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Ambivalent Relation with the Divine in Wole Soyinka's The Road


This essay proposes a long overdue reading of Wole Soyinka’s play, The Road. For his eccentric demeanor, Professor, the central figure of The Road, has greatly preoccupied scholars, but the attention accorded to the character has also subjected him to a significant amount of negative criticism. For scholars, Professor is an agile opportunist who manipulates the gods and his companions for self-aggrandizing objectives. In this paper, I nuance this reading and demonstrate that Professor is, in fact, not the only character in The Road who uses the divine for personal motives and that characters such as Samson and Say Tokyo also have an ambivalent relationship with the spirit world. Professor, one of the central characters of Soyinka’s The Road, has not only occupied a central place in scholastic discussions of the play but has also been the subject of many criticisms. The judgments that critics cast on the character usually start with a portrayal of the hero as a megalomaniac and abusive persona and end with a description of his spiritual quest as no more than a deceptive strategy of control conducted under the guise of religion. However, the main criticism usually is that Professor is a dishonest and demented figure whose personal concerns and goals involve a lifestyle that constantly aborts his discovery of—and perhaps “nirvanic” fusion with—the Word that he incessantly seeks. In this article, I put forth that Professor does not stand alone in his ambivalent relation with the divine. I argue that the elements behind Professor’s defective spirituality also affect the lives of other characters, precisely Samson and Say Tokyo. As a result, the sacrilegious manifests itself not only through the main protagonist, but also through Samson and Say Tokyo. The basis for this claim will become more pronounced as I successively engage with the criticisms held against Professor, his oddities, the characters’ acceptance of the divine, and the modern concepts leading them to continually fail the gods and goddesses.

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