Wole Soyinka's Aké: Leading Questions

1. What "impressions" is Wole referring to in his passage, "Most of the time, the tired, humiliated wretch was a young woman, a fact which made some impression on me." (87)? Are his choice of words used to describe the culprit meant to suggest sympathy, or perhaps disgust? [Corey Binns]

2. In the scene proceeding Wole's march with band and subsequent nap, the Bookseller's Wife makes public note of the fact that Wole's mother is still possibly distraught and angry. The Bookseller's Wife suggests to Father, therefore, that Mother needs a "dose of her favorite medicine", the stick. Father agrees, hands the stick to the woman and "Mama was up and bounding through the parlour." (p. 50) While this seems very humorous and playful, I want to question the nature of this action. The role of the Bookseller's Wife as the secondary mother is quite evident here; however, it seems that she also takes on a the role of a parent to the mother as well. But if she is instead taking on the role of, or acting as an aid to the husband, are we seeing a cultural crossing between the pre colonial and colonial? Is the stick used, under other circumstances, by the husband on the wife in a way which was once foreign to Yoruba culture? [Gerrit Bulman]

3. In Wole's mind, the experience of marching beyond his previous"boundaries" (physical and mental) with the band and being received home was a rite of passage of sorts (at the age of 4 1/2) and obviously made quite an impression on the young child to be remembered as an event so vividly.

"And before I knew what was happening, she had swung me on to her back, slipped her wrapper round to secure me tightly and was singing and dancing. And suddenly everyone was singing with her, laughing and shouting at the top of their voices. Only one person sat in her chair seemingly unmoved by it all, this was mother..." (p.49)

Then, when Mrs. Bookseller threatened to whip Mother with a stick as if she were a child,

"The next moment Mama was up and bounding through the parlour. Everybody seemed in such high spirits, it was strange to see grown-up men and women prancing through the house like the urchins who had marched to the music of the police band." (p. 50)

What is the significance of Wole's perceived reversal of "roles" that seems to be occurring when he is brought home from his march with the parade to Ibara? It is interesting that he is not punished for going so far away, as he often seems to be punished for other minor offenses. What is going on here? [jenni]

4. On pages 85-87 of Aké Soyinka describes the intrusion of public displays onto his home life. First and foremost of these is the description of the funeral service. The service is divided into two halves, the first of which follows Western tradition, complete with hearse, tolling bells, wreaths and muted grief. The second half occurs after the actual internment has taken place, when the mourners pour out into the street, singing and waving as if in celebration, the level of gaity determined by the importance of the deceased. In the description of the above scene, how natural does the pairing of such disparate ways of grieving seem? What similarities are there, if any, between the two public rituals of loss? What impression does the ceremony have on the young Wole, in any, as demonstrated in the text? [Andy Greenwald]

5. The passage brought up in class, beginning on page 156 with 'The hawkers' lyrics of leaf-wrapped moin-moin still resound in parts of Aké . . . ' and concluding on page 158 with 'It is time to join the others at the Colonel's for a share of the "finger-lickin' goodness".' raises a fairly simple but, I think, relevant question since we're dealing with autobiography. You had questioned this sudden distaste for the cultural blending with which Soyinka's own work is suffused; is it possible that he is succumbing to nostalgia? More specifically, with his elite background, it begins to sound to me that what he is complaining about is that not only were things better the way they were, but they were better because they were run by people who were qualified to run them (i. e. Essay, Ransome-Kuti -- whose pop-singer synonym makes an interesting counterpoint to the whole tirade). Perhaps I'm not articulating this as well as I'd like -- it represents a liberal reading in between the lines, but Soyinka's present-tense commentary certainly has the sound of nostalgia, and bad at that -- these kids should be growing up like I did, becasue dammit it was better.

I have a point to raise, also, about the passage which concludes on page 160 concerning Sorowanke and the sudden violence visited upon her. It caught me by surprise, this sudden, casual cruelty in the midst of a fairly tranquil narrative -- certainly the nature of the violence confused me, as did the earlier episode in which Wole was goaded into fighting Dipo. Both events seem incongruously aggressive in a lifestyle which is portrayed in so settled a manner. Finally, that sends me to the passage on page 143, when Wole's grandfather says 'He wants to send his son into battle and believe me, the world of books is a battlefield, it is a tougher battlefield than the ones we used to know. So how does he prepare him? By stuffing his head with books. But booklearning, and especially success in book-learning only creates other battles.' The whole series of events at his grandfather's home and at the farm put me in mind of a reaffirmation of Wole's roots, a closer linking to his past, culminating with the incisions on wrists and ankles. Does this all represent some sort of credo? Wole seeing a life of letters as a way, steeped in paradox but a valid path, to follow in the warrior traditions of his African ancestors? Perhaps this overstates it a little, but Wole is certainly a grandiose little boy; why should he be any less as a man? I see his books as weapons, and certainly at least one regime has also. [Greg Gipson]

6. Look at the passage in which the teacher names Wole's rock Jonah, on pages 63 (last paragraph before the dialogue) and 64 (until the bottom of the last full paragraph on the page. Here Wole's spot of solitude is dubbed a figure from the Bible. This is presented as a symbol of "change" in the paragraphs leading up to it. What significance does this change take on? Most obviously it seems to be a clash of the world-ordering stories of Wole himself and of the colonizing christians. How is this issue expanded upon in this passage? What other symbols or events in the book also explore this issue? [Margaret Hander ]

7. They move on to the trinket-and-cosmeticshop, their jaws implacably churning through the gummed-up troughs of synthesized feed in every cinceivable idiom, pause at McDonald's, bury corpses of sausage rolls in their mouths and drown the mash in coca-cola. A girl decides at last on one of several competing brands of 'skin tone' creams, already picturing her skin bleached lighter, if the glossy poster on the wall fulfilled its promises...

Their choices equally untroubled but tuned to distant mentors, the children of the new professionals-doctors, lawyers, engineers, bureaucrats and clerics-pass behind the parsonage along Dayisi's Walk clutching the very latest cassettes from 'the abroad' and congregate at Kentucky Fried Chicken to compare notes. A girl pauses at the hair-dressers' and soon, the sound of sizzling joins the disco sounds, followed by the smell of frying hair as the hot comb heats up the brain of te young consumer without firing her imagination. At the end of the operation the belle of St. Peter's examines the magazine floss on her head, touches it lightly here and there and approves her new appearance. It is time to join the otheres ar the Colonel's for a share of the 'finger-lickin' goodness'. [Aké: The Years of Childhood, pages 156 and 157]

Thoughout the novel, which is primarily set in colonial Nigeria, Soyinka portrays the coexistence of both the British and the Nigerian cultures. Although the cultures are separate entities, Wole does not need to choose between them. Wole attends a government school, goes to church, and tends his father's rose garden, all clearly British influences. Wole also retains his Nigerian heritage, evidenced by his belief in folklore and his adherence to certain customs (e.g. the tatoos on his wrists and ankles).

In the above passage, Soyinka describes the present day effects of the influx of Western culture in his hometown, Aké. This is postcolonial Nigeria. The British no longer occupy this land, but have they really left? What legacy did they leave behind? Is it good or bad? [Alaka Holla]

8. I am interested in finding out more about the biblical allusions in the narrative. The openning of Ake describes a very Eden-like setting, complete with snakes living in the bamboo, and we discussed in class the notion of the narrative as the account of an "exodus". Are there any more such parallels between Aké and the early (or later) books of the old and new testaments? There are many small references to the bible throughout the work, but I haven't picked up on anything that applies more broadly to Aké. [Heather Klemick]

9. On p. 93 Soyinka begins a chapter that describes the CHANGE that he has been noticing. "A small event or, more frequently, nothing happened at all, nothing that I could notice much less grasp and--suddenly it all changed! The familiar faces looked and acted differently. Features appeared where they had not been, vanished where before they had become inseparable from our existence. Every human being...would CHANGE!" Soyinka goes on to give examples which emphasize change within his family. Why does he make this realization now? Since Wole's journey outside of the walls of the parsonage, he has further established his independence from the family. How have his mother's and father's respective attitudes to this independence changed? How does Folasade's death affect Wole's and his parent's perceptions of one another? [Giridhar Mallya ]


The presence of these workmen reminded me of another invasion. At the end of those earlier activities we no longer needed oil-lamps...(107)

"'Let there be light'"(107)- electricity and Christianity associated

Now the workmen were threading the walls again, we wondered what the new magic would produce. This time there was no bulb, no extra switches on thew wall. Instead a large wooden box was brought to the house...Unlike the gramaphone however, the box could not be made to sing at any time of the day. It began its monologue early in the morning, first playing 'God Save the King' (107,8).

The preceding passages illuminate the association of technology/"progress" and European/"western" civilization in the colonized mind. How does this association complicate/destroy the potential for "progress" in the post-Colonial state? [Jason Preciphs]

11a. Most adults would tell kids not to fight. Yet, why did Father tell Wole "don't ever turn your back on a fight"? Does this bear any significance/ lesson to what would happen later in the book?

11b. "It was understood in Isara that the children of the Headmaster did not prostrate themselves in greeting..." Yet, why does Essay "decree(d) that full prostration should commence, not only in Isara, but in our Ake home"? Is he bending to convention/ tradition because of Wole's embarassing encounter with Odemo? Does this point to any possible "ideal" postcolonial way of living whereby natives who believe in the whiteman's religion compromise to find acceptance in a society which, despite of colonialism, still retains its own beliefs and culture?

"If only there was a way of sensing when one was being taken over, one could take necessary precautions. I had long lost faith in the efficacy of Wild Christian's prayers. There were several of her wards over whom she prayed night and day. She took them into the church and prayed over them, found any excuse, any opportunity at all to drag them before the alter and pray over them. They continued to steal, lie, fight or do whatever it was she prayed against. The scale of such perversity, it seemed, must be beyond the remedy of prayerssince the two had the entire church to themselves and God was not being distracted by other voices from that same direction. I had no doubt that prayers worked for Wild Christian herself, she seemed to thrive on it and she claimed her prayers were always answeredIt was different for the rest of uswho had allowed entry to emi esu, and there was little even she could do about it" (p.105). [Ai Ping Wendy Tan]


"Now I sought ways to let the household know that father and I belonged in a separate world. Wild Christian wathced the progressive abandonment of participation in the general household ordering and let it go. 'Papa gave me some homework' was final, it brooked no argument. but the seeming triumph did not come without its rooted fears. I sensed, not battle, but demarcation lines being drawn, yet even these required a measure of defiance which escalated every day. I would deny it to myself, yet I know that it was taking place; the treatment of my own sister was merely the first event to bring ti to my uneasy notice." (81)

Is Wole's special treatment from his father based on his gender or his intellectual precociousness? Gender dynamics between his mother and father throughout are relatively equal, although his father seems symbolically to hold special power. How is his special treatment reconciled with the otherwise sensibly, sometimes brutally, just treatment of children in the household. [Irene Tung]

13. In Aké, Wole Soyinka depicts a selectively powerful Christianity. There are numerous statements made of the importance of maintaining an utmost faith in God, such as Essay's insistence that Wole never neglect his prayers (p.162). The idea of salvation through faith is blended with a belief in magical powers. This issue is played out at the scene of unmasked juju, where Wole and another student verbalize their lack of understanding of the interactions of these various powers (p.189). What tensions are created by Wole Soyinka's descriptions of the adaptations of Christianity throughout Ake? Why does he not question outright the value of this imported religion, while he finds so distainful other aspects of the colonizer's cultural and material tradition? [Molly Yancovitz 9/8/97]

14. I was wondering about the significance of the scene that takes place between the still young Wole and his father on pages 60 through 62. Beginning with, "The 'habit' had developped unnoticed by me," the account is of how Essay breaks Wole's unconscious habit of moistening his lips every time he walked past the Wash-Hand Basin. The scene is described in careful detail, and we see Essay patiently observing and breaking down his son's motions until the habit is recognized. The scene is just another example of Wole's disciplining by his parents, but I was wondering why so much attention was devoted to this one incident.

My thoughts on the matter: Essay's treatment of his son seems to be a cross between gentle gaming and severe reprimand, similar to the type of semi-spoiled upbringing we were talking about on Thursday. (Wole is allowed to get away with a lot and is often given special treatment, but in addition -- and I guess when it comes to matters of importance (though I'm still not exactly sure of the importance of this particular habit-breaking) -- his parents will give him the needed discipline -- Essay is portrayed as an infinitely patient and observing man.

What is it about this incident in his young life that made it stick so in the mind of Soyinka? (different than the tragic accidents where he nearly lost his eye and so forth) [Zandra Kambysellis]

[Additional questions]

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