Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman

Suicide is not a new problem on this world; it has been a recurring action by many since ancient times. In what way does Wole Soyinka portray suicide? How should the play, Death and the King’s Horseman, have ended?

Soyinka’s play takes place in Nigeria, in the 1940s, and centers on the cultural beliefs of the Yoruba tribe. The king, or chieftain, of the tribe is dead, so Elesin, the king’s horseman, must commit suicide so that his spirit can help the king’s spirit go to the afterlife. Before Elesin commits suicide, however, the British officer in command of the region stops him, saying it is against the law. The whole tribe is then thrown into chaos because of this, and Elesin’s son kills himself in a misguided attempt to restore family honor and keep the world status quo. In response to his son’s death, Elesin commits suicide anyway, but the tribe says his spirit will not be at rest in the afterlife and that the cosmos may have already been thrown off-kilter.

Given how suicide had plagues humanity well before Socrates’ death, the play should have ended differently. When Pilkings, the British officer, stopped Elesin from killing himself he should have pointed out to the tribe how the world has kept going on the same as always, even though Elesin is still alive. The ludicrousness of the ritual should have been pointed out to the natives as well, the belief that a king’s spirit needs help from a servant’s spirit to reach the afterlife and keep the world functioning properly is bizarre and idiotic.

Therefore, suicide is not to be exalted or supported in any shape or form. The taking of one’s own life bears the same weight as murdering someone else. Assisting in suicide is murder as well, for no man has the right to say which citizen should live or die. Executing a mass murderer is different, as removing a man so demented that he would kill and kill again is the only way to protect the innocent lives. While death is an eventuality for everyone, and accidents resulting in death happen all the time, no one can say who will die when and where. The timing of when a person’s life should come to a close is not left to humans to reckon, and woe on the souls of those who take their own lives of those of their fellows.

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