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Satire in Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest and A Play On Giants

Satire in Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest and A Play On Giants

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The aim of this study was to examine satire in Wole Soyinka’s kongi’s Harvest and A Play on Giants. Three research objectives where formulated to guide the study and the theoretical model that was adopted as the theoretical background was Harold Aram Veeser’s New Historicism. However, the methodology for this research work is a qualitative research which relies on the analysis of some extrapolation of the primary texts (Wole Soyinka’s kongi’s Harvest and A Play on Giants). The research will also avail itself of some critical works. Magazines and other periodical drawn from the library.

This research will also exploit the internet space for some online materials related to the subject of the research. Equally, a brief review of related scholarships were carried out in other to review what other scholars have said about Soyinka’s works of art. A brief bio-data of Wole Soyinka; named Oluwole Babaunde was carried out to enabled the researcher to have a full background knowledge of who the author of the selected text is. A synopsis of the first text under study was carried out (Wole Soyinka’s “Kongi’s Harvest”).

The researcher also went further to carry out a satirical analysis of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest, followed by themes in Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest; the theme of tyranny and bad leadership in Africa and characterization was also carried out followed up with language and style used by Wole Soyinka’s “Kongi’s Harvest” In chapter three, the Synopsis of the second play (A Play of Giant) was carried out followed by satiric analysis of Soyinka’s “A Play of Giant”. The Theme of Oppression and Abuse of Power was also examine and finally, the researcher looked at the satirical devices employed in Soyinka’s ‘A Play of Giants’.

In both “Kongi’s Harvest” and “A Play on Giants,” Wole Soyinka employs satire to expose and critique the political and social issues that plagued Africa during his time. Through the use of exaggeration, irony, and humor, Soyinka is able to effectively ridicule the corruption, nepotism, and oppression that characterized African politics. In doing so, he encourages his audience to question the status quo and to seek change for a better future. 

Satire in Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest and A Play On Giants



1.1 introduction

As a literary manner, Satire is concerned with ridiculing human and institutional follies with the intension of correcting them. Satire may be represented in the mode of allegory and also mode imitation through pictures and caricatures. It is an insidious treatment of subject in dramatic fashion, also in mode of lampoon which an individual is represented in an insolent way, making it a subject of laughter.

Therefore, Satire is employed to mock or censor the action of man or his belief. It is also use to assess the state of man in his society and to create a difference between the present situation and the ideal situation. Harrison, Inyang opines that: “satire is a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured” (91). Emmanuel, Jacob also states that “Satire is a mocking spirit or tone that manifests itself in many literary genes and can also enter into almost any kind of human communication (161).

Satire is derived from the Latin word “Satura” meaning “dish of mixed fruits”. It is a “mode of writing that exposes the failings of individuals, institutions or societies to ridicule and scorn (Saint, Gbilekaa, 1). It is known to have been alive to the socio-political realities of its time; a kind of court where the economics, social religious and political issues of the society are outlined, evaluated and judged to bring about a better society. Satire is also a theater, where all its practitioners are artists who are all vanguards of social change in their respective capacities keeping watchful eyes and attentive ears on the happenings in the society.

Satire can be traced back throughout history. Whenever organized government or social categories has existed, so has satire. The oldest example that survived till today is Aristophanes. In his time, satire targeted top politicians like Cleon and religion at the time headed by Zeus (Onuigbo, and Igwedibia, 207-208). Satire and derision progressively attacked even the fundamental and most sacred facts of faith leading to an increasing doubt towards religion by the general population (Tamar, 1). From ancient times, Satirist make shared a common aim to expose foolishness in all its guise, vanity, hypocrisy, pedantry, and sentimentality and to effect reform through such exposure (Wole, Soyinka 33).

In Nigeria virtually all the new generation satirists are committed to issues of social and political concerns of their time. The relevance of any satire is dependent upon how well it is able to address the pressing issues of its society. As such, the political satirist is merely, a respondent to such issues of social essence. Therefore, it will only amount to man’s inhumanity to man, a sin against oneself and the nation, should a Nigerian satirist, writing for a Nigerian audience today, choose to merely play to the gallery in the face of the numerous perceivable injustices in our immediate society. This perhaps, is why Chinua Achebe posits that:

 “any writer who tries to avoid the big social and political questions in his society” he liken such a writer to the absurdist man in an Igbo proverb, who leaves his burning house to pursue the rodents fleeing from the flames” (11).

It is in this light that the political satirists believe that the level of injustice, corruption and other forms of malpractices and moral decadence in contemporary society have got to a point where the art of speaking with the “tongue in the check” on the stage alone is no longer enough, but rather there is an urgent demand for a more direct representation for an immediate social reform in our society.

Satire in Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest and A Play On Giants

Femi Osofisan, one of the pioneer proponents of radical theatre movement in Nigeria believes that “if we warned ourselves often painfully enough with the reality around us, if we refuse to bandage our sensitive spots away from the hurt of truth, then we can attain a new and positive awareness” (14). The radical satire in Nigeria, just like its prototypes around the world, as a matter of necessity is expected to be committed to issues that will provide direct and fact evaluations and brings them to the consciousness of the audience who would then begin to do something to sensitize the entire society and initiate an attitudinal change.

A review of the developmental trends in Nigerian satire shows that from the post independent era to the present day, there has been a noticeable change in the tone of Nigerian satires, both in content and form. From the seventies, for instance, Nigeria playwrights no longer write to entertain alone, but also to express certain ideological positions or condemn certain societal ills. Solomon Eka believes that:

The contemporary Nigerian playwright bears a mark of ideological commitment and patriotism. The text of his play will durably reflect the Socio-political situation under which he writes. His themes and subject matters naturally emerge from issues of tropical within his demand (3).

The radical satirist either writes in favour or against existing political system especially, when it is anti-social and dictatorial. Wole Soyinka’s The Trial of Brother Jero, for instance, mirrors the misappropriation of the Christian religion by dubious Nigerians as morally opposed to the original intensions of the early missionary who brought it into the country. In the same manner, Ola Rotimi’s Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again, satirizes the never – do – well Nigerian Politicians of the Second Republic in their political antics.

1.2 Thesis Statement

After the departure of the colonial masters, Africans have faced a lot of problems as a result of foreign culture they left behind such as; corruption, exploitation; class struggle etc has been the order of the day. All these societal ills have hindered growth in the African society. This socio-political and economic disorder committed playwrights towards restoring order to their communities which have been engulfed in a myriad of ills.

The playwrights discovered that this ill prevalent in African could be best eradicated through the application of satire. This really helps to ridicule the activities of people that do not bring growth to the African society. It is on this backdrop that this study seeks to examine satire in Wole Soyinka’s kongi’s Harvest and A Play on Giants.

1.3 Purpose of Study

The main purpose of this study was to examine Satire in Wole Soyinka’s kongi’s Harvest and A Play on Giants. The objectives of the study include:

  1. To underscore the use of satire by African playwrights as a means of exposing societal ills, as explored in the plays.
  2. To examine satire as a corrective tool for socio-political problem in Nigeria contemporary society.
  3. Expose the ills and vices in the Nigeria sociopolitical systems as well as drawing attention to the weakness of social institutions as explored in the texts.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The study of this magnitude will be significant in the following ways: It will reveal some of the corrupt practices in Africa societies perpetuated by political office holder; equally, the study shall also attempt to reveal forms of oppression and its effects in African literature as a whole.

It will also boost other researchers to be acquainted with the use of Satire to reveal corrupt practices in African Literature. It will prompt Nigerians to refrain from the act of oppression. However, the study will also help to portray what is happening in the corridor of power to the masses and lastly, the study will serve as stock for literature review on topics related to satire.

1.5 Research Methodology

The methodology for this research work is a qualitative research which relies on the analysis of some extrapolation of the primary texts (Wole Soyinka’s kongi’s Harvest and A Play on Giants). The research will also avail itself of some critical works. Magazines and other periodical drawn from the library. This research will also exploit the internet space for some online materials related to the subject of the research.

1.6 Scope of the Study

This scope of this study is limited to satire in Wole Soyinka’s kongi’s Harvest and A Play on Giants. This is to enable the researcher complete the work within the stipulated time. Therefore, all conclusions are based on textual analysis of the selected texts.

1.7 Theoretical Background

The theoretical model adopted as theoretical frameworks for this study is Harold Aram Veeser’s New Historicism. The main premise of New Historicists is to highlight the subversive forces of marginalized community of the society like female, bourgeoisie and ethnic communities of Non-European origin. It may be assumed that New Historicism shares the tenet of Marxism as it tries to find out the conflict between the suppressed and the dominant like that of Capitalist and Proletariat.

The whole social structure revolves round the problem of production and its circulation, but Cultural Materialists extend it towards the larger web of culture. New Historicists’ main motive is to find out the subversive voices in literary text so that society may be awakened regarding the exploitation of marginalized community: New Historicist looked for a more dynamic relationship between texts and their societies.

If a society could be shown to form a text, then one could also show that texts in turn reshaped from which they came. For New Historicist understood Marshall M.C Luhan’s sound bite, the medium is the message as a fundamental truism they wished to write about the form of power, they sought to show the power of literary forms to reshape the world, to assert than to prove beguiling rather a demonstrable fact for a lyric poem which can be shown, turned out to be hard to find. (Murray 806-809).

New Historicism is a literary movement that reflects the legacy of Marxism and stemmed as a response to formalism. New historicism is interested in reading a piece of text in light of its political and social context. Unlike historicist before them, they don’t see history as just background information for the text, rather they see it as the key piece of information that the literature is conveying.

As such, they do not believe that literature should be discussed or understood in term of universal themes. New Historicism is concerned with power structure, circulation, political function, author’s background, and what really happened. They reject the close reading of formalist.

The main features of new historicism is that they critic into account the entire historical situation surrounding the time the work was published. This includes the predominant social and political situation. There was multiple notable proponent of new historicism. Some of them are: Stephen Greenblatt; Stephen Greenblatt is credited with pioneering new historicism. His book The Power of Form in the English Renaissance is where he first used the term, new historicism.

He claimed that literary criticism is always historical. Another person is Fredric Jameson: Jameson advised literary critics to always pay attention to historical context in which a work was produced. He is known by the dictate to “Always historicise”. Alan Liu is another notable proponent. He claimed that new historicist uses the entire world as a text. Michael Foucault in his own part claimed that knowledge is determined by system that are defined not just by cohesiveness but by ruptures.

New Historicism have gained momentum in its popularity as a new approach, but it is being criticized because it has certain limitations like the lack of intellectual coherence and a systematic way to pave the way of a reader and critic to study a text at hand. However, to criticize New Historicism on this ground seems whimsical. In fact, this critical approach encompasses within its methodological folds such critical tenets as adopted by Marxism, Historical and Psychological approaches, hence it came as a corrective and a pluralistic method of study.

Moreover, this approach is again criticized for not being impartial in its methodology because New Historicists “ignored writings by minorities . . . . To some critics New Historicists were not . . . political enough” (Murry, 806-809). It seems to be wrong judgment on the part of critics because they do not pay attention to their merging with the Feministic and Postcolonial approaches to literature. New Historicists are of the opinion that literature should give voice to subaltern group of society. “The strategy of ‘Thick description’ and the local reading of power relationship could be seen subaltern studies and post-colonial approaches.

Another important figure for New Historicism is Harold Aram Veeser. In his book about New Historicism, Veeser maintains that scholars “can engage themselves in various disciplines like history, literature, politics, economics, art, and anthropology thanks to New Historicism (9)”. In addition, New Historicism paved the way for humanists to go into the matters of politics and power. It can be argued that New Historicism is totally aware that any subject may have an impact on people’s way of life. Veeser claims that New Historicism holds together literature, art, history, ethnography, anthropology, and other disciplines showing that all these various fields are inter-related to each other.

Tenets of New Historicism: In understanding this theory well; there are basic tenets that aids the understanding. As a literary movement, new historicism began in the 1980s and was founded by Stephen Greenblat. Its main claim is that the themes and meaning of literature are not universal and cannot be derived from the text alone. Rather, they are the products of author’s time and cultural situations.

A better title, from the new historicist’s point of view, might be “Different and Competing World Pictures Held by the Wide Varieties of Persons”. Yes this title would be preferable following reasons:

* It implies that political, social, cultural, and economic views are always in flux, they are always in a kind of competition or negotiation with one another.

* It implies that some people and groups and views on may have exercised more power than others at any given moment in time, but that the situation was never static and was always subject to possible change.

* It implies that a society bor culture is made up of many different groups and that the experiences of groups at the margin of the social power are just as interesting and worthy of study as the experiences of groups at the centre of the social power.

* It implies that literary text are not only influenced by culture but are parts of culture and can therefore influences themselves, so that relationship is not a simple (with culture influencing literature) but a complex and dynamic one (with influences running in both directions).

The above shows the basic Tenets of New Historicism, and therefore in studying history and literature, new historicist are suspicious of any claims of unity and harmony. Another key assumption of new historicist is that everything is political. In other words, everything is in one way involved in or affected by struggles or negotiations for power.

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