
and (ii) late corn stalks dragging their heads on the copper laps of floods. (T.I., p. 221)
Osundare explains that in the first example the auditory and the alimentary alimentary /al·i·men·ta·ry/ (al?i-men´tah-re) pertaining to food or nutritive material, or to the organs of digestion.
1. are yoked through the quaint collocation of "jar" and "drink lobes." In the second example, there is a metaphoric twist which is compounded by personification personification, figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are endowed with human qualities, e.g., allegorical morality plays where characters include Good Deeds, Beauty, and Death. in the lexical items: "corn stalks" have "head" which they drag, and "floods" have "laps" with a "copper" complexion. Osundare also discusses compounding that Soyinka employs, the hyphenate hy·phen·ate
tr.v. hy·phen·at·ed, hy·phen·at·ing, hy·phen·ates
To divide or connect (syllables, word elements, or names) with a hyphen.
n. and the unhyphenate: "thigh-high" (p.7), "root-strand" (p.9) "cloudburst cloudburst
a problem in doe goats. Pseudopregnancy is terminated by the sudden evacuation of a large volume of fluid from the uterus. Abdominal distention subsides and the doe begins an indifferent lactation. " (p.7) and "houseboats (p.23). Compounding is economical in much the same way as metaphor.
Metaphor in The Interpreters helps the novelist to effectively delineate the tensions that exist between language and reality, the object and its meaning. The following passage elucidates the point:
A futile heap of metal and Sekoni's body lay surprised across the open door, showers of laminated glass around him, his beard one fastness of blood and wet earth. (T.P., p. 155)
Like his metaphors, Soyinka's simile simile (sĭm`əlē) [Lat.,=likeness], in rhetoric, a figure of speech in which an object is explicitly compared to another object. Robert Burns's poem "A Red Red Rose" contains two straightforward similes: is very forceful and is controlled to gain maximum comparative effect.
Across the floor, an albino sat slanted Like a leprous moonbeam without the softness. (T.I., p. 157)
The image conjures up sickness in a very sharp and shocking manner. It continues to build up by accretion until its final pitch is reached:
Freckles on his face like poisoned motes, dark scabs, and they floated on sheer phosphorescence of the skin.
The metaphors and similes used in this novel draw on patterns of the Yoruba language for their colour, flavour and meaning.
Like most African writers, Soyinka intersperses his prose with native language phrases which capture expressions that cannot be easily rendered in English. Some of these words and phrases Words and Phrases®
A multivolume set of law books published by West Group containing thousands of judicial definitions of words and phrases, arranged alphabetically, from 1658 to the present. have specific functions within their particular contexts. Sometimes they create tension, produce fear, or simply express a ritual:
Oyekoko moniran...oyekoko noniran oyeroba, oyeroba....(p. 157).
This meaningless gibberish signals the entry of the witchdoctor and forces the audience to take note of the ceremony. In the case of a person who is taboo, like the albino albino (ălbī`nō) [Port.,=white], animal or plant lacking normal pigmentation. The absence of pigment is observed in the body covering (skin, hair, and feathers) and in the iris of the eye. , it serves as a warning for people to get out of the way, lest they be contaminated contaminated,
v 1. made radioactive by the addition of small quantities of radioactive material.
2. made contaminated by adding infective or radiographic materials.
3. an infective surface or object. . Yoruba elicits a response more readily here than English.
In his prose style Soyinka also uses the proverb, though he uses it with less regularity than Achebe. The proverb instructs or imparts some kind of wisdom. Winsala uses the proverb to remind Sagoc of his place in the social and tribal hierarchy.
'My boy, it never does to try your elders. When a cub yields right of way to an antelope, first look and see if Father Leopard is not a few trees behind.' (p.85) and again: What makes a small boy laugh will make him weep. (p. (p. 127)
These strands of proverbs interwoven in·ter·weave
v. in·ter·wove , in·ter·wo·ven , inter·weav·ing, inter·weaves
1. To weave together.
2. To blend together; intermix.
v.intr. in the text help to restrict long narrative explanations of particular actions or scenes.
Another component of Soyinka's prose style is pidgin English. In the novel it is used satirically or to demonstrate the social class of a character. Many of the servants use pidgin English, for example Mathias:
Mathias entered with a sweaty bottle in either hand. 'E say e no wait till mont ending. Na up to dis week-end e gree give me for credit?' 'All right, sit down' 'Make a open dem fust oga.' (p. 96)
Mathias is a panderer panderer 1) a person who panders or solicits for a prostitute. 2) some politicians catering to special interests. (See: pander) and falls fawningly fawn 1
intr.v. fawned, fawn·ing, fawns
1. To exhibit affection or attempt to please, as a dog does by wagging its tail, whining, or cringing.
2. at his master's feet in blind obedience. This master--servant relationship is set up in the English/pidgin responses of the two characters. Although Sagoe abhors this kind of relationship, it becomes more obvious in Chapter Five where Mathias is forced to sit patiently and listen to Sagoe's philosophy of Voidancy.
Soyinka uses language in a variety of ways: to instruct, revile, castigate cas·ti·gate
tr.v. cas·ti·gat·ed, cas·ti·gat·ing, cas·ti·gates
1. To inflict severe punishment on. See Synonyms at punish.
2. To criticize severely. or satirize sat·i·rize
tr.v. sat·i·rized, sat·i·riz·ing, sat·i·riz·es
To ridicule or attack by means of satire.
satirize or -rise
[-rizing, . When Sagoe did not see the sun for days, the author puts into his mouth some damning words against negritude Negritude
Literary movement of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. It began among French-speaking African and Caribbean writers living in Paris as a protest against French colonial rule and the policy of assimilation. :
'I could do with some negritude, anything to keep me warm.' (p. 107) As a moralist, Soyinka is very severe on any forms of excess: For pleasure must be sinful and excess pleasure is damnation. (p. 60)
Soyinka, the essayist, also emerges in The Interpreters, especially in Sagoe's discourse on the philosophy of voidancy. In that expostulation we find the well-crafted prose sentence, and the erudite er·u·dite
Characterized by erudition; learned. See Synonyms at learned.
[Middle English erudit, from Latin diction which falls attention to Sagoe's theory. This excerpt illustrates the fine quality of the novelist's essay style.
'Functional, spiritual, creative or ritualistic, Voidancy remains the one true philosophy of the true Egoist. For definition, ladies and gentlemen, let this suffice. Voidancy is not a movement of protest, but it protests; it is nonrevolutionary, but it revolts. Voidancy--shall we say--is the unknown quantity. Voidancy is the last uncharted mine of creative energies, in its deepest paradox lies the kernel of creative liturgy--in release is birth. I am no Messiah, and yet, I cannot help feel that I was born to this role for, in the congenital nature of my ailment lay the first imitations of my martyrdom and inevitable apotheosis.' (The Interpreters, p.71)
The language used here is highly rhetorical and exploits the art of oratory to its fullest. First, there is the propositio or definition of what Voidancy is. This is followed by a declamatio which states what it is not. Following this is the expositio which explains the various tenets of the philosophy. The final statement is a disclaimer which affirms the speaker's role in propounding the theory.
Those who ape middleclass standards and values meet with Soyinka's most trenchant satire. When Oguazor dares to make the moral judgement that "the college cannot afford to have its name dragged down by the moral turpitude A phrase used in Criminal Law to describe conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals.
Crimes involving moral turpitude have an inherent quality of baseness, vileness, or depravity with respect to a person's duty to of irresponsible young men" (p. 250), Soyinka quickly exposes the culprit for what he is, an immoral moralist mor·al·ist
1. A teacher or student of morals and moral problems.
2. One who follows a system of moral principles.
3. One who is unduly concerned with the morals of others. who has a child from his housemaid, she being "tucked away in private school in Islington" and the child being his favourite child and the plastic apple of his eye." (p. 149).
The final point that may be raised here about Soyinka's use of language is his effective employment of the sermon and religious songs or hymns in the narrative. These do two things: they highlight the hypocrisy of the interpreters in relation to their spiritual transformation, and secondly, they make a commentary about the role of the church in society.
The entire Pentecostal/revivalist church proactive come under close scrutiny in Chapter Twelve. The characters use language that appeals at the level of entertainment and which is not intellectually or spiritually uplifting. We observe this in the case of Lazarus who eventually fails to gain redemption, and Noah who falls to retributive justice. Lewis Nkosi offers the opinion that the quasi-religious antics if Lazarus and Noah do little to illuminate the novel. I differ with him, for its seems to me that this section of the novel contrast religious blasphemy blasphemy, in religion, words or actions that display irreverence toward or contempt for God or that which is held sacred. Blasphemy is regarded as an offense against the community to varying degrees, depending on the extent of the identification of a religion with and insecurity with the rampant political and social corruption in the country. As such it broadens the scope of the decadence and moral and spiritual decay that are evidenced in all the interpreters.
In the final analysis, The Interpreters must be considered a complex satirical novel. The abstruseness of the language does not justifiably condemn the novel to the shelves, but rather recommends the book to those who can unravel the mysteries of the "gods" and geniuses for lesser mortals, among them high school students and undergraduates.
(1.) Niyi Osundare, "Words of Iron, Sentences of Thunder: Soyinka's Prose Style," in African Literature Today: Thirteen Recent Trends in the Novel, edited by Eldred D Jones(London Heinemann Educational Books Limited, and New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Africana Publishing Company, 1983), p. 41.
(2.) Kenneth Ramchand, "Methodology for Studying Commonwealth Literatures," Proceedings at an Association of Commonwealth Language and Literature Conference, Aug. 10 to 17, 1983, University of Guelph The University of Guelph is a medium-sized university located in Guelph, Ontario, established in 1964. While the U of G offers degrees in many different disciplines, the university is best known for its focus on life sciences, based in part on a long-standing history of , Guelph, Ontario, n.p., n. pag.
(3.) Ibid, n. pag.
(4.) Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, Ilechukwe Madubuike, Towards The Decolinization of African Literature_ (Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd., 1980.), p. 156.
(5.) This excerpt is taken from an interview that I conducted with Wole Soyinka on June 4, 1985, in Montreal Quebec.
(6.) Wole Soyinka, The Interpreters (1965; rpt. London: Heinemann Educational Books A W S, 1970/1981), p. 24.
(Further references to this novel will be shown as T.I., with the corresponding page number.)
(7.) Osundare, pp. 25--29
(8.) Ibid, pp. 25--29
(9.) Ibid, pp. 25--29
(10.) Lewis Nkosi, Tasks and Masks: Themes and Styles of African Literature (London: Longman Group Limited, 1981), p. 161.
Horace I. Goddard is a Montreal writer. His most recent work is Paradise Revisited (a novel), Winston Derek Publishers, 1997.