Myth in Soyinka, Emecheta, and Onwueme's Works

In response to my question about her view of connection to Soyinka's use of myth in his drama and her relation to Emecheta's writing, Osonye Tess Onwueme kindly responded with the following, which I quote without any changes [GPL]

[19 April 2001]

Dear George,

In direct response to your question about my thoughts on Soyinka's and Emecheta's writing, let me share with you an earlier essay I wrote that was published on my "Visions of "Myth in Nigerian Drama"

Isidore Okpewho strongly suggests that for better insight into the nature and function of myth, "we should take seriously the view that myth is literature and therefore a matter of aesthetic experience and imagination" (1983, 71).

From my own perspective, I understand myth to be the affirmation of history and reality as informed by beliefs, customs, and events which have attained such unquestionable, absolutist, and transcendental value that they have become entrenched in the life of a people in a given ethos. This means that for such a people, the present is guided by faith or truth enshrined and inherited from the past to ensure its sacredness and acceptability.

Within the context of written Nigerian drama, two observable tendencies have emerged with reference to the use of myth; the mythopoeic and the revolutionary imperative. Whereas the older generation of nigerian dramatists typified by J.P. Clark and Wole Soyinka has tended to view myth as truth, reality, or faith unmitigated, the revolutionary generation, unsatisfied with existing reality, responds to the promethean and dialectical imperatives of change to depart radically from accepted norms and values, while dismantling, rearranging, and reconstructing them to propel society to new horisons. Thus, the one mystifies history, customs, past heroes and traditions by elevating them to sacred status and apotheosis, the other profanes them by unveiling the embroidered tapestries and encrustations of norms and values surrounding them in order to empower and revise the present for future progress. For the revolutionary dramatist, like all "action-smiths" capable of casting and recasting materials anew, truths in myth should be appropriated and remoulded for social awakening and reconstruction.

What unites one writer with the mythopoeic vision and the other with the revolutionary vision is their roles as legatees; they both invent myths as tools to unravel the uncertainties and realities of their present from the past in order to understand their essential identity and existence. However, what separates the mythopoeic dramatist from the revolutionary dramatist is the method and attitude to the legacy. The mythopoeic dramatist approaches the legacy with a certain degree of deference and awe, as one would approach a benevolent ghost. The revolutionary dramatist is not merely fascinated by myth, but approaches it with utilitarian curiosity and determination to grip it, strip it, refashion it, as an adult craftsman would utilize any valuable raw material for creating new forms, new worlds...


Onwueme, Tess. "Visions of "Myth in Nigerian Drama." Canadian Journal of African Studies, 25, 1 1991: 59-60).

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