Between Madmen and Specialists and The Beatification of Area Boy: a comparison of style.

Author:Owoeye, Omolara Kikelomo


In many of the plays that make up what can be aptly described as Soyinka's dramatic canon, one issue that he has tackled with dogged consistency and ferocious wit is the aberrant leadership situation prevalent in his native Nigeria and many other African nation States. The advent of Soyinka's literary creativity is synchronous with the attainment of independence and the consequent leap into the postcolonial era by Nigeria and most other African nations. Characteristically, the postcolonial age is bedeviled with the problems of corruption, sit-tight leaders, exploitation and the abhorred incursion of military into politics and this has become an issue for writers both in Nigeria and other African nations.

Soyinka has for over four decades fought military dictatorship and tyranny in Nigeria, forging on with his creative pen even when it appeared most dangerous and even unprofitable to do so. In plays such as A Dance of the Forests, Kongi's Harvest, Madmen and Specialists and Opera Wonyosi, Soyinka uses his satiric pen to carve indelible marks on the faces of despots and dictators in Nigeria. Even in lighter satires such as Jero's Metamorphosis, Soyinka still finds opportunity to pass comments on the army and decry their excessive practices in form of mass promotion within the Nigerian Army of the time, headed by Yakubu Gowon. A continental view of the crisis is projected in A Play of Giants, thereby confirming that despotism is a predicament that is more African than Nigerian.

Of more interest here is the fact that in 1995, more than three decades after the premiere/publication of his first play, The Swamp Dwellers in 1958, Soyinka published The Beatification of Area Boy, yet another treatise on military in politics. Between the 1960s and 1995 when The Beatification of Area Boy was published, political activities in the country had changed variously with the military relinquishing power to civilians twice and coming back only shortly thereafter. These changes, certainly, have had several effects on the political climate under which Soyinka writes. What is uncertain is the effect these changes have had on the playwright and his dramatic outputs in terms of linguistic pattern, thematic engagement, and other idiosyncratic elements of his dramaturgy which make up his style.

The vagaries of the Nigerian political climate are not the only factors capable of inflicting change on an author like Soyinka. His linguistic choice has been widely criticized as obscure and incapable of reaching the general populace especially those outside the circle of the intelligentsia. Gordimer once admonishes Soyinka and other obscurantist writers to be accessible to the average reader saying, "a literary culture cannot be created by writers without readers" (7). Soyinka has responded to some of his critics through various media and sometimes expressed his plans to maintain his linguistic and literary style. The aim of this paper therefore, is to critically examine the possible noticeable changes in Soyinka's dramatic works over time with a view to determining whether the swerving on the Nigerian political environment and critical responses have actually caused a shift in the laureate's style.

The focus here will be on two of his plays: Madmen and Specialists (which we shall call Madmen hereafter) written in a period which can be described as the apotheosis of his creative career and The Beatification of Area Boy (called The Beatification henceforth) written exactly twenty-five years after the former. Critical works abound on both plays, no doubt. Oluwole Adejare's interpretive work on Madmen and Specialists for instance remains a masterpiece on the play owing to the detailed manner in which he approaches his analysis of language and theme. However, Adejare's treatment of Madmen treats the play in isolation and is therefore different from the comparative and composite approach which this paper intends to take. Besides, Soyinka had not written The Beatification of Area Boy as at the time Adejare published the work in which Madmen and Specialists is featured hence it would be impossible for him to do a juxtaposition of the old and the new which is the preoccupation of this paper.

The Question of Style

Every writer of literature has, either consciously or unintentionally followed a particular pattern in their linguistic and thematic presentation of creative thoughts and this forms the style of writing of individual authors. To this end, the meaning of style as a characteristic feature of creative writings/writers becomes necessary. Style is the shell surrounding a pre-existing core of thought, so said Enkvist. The core of thought basically refers to the motif, idea, message, plan, suggestion the artist, poet, writer or the average language user has in his mind to say or share with the world. The way he expresses the idea or thought is what is called style. Style denotatively refers to the particular way in which something is done. In linguistics studies therefore, style refers to the way a writer writes. It means "the management of language in the expression of thought", Kolawole (7). By this we mean to say the application of the resources language has to offer in suiting the art of writing. It is the inclusion of personality and identity in language use. By studying the stylistic properties of a literary work or corpus of works, one can penetrate the mind of its author. More often than not, style epitomises individual distinction in literary art. It shapes and marks out individual traits in world literature. Some writers go as far as subverting grammatical mechanics all in a bid to individuate a particular writing pattern that would be exceptionally theirs.

Stylistics, being the linguistic study of style became popular in the 1960's and scholars like Hockett, Freeman, Leech, Fowler, Ohmann and Enkvist blazed the trail in this regard. They were interested in what constituted style, a departure from the neo-classical study of rhetoric. What informs the assertion that a particular writer has his own style of writing, or that one writer's style is obviously different from that of another was their motivation. A school of thought asserts that the observation that every writer possessed the natural, linguistic and peculiar way of expressing ideas led to the identification of style with man and his thought. Simpson describes stylistics as a method of textual interpretation in which primacy of place is assigned to language. Stockwell talks about the psychological and socially motivated choices writers make in their works. He also avers that style may mean the characteristic patterns of choices associated with a writer's or projected character's utterances.

Style is an artistic identity. It reflects authorial experience, his views of the world and his general personal perceptions. As a writer grows or develops therefore, his worldview perhaps may change and this could reflect in every aspect of him, especially his art. So, his choice of words may reflect the changes or his new orientation pertaining to any subject. Achebe's style in his first published novel Things Fall Apart is easier than his Anthills of the Savannah for example. Although some scholars argue that the style of any literary piece depends on the target audience of the endeavour which means context determines linguistic choice. This may be true in particular instances where the social, linguistic, or cultural context determines the choice of diction to employ in communication.

The way a writer composes an academic article may be different from the way the same writer will use language for a children Sunday School class. That is why style is often referred to as the dress of thought. The aesthetic employment for the transmission of this 'thought' makes a good writer. Subsequently, writers attach much importance to the choices of words they use to convey their thoughts.

Whether writers deliberately break grammatical and lexico-semantic rules to 'stand out' or to be unique is another interesting perspective to the question of style. To some, the conscious flouting of linguistic patterns is the basis for carving out a style. This view sees style as deviation from the norm that is, the conscious effort to be different in the way one chooses to use language. Although controversy surrounds what should be categorized as the 'norm' to be broken, there is evidence of deviant behavior in the art of some writers. They are unconventional in their language use. They intentionally break writing rules which in turn makes their works unique. At all the linguistic levels of language description--phonological, lexical, syntactic, semantic-some writers break away from conventions and standards. For example, the poet E. E. Cummings is noted for his aversion to the use of capital letters and other punctuation marks. Turner comments on the theory of stylistics as the part of linguistics that focuses on variation in the use of language.

At the graphological level, certain rules may be broken. Lawal lists these to include the rule that states the personal pronoun 'I' must be in capital irrespective of what where it occurs in a text or that all...

To continue reading