Tension between Past and Present in Wole Soyinka's Aké

G. Elissa Popoff '99.5 English 27 (1997)

"The smells are all gone." With this simple declaration, seemingly only the observation of the perspicacious child Wole, Soyinka begins his construction of a subtle dichotomy between the past and the present that illuminates both Aké and he himself. Anthropomorphic empirical facts, for example the smells and the sounds and the "extended persona" of Aké, vie with each other throughout the opening pages of Chapter X. These grappling sensory personifications connect to specific periods; the smells belong to the past whereas the sounds belong to the present.

This association is apt and intuitive for, figuratively speaking, smells seem much more weak and passive and generally vanquishable than sounds, which are inherently energetic. Ironically enough for the supposedly triumphant, noisy present, its victory is only shown through a perspective anchored in the past, a past the author clearly prefers despite its acknowledged flaws, e.g. bedbugs. Soyinka's jeremiad against "the products of a global waste industry" also reveals his preference for the colonial era of his childhood. The present is depicted as a degradation of the older, more traditional Aké the child recalls. The constant juxtaposition, through the aforementioned anthropomorphic smells and sounds symbolizing the old and the new Aké, suggests the perennial autobiographical tension between the author as writer and the author-as-his-own-subject, the person who now exists only in the author's recollections and reflections. The straightforward acceptance of Aké's ontology, so to speak, by the child Wole, contrasts sharply with the adult Soyinka's critical assessment, an assessment so critical that the passage's anger practically emanates from the page. Perhaps this change in attitude indicates loss of youthful naivety and innocence or just the acquisition of sophistication, maturity and, possibly, their concurrent bitterness.

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