Essay Sample on Role of Women in Wole Soyinka's "Death and The King's Horseman"

Published: 2023-01-08
Essay Sample on Role of Women in Wole Soyinka's "Death and The King's Horseman"
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Women Character analysis Dramatic literature Gender in literature
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1420 words
12 min read


Wole Soyinka's, "Death and the King's Horseman" captures a clash and constant battle between two cultures. The position and roles of the women among the Yoruba traditional society are adversely recognized and valued. Soyinka shows that women fulfill their moral, spiritual, and social roles as mothers, show adequate guidance and enforces discipline to the entire community, especially in occasions where men are subjected to other duties. Iyaloja, Market's Mother is portrayed as both spiritually and politically critical. Apart from her overt nature of enforcing discipline, Iyaloja has a towering image, which is a vital source of nourishment to her community. The women of the Market are also portrayed to have the adequate possibility of rising to power position, reducing the superiority of men. Wole Soyinka examines different ways of thinking about responsibility, influence, and power to give a meaningful exoneration in the role and position of women in the society, especially in male-dominated areas.

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The play opens on the day on the day Elsien Oba, the king's horseman appointed death. The death of the king by law and custom of the community subjects his chief horseman to commit suicide as a way of accompanying him to heaven. The Elsien walks among the women of the local Market on his appointed day of death, followed by a praise-singers and an entourage of drummers, he proclaims that the Market is his roost (Soyinka 2). Amidst women, Soyinka portrays Elsien, a chicken with many mothers. Elsien refers his position of the king's chief horseman as a motivation which is made possible by the availability of women in the society. According to him, women are birth mothers and their position in the community is valuable in the dispensation of morals and discipline to all errands that the children may be exposed to as they grow. Soyinka also uses Elsien to show how loving and caring women are based on the comforts in which they give to people. in the provision of support, women adversely play their traditional roles are real mothers, not necessarily as a figure for childbearing but a women whose position in the society is to support and nurture spiritually and morally. As the women in the markets sing praises to Elsien and dress him in their most luxurious cloths shows their love to spoil their children, which can only be exhibited under scrutiny to fathom its main attributes. Women in Soyinka's "Death and the King's Horseman" play portray an overall love which can only be analyzed based on the closeness which they have with such people.

Similarly, the young girl in the scene who catches Elsie's attention and he opt to marry her on his final night. Although it was apparent the Elsien will not stay any longer based on the stipulated laws and customs governing the position of the king and his chief horseman, Iyaloja sacrifices the bride to her son and offers her to Elsien for marriage. This was amidst torn between public and personal interest. Iyaloja, the Mother of the Market acted as the voice of wisdom in Wole Soyinka' play "Death and the King's Horseman," which is recognized as an authoritative and privileged figure with executive power as the male counterpart. She fills her position with dignity and does her role with an outstanding approach with the interest of her community as the first choice rather than her interests. Through her act of giving her son's bride to Elsien, as a woman she portrays specific concern as well as solemnly assumes the role of women in the society. The sacrifice she made to Elsien amidst all odds acts as willful death to him (Mukhopadhyay 122). The vast knowledge that she portrays about the universe's cosmic forces and effects of refusing a man's request especially in his last days to his death serves as an outstanding approach which is not common among the female character. Soyinka uses Iyaloja to act as the voice of the voiceless and the vulnerable members of the society, especially the female characters, which are usually rendered passive in male-dominated communities.

Moreover, Soyinka also portrays women as powerful and characters with mild authority. In the play, Iyaloja subverts the power and influence of men to show the audience their real characteristics and forms ones the manliness facades are removed from them. Iyaloja does this to Elsien before his official suicide in the scene which such actions were little thought of especially from women figures. She scolded Elsien with her words about his failure to the community's culture. She also ridiculed Simon throughout the play as well as in the scene of Elsien's death (Soyinka 2). Her women as a woman of substance were to remind Simon about the consequences of prolonging the ritual, which, according to him, was nothing but a way of keeping his stature as a man. The relationship that Iyaloja has with the male characters and her efforts to create a peaceful society is a substantial role of women.

Women characters in Soyinka's play constitute the succulent pith in the growth of every community. They serve as the steering wheel, which defines the position and direction of the society. Though, they are viewed as vulnerable and naive in male-dominated cultures. Soyinka uses them to force a fusion contradiction that has existed between male and female. Their participation of women in seething chaos in the plays acts as a healing, anointing and nourishing, and rehabilitating hand for the good of the community (Quayson 291). Women maintain a cosmic balance through Promethean struggle in the regenerative continuance. Soyinka also depicts women in fettering stereotypic images to their selflessness among the male. However, the women voyage to find self-fulfillment through the river of the individualism, which entails a direct plunge into the chthonic realm. Women are determined and concerned about the welfare of the entire community. For instance, Iyaloja, the voice of wisdom, maintains a stable stand in her position to awaken the community about the area and role of women in society. Socially she is a mother, fully orchestrated to serve and maintain her family, but politically and culturally, the needs and interests of the community supersede her own. Ilayoja, preserve the distinct individuality of women, as grounded among the Nigerians, especially the Yoruba people (Soyinka 4). The male-female principle, which defines the position and role played by each gender among the Yoruba people, is best served through the efforts made by women in disintegrating the prejudice, which is shared about them. However, the male-female connection principle allows them to form a single unity for Soyinka's quest for the conception of a dualistic destructive-creative one.

Women in "Death and the King's Horseman" are the catalyst of change. They significantly played a vital role in ensuring the culture of their society is maintained. The continuous efforts of Iyajola portray a dire need for change. She is always concerned about the issues which affect the entire community and very agile in ensuring that the rationale is solved amicably. Similarly, Jane Pilkings, wife to Simon Pilkings after ascending to position motivated women to fight for leadership roles which have been dominated by men. Women maintained a solid effort and ensure that their future is destined for the best as opposed to some issues which have been put against their success. However, in terms of culture clash, which was brought among the Yoruba people due to the invasion of the area by the westerners, women ensured that norms are respected and adhered to. For instance, the women singers in the Market maintain their cultural songs and dances to celebrate important occasions.


In conclusion, women in "Death and the King's Horseman" by Wole Soyinka serves as the plight for change. Led by Iyaloja, they maintained steady progress in the rise to position and leadership. Most of their efforts are geared towards ensuring a stable and harmonized society, either as mothers or as the projects for change. Similarly, women acted as the drivers of the organization through the dispensation of morals and discipline which the children may be faced with in their lifestyle. Literary, Soyinka views women as the community shapeup both socially and politically, primarily through the main character, Iyaloja, the Mother of the Market in her effort of restoring the people's culture.

Works Cited

Mukhopadhyay, Tuhin. "Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman: Searching for the Common Humanity." EDITORIAL BOARD (2017).

Quayson, Ato. "Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman in Comparative Frameworks." Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 2.2 (2015): 287-296.

Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King's Horseman: A Play. Turtleback Books, 2012.

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Essay Sample on Role of Women in Wole Soyinka's "Death and The King's Horseman". (2023, Jan 08). Retrieved from

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