Soyinka's Use of Mini-stories in the Greater Autobiographical Context

Neel Parekh '00 (English 27 1997)

Wole Soyinka, in Aké: The Years of Childhood , relays to the reader the experience of growing up in a Nigerian town. The author conveys insight of his life through interactions with other characters and through small, individualized stories. Both of these techniques can be seen in the following passage in which the aftermath of Wole's accident with Osiki is discussed:

"Have you washed it away?" I persisted... "Because, you see, you mustn't. It wouldn't matter if I had merely cut my hand or stubbed my toe or something like that--not much blood comes out when that happens. But I saw this one, it was too much. And it comes from my head. So you must squeeze it out and pump it back in my head. That way I can go back to school at once."

My father nodded agreement, smiling. "How did you know that was the right thing to do?"

I looked at him in surprise, "But everybody knows."

Then he wagged his finger at me, "Ah-ha, but what you don't know is that we have already done it. It's all back in there, while you were asleep . I used Dipo's feeding-bottle to pour it back."

I was satisfied. "I'll be ready for school tomorrow" I announced. (Vintage International. New York, 1989. p. 28)

This section of the work reveals information about Wole and an understanding of Wole's father as Soyinka's words guide us through his childhood. By passages such as the one cited the reader can experience Wole's gradual growth. What may seem as a comedic story of a misunderstood child proves to be much more. It is rather one of many integral, although sometimes inane, situations that appear throughout his book. From these small tales, a greater picture of Wole can be created. In this particular passage, Wole proves to be curious and innocent -- he truly believes that the blood from his clothes should be returned back to his head. Is this just the ideal asinine, childish behavior of a young boy? Yes, but at the same time it serves to be much more. The passage connects the reader to the child. Wole is just like most other children. He often finds himself in mischievous situations. He constantly asks questions. He even tries various attempts at premature adulthood. All of these instances help the reader to recognize that Wole is a true character...a person that they at one time could have been. Wole is no longer a mysterious figure from an unknown country and culture. Instead he becomes someone from each person's past. In that sense, the passage lends itself to be particularly significant.

This section of the work also arouses interest given the interaction between Wole and his father. Throughout the work, Essay, as Wole comically refers to him, is a staunch figure. He is a headmaster, the embodiment of a strong mixture of both seriousness and discipline. These characteristics can be seen through his actions with Odejimi, the co-worker who stole a rose from Soyinka's garden. The passage cited at the top of the page, along with others throughout the autobiography, present Essay as a man with heart. Essay could have easily wrestled with his child's perceptions by rebuking Wole's misconception, but instead the headmaster merely entertains his son's imagination to insure that Wole is fully recuperated from the accident. The reader identifies this as a unique and sincere interaction between father and son, and Essay is shown to be one of the many nurturing members of the community. It furthers an understanding of the environment and circumstances, particularly the father-son relationship, that influences Wole's maturation.

Wole Soyinka seems to be able to conduct his orchestra of words so that each passage reveals something interesting about his childhood. In the chosen text, Soyinka writes about himself and about his father. In each case, the reader is able to identify with the character given the passage's universality, and when included in a greater interpretation of the work with the other mini-stories, the reader is able to better understand Wole's growth.

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