Wole Soyinka's "Purgatory"

Julia Edwards,'93 (English 32, Spring, 1990)

In "Purgatory," Soyinka implements satirical, dramatic, and musical techniques to depict a mind-less and heart-less humanity lost in the machinery of the Judicial System. The language and images throughout the section remain alien and distant. This antiseptic quality is reminiscent of Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," in which the System comes to dominate-- nay, efface-- the indivdual. Soyinka uses biting satire and Matter-of-fact stage directions to emphasize the absence of the individual and the horrific stature the System has gained. The references to the gross abuse and manipualtion of justice as "festive" and "an ancient pagent" reflects Soyinka's cynical view of a good corrupted by evil. But Soyinka, although enraged, seems more enraged with the System than with individuals. The advocates of the cruel brand of justice are comical: a "puppet cast" and a "cardboard row of gaolers, eyelids of glue," as they are but gears in the monstrous machinery of sadism. Finally, the prisoners, who are conveniently and comically classified, appeal to the ounce of being left "in memories/ Long faded." Soyinka uses the musical technique of repetition and the "vamp" to illustrate the "faint stir" of hope that ultimately "dissolve[s] in vagueness" "behind a calloused shelter of walls." Soyinka explores in this section the degeneration and virtual occupation of the mind by a higher evil.

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