Questions, Complexity, and Growing Up in Wole Soyinka's Ake

Sage Wilson '98, English 27 (1997)

Young Wole Soyinka's curiosity could not be contained. He asked questions of adults everywhere, and he was not easily satisfied by the answers they returned, often finding these responses irrational and inexplicable. However, upon seeing his infant sister Folasade dead in her coffin, Soyinka remembers, he waits for some kind of large reaction from those around him, and then:

Suddenly, it all broke up within me. A force from nowhere pressed me against the bed and I howled. As I was picked up I struggled against my father's soothing voice, tears all over me. I was sucked into a place of loss whose cause or definition remained elusive. I did not comprehend it yet, and even through those tears I saw the astonished face of Wild Christian, and heard her voice saying,

'But what does he understand of it? What does he understand?'

Wole's way of thinking has shifted significantly here, and these lines elegantly capture his new position with respect to adult reasonability. Wild Christian still believes that by virtue of his age and sheltered upbringing, Wole is not yet capable of mature thoughts or feelings. But Wole himself now has a far greater comprehension of what he might consider inexplicable behavior. He feels deep pain, but the "cause or definition remain[s] elusive." He cannot explain it, and he does not even know what questions to ask about it. Still, Wole largley accepts his feelings and the feelings of those around him instead of harping on their apparent irrationality as he might have done earlier in the text. After this crucial episode, Wole continues to ask too many questions, and even in the final sentence of the text he marvels at how the masters of his new school unreasonably bar students from wearing shoes. And yet, Wole has changed. He understands better (though not completely) that the adult world-- and especially the adult postcolonial world-- is too complex and contradictory to be parsed neatly no matter how relentlessly he questions it. In fact, this is the change which gets emphasized at the end of the text. After all, Wole does not ask why shoes are not allowed at his new school. Instead, he sighs and feels "the oppressive weight of [his] years" (230). After Folasade, Wole has come to realize that some questions should not be asked, and some answers will always remain unsatisfactory.