Social change is all about novelty and fundamental restructuring of the way members of a particular society relate or the manner a group in society function in relation to another group (Umenyilorah, 326). It is against the above premise that the play script and rebel character under study be adequately analysed since its conception and realisation is a product of human actions amd reactions thereby upholding the view of Ngugi wa Thiong’O (4) thus:
Literature (to which playwriting belongs) results from conscious acts of men and women in society. Being a product of their intellectual and imaginative activity, it is thoroughly social. The very act of writing even at the level of the individual implies social relationships: one is writing about somebody for somebody.
The Daring Destiny is a play that expresses the social struggle a character has to overcome in order to achieve his dream in life. The protagonist Dan is the rebel character, he believes he can attain great height by marrying his books. He rejects all forms of distraction on his way to success by being upright, focus and discipline. Honourable Den appears to Aduke, Dan and Chioma’s mother as the saviour and benefactor of her family after the death of her late husband, she’s oblivion of the fact that her son Dan is the main target of the Honourable.
All effort and means by Honourable Den to distract Dan from concentrating on his studies proved abortive, he even seek advice from his close associate but unfortunately their plans could not even make Dan stay a day without studying not to mention achieving success in either rusticating him or getting him to fall according to their evil plans. Dan assured the Honourable of his commitment to education in his lines;
DAN: Sir, please I need money to pay for my school fees and hostel accommodation. It is difficult for me to concentrate on my studies here….
DEN: All I keep hearing from you is books, books, books. To hell…with those books….Any sensible man who has the opportunity of coming close to the luxuries of life as you do will quickly begin to plan to grab some for himself. But you, no! It is books, books and books. What will books do for you?
DAN: Sir, education equips the inner man with the knowledge and skills to manage the luxuries of life (33)
It is crystal clear from the above conversation between Dan the scholar and Honourable the Politician who sees nothing good in education or the dream of the young man. It is the same with the real society where the leaders send their children to schools in the developed countries with the embezzled funds. They ensure their family get the best care and attention both home and abroad but are bent on destroying other people’s dreams and aspirations. Dan believes that a dry morsel of food and rest of mind is better than the luxuries of the world without peace and direction.
As a rebel who believes in doing the right thing and not conforming to the evil oppression of the world, his drive is to become a successful lawyer and help jail the corrupt people in the society especially leaders who have soar through embezzlement of public funds. For every evil action there’s always retribution, Honourable Den believed he is enjoying life with his luxuries and wealth, thereby leaving Dan to survive on his own terms. He sees himself as the messiah, without him they can do nothing. According to Harry Golden, the only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work, Dan’s unrelenting nature, focus and discipline finally pays at the end of the day.
Finally, nemesis catches up with Honourable, the one who sees himself as the mast
er and messiah turns to Dan the lover of books, crawling and begging for quality and standard representation in court. It can be imagined therefore that it wouldn’t have been possible for Dan to get good recommendation if he had fallen for the antics of enjoying the luxury of life forgetting he has a dream.
Mulatto by Langston Huges was thus conceived on the racial lines of Black and White, the oppressed and the oppressor, the slave and the master. But when a white plantation owner, Colonel Thomas Norwood, disowns his son Robert, the play tends to overlook unrealistic horizons, for a father’s relation to his son must transcend the racial barriers. However, in its present form and theme the play unfolds a painful melodrama. In an introduction to The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, Volume 5, Leslie Sanders and Nancy Johns believe that Mulatto deals with “father – son conflict, the power of class and whiteness, the legacy of slavery, and the vicious oppression of the South” ( 17).
Throughout the action, the setting of the play is a big house on a Georgia plantation. Colonel Thomas Norwood, the white plantation owner is frustrated that Sallie Lewis, the youngest of his mulatto children by his African American housekeeper Cora, has not left yet to catch the train that will take her to school for the semester. He discusses his frustration with Sam, his personal African American servant. Another of Norwood’s mulatto children, Robert, whom Cora calls Bert, is supposed to drive Sallie to the station, but Bert has driven to town to get some radio tubes without Norwood’s permission. Norwood says that Bert should be in the fields picking cotton and threatens to have him whipped. It would be important here to say that the play is densely populated by mulattos. Both the White and Black are minorities in the play. Neither the White realizes that he is losing control nor the black is aware that he is gaining power. Only the Mulatto the offspring of the two is conscious of this. That shows Hughes’ clear vision of the future at that time. The future is not going to be for one ‘color’ or race.
Sallie, a very light-skinned mulatto who could pass for white, comes down to say goodbye to Norwood. She thanks him for sending her to school and he is pleased to hear that she is learning cooking and sewing. She says she wants to become a teacher and Norwood dismisses the idea, saying that he will probably send her north to live with her older sister whom he thinks is a cook. Robert arrives from town and picks up Sallie. At the same time, Fred Higgins, a county politician, arrives and warns Norwood that Robert was causing problems in town. Robert picks up his package of radio tubes, but they were destroyed in the mail and the post office refuses to return his money. When he argues with the white woman behind the counter, the mail clerks throws him out. Higgins is concerned that Robert is going to rile up other African Americans to think they are as good as the white.
Politicians like Higgins sensed the danger from the very beginning and warned Norwood from having such intimate relationship with his black servant. Higgins goes to the extent of telling Norwood that he should marry again instead of just sleeping with Cora. He says that it would be more socially acceptable and that having a white woman around the house would help keep Norwood from being too soft on the African Americans on his plantation. Norwood and Higgins leave to look at Norwood’s cotton fields; on the way out, Norwood tells Cora that he wants to talk to Robert.
William, the oldest of Cora and her eldest mulatto child from Norwood discus with his mother for the first time how Norwood beat Robert, when little Robert called him papa in front of a group of important white visitors. They talk about the fact that Robert is going to get himself and the rest of the ‘slaves’ on the plantation in trouble if he does not stop his rash behaviour.
William: I tried to tell him something the other day, but he just laughed at me, and said we all just scared Niggers on this plantation. Says he ain’t no nigger, no how. He’s a Norwood. He’s half-white, and he’s gonna act like it. (p.14)
Robert returns to the ‘Big House’, calling himself Mr. Norwood. However, he drops his act when he sees his mother crying over the distress he has put her through. Robert says that he is half-white and will act like his white half. He says that his six years at school have shown him that not all ‘blacks’ have to yield to white people like they do on the plantation. Robert refuses to listen to his mother who asks him to behave like a colored person. She tells him “when de Colonel comes back … talk right to him, boy. Talk like you was colored ’cause you ain’t white” (19). Robert shows his father’s stubbornness by telling his mother Cora that “Besides you, there ain’t anybody in this country but a lot of evil white folks and cowardly niggers. (Earnestly) I’m no nigger anyhow. Am I, ma? I’m half-white. The colonel’s my father – the richest man in the country… (18).
Robert and William get in a fight and Cora breaks it up, sending William into the kitchen so that she can talk to Robert. She tells Robert that she is scared that his behaviour is going to hurt them all in the end and she is even more concerned when she hears about Robert’s behaviour at the post office that morning. She tells him to be respectful to Norwood when he returns and act like a ‘black’ man that he is.
Robert tells her that he is not going to work in the cotton fields anymore, and Cora notes that they all have to do things they don’t like, such as lying to the Colonel about the fact that Sallie is really studying typewriting, not cooking and sewing.
Norwood arrives in his car and Cora tries to hurry Robert into the kitchen. However, Robert refuses to use any door but the front door, like white people do. As a result, when Norwood comes in through the front door, he almost runs into Robert. Shocked, he threatens Robert with his cane, but Robert stands up to Norwood who drops his cane in fear. Robert stalks proudly out the front door and Norwood, in a rage, grabs his pistol from a drawer. Cora “overtakes him, seizes his arm, stops him” and says: He’s our son, Tom. (she sinks slowly to her knees, holding his body) Remember, he’s our son” (19). Norwood is too nervous to use his pistol.
Act II, scene 1 starts in the evening of that same day when the Colonel requests to see Robert, and Cora tells her son to agree with whatever Norwood says. Robert agrees as long as Norwood does not try to hit him again. Cora returns to her room and Norwood comes into the room to talk to Robert. He asks Robert why he is causing problems, but tells him that before he answers, Robert better speak to him like a colored person. Robert says he is Norwood’s son and Norwood says Robert has no father.
It is not clear why Norwood gave the privileges of education and care to what he thinks of as ”bastards”. Early in the play Sallie, the daughter, is heading North to continue her school. Robert himself is back after six years of schooling. Audience and readers wait to the last scene to know from Norwood that the mulatto children, as long as they act slavishly, have the right to study, live, and not to be physically punished. Obviously, this has not been the case 35 years ago when Norwood ‘raped’ Cora then took her as mother of his ”seemed to be” children.
The play exposes the apartheid system in South Africa. Blacks face dehumanisation, racial segregation and discrimination against the blacks by the whites. In the play, the three major characters (Styles, Sizwe, and Buntu) are the rebels against the whites.
The story of the play is about Sizwe Bansi, a black man who comes from his city in King Williams to find a job in Port Elizabeth in order to support his family. But, unfortunately, he couldn’t find any job because there is no white man who can give him the permission he needs, instead he has to leave within three days, otherwise he would be imprisoned. So, he decided to stay in Buntu’s house; a friend from the city. After a return from the tavern, Buntu and Sizwe found a corpse of a black man covered with a rag. The dead man is called Robert Zwelinzima and his pass book contains a work permit. Buntu convinced Sizwe to switch his identity and papers with the dead man. The result is that Sizwe Bansi becomes Robert Zwelinzima who goes to Styles studio to take his photo in order to send it to his wife.
MAN. I‟m afraid. How do I get used to Robert? How do I live as another man‟s ghost? BUNTU. Wasn‟t Sizwe Bansi a ghost?
BUNTU.No? When the white man looked at you at the Labour Bureau what did he see? A man with dignity or a bloody passbook with an N.I .number? Isn’t that a ghost? When the white man sees you walk down the street and calls out, ‘Hey, John! Come here…. to you, Sizwe Bansi… isn’t that a ghost? Or when his little child calls you ‘Boy’. . . you a man, circumcised with a wife and four children … isn’t that a ghost? Stop fooling yourself. They’ve turned us into. Spook them into hell, man! Sizwe is silenced. Buntu realizes his words are beginning to reach the other man. He paces quietly, looking for his next move. He finds it.(S.B.D.,38)
Buntu tries to persuade Sizwe by telling him the story of Outa Jacobs. Here is a man who who spends his life moving from place to place to support his family till his death. This leads him to conclude that a non-white life is a dehumanizing journey from farm to farm, employer to employer, town to town, bureaucracy to bureaucracy whose only end is death.
BUNTU. [The grave at his feet] Now at last it‟s over. No matter how hard-arsed the boer on this farm wants to be, He cannot move Outa Jacob. He has reached Home.[pause] That‟s it, brother. The only time we‟ll find peace is when they dig a hole for us and press our face into the earth.Ag, to hell with it. If we go on like this much longer we‟ll do the digging for them. (S.B.D.,28)
Buntu believes keeping and maintaining family names should be Sizwe’s least priority, rather, he should be more concerned with surviving. In Port-Elizabeth, blacks who don’t have papers are deported by to their home town, if they are caught by the police, they become subject of victimization. With the knowledge of such hostile life style, Sizwe has no other option other than to adhere to Buntu’s advice.
The play ends with the optimistic image of the man once named Sizwe back in Styles‟ studio striding through “the city of Future” that Styles has, as Robert Zwelinzima. Sizwe uses the tools around him to, the chances to unbind himself from the chains of the other man. Only man can release himself from the oppressions the other man if he is determined, creative and focused. When he speaks to his wife in the letter, Sizwe looks a self-determined man who achieves victory through survival, re-birth and new identity.
BUNTU.[wearily]. You said you wanted to try.
MAN. And I will
BUNTU.[picks up his coat]. I‟m tired‟… Robert. Good luck. See you tomorrow [Exit Buntu. Sizwe picks up the passbook, looks at it for a long time, then puts it in his back pocket…] MAN. So, Nowetu, for the time being my troubles are over. Christmas I lodger‟s permit. If I get it, you and the children can get here and spend some days with me in Port Elizabeth. Spend the money I am sending you carefully. If come home. In the meantime Buntu is working a plan to get me as all goes well I will send some more each week. I do not forget you my dear wife.Your loving husband. Sizwe Bansi. (S.B.D.,44)
Cyprian Obadiegwu opines that, feminist discourses entered this inferiorization and superiorization“debate in an attempt to change supposed women domination and oppression in a “patriarchal” society. Indeed, it is through debate that feminist theory and practices have evolved to incorporate the discourse on the changing circumstances of women’s socio-political and economic conditions” (84).
The quest for freedom which informs the women liberation movements in the West in early 1960s is codified as Feminism in literary circles. It is an ideology in art and life which exposes the oppression of women and articulates ways for their freedom. Feminism, at its inception is characterised by anger, bitterness and a thirst for revenge. The aim then is to achieve equality of sexes through a denial of femininity, and to bond together in sisterhood to dethrone male supremacy by rearranging the society in favour of women. The first enemy is man who is seen as a symbol of cultural oppression since the society is arranged to his advantage. A battle of sexes ensues. Social roles are rejected; marriage is seen as a trap; pregnancy as a burden; and ‘feminine’ as a social construct which does not exclude men as women toughen for a defiant battle with men in all spheres of life (Ezenwanebe, 186)
In every society, strength and courage in human being cannot be measured equally, but the courageous few among the women are able to stop chauvinism, misogynist and all kinds of discrimination, oppression and gender imbalance against women. A feminist rebel character is those characters that successfully bridge the gap between a man and a woman in the society. The plays explored here provide more in-depth understanding of a feminist rebel character and to what extent they can go to achieve their goal.
The Sweet Trap is among Sofola’s contemporary plays that expose some domestic represses, cultural subjugation, maltreatment and alarming effects of gender superiority meltdown against women and the women’s fight for total liberation. The play opens with the discussion of Oke-Ibadan festival by the male and female folks in scene one. The discussion affords the women the opportunity to castigate the one sided lampooning of women by Oke Ibadan performers. The women show in the outbursts that characterize the discussion that they felt insulted and pushed to the wall by the male folk. Hence, their decision to resist this age long harassment and subjugation of their group by the opposite sex. The playwright uses
Mrs. Clara Sotubo’s Birthday celebration to elongate this decision and further propels the plot. We see the women empathize with Clara as a group when her husband Femi Sotubo vehemently refuses to approve or support her birthday party on the grounds that it was unnecessarily expensive and wasteful (Canice and Nickolas).
These predicaments of women are portrayed in the lines of both the liberal and radical characters in the play who are equally the rebels in the play. The likes of Mrs. Ajala and Clara, are not happy with how they are humiliated and how men devalue the sacredness of the female reproductive organs (the pride of every woman) all in the name of a festival called Okebadan. Their annoyance is that the Okebadan festival only derives joy in ridiculing womanhood while the men watch in excitement without plans to put to an end to such a primitive lampooning of women. These are seen in the lines of Mrs. Ajala and Clara:
Clara: it is amazing how the government is doing absolutely nothing about this primitive festival. (2)
Mrs. Ajala: How could it? The government is run exclusively by the male species, you know. The Okebadan festival is a ridicule of the female organs and could be more exciting to the men than a legalized opportunity to take a swipe at us women (Sofola 2)
No matter how glamorous the festival is acclaimed to be, women in the society still perceive the festival as one filled with cheat and absolute prejudice against humanity. This is because their male counterpart uses the festival as an opportunity to showcase the masculinity against the women. In the dialogue between two characters, one can easily deduce the marginalisation and the manner in which females faces ridicule in the festival;Clara: So it is our sex that this festival ridicules.
Mrs. Ajala: Obviously. Have you ever seen the participants ridiculing male sex organs? Mark you, the attack on the sexes in this rowdy festival was not originally restricted to the female sex only. It was only on recent years when our women began to resist male dominion and brutality that this festival degenerates into a rowdy display where men could take revenge for bruised egos.(2)
Also in the play, the chauvinistic character of men is been portrayed by the playwright through the character of Clara’s husband, Dr Sotubo;
Clara: What party do you think it is?
Dr. Sotubo: After I have objected to it in clear terms?
Clara: Yes, I am proceeding with the party in spite of your objections?
Dr. Sotubo: And my decisions as to what should happen in my own house carry no weight?
Clara: If the order is arrived at through a consensus of opinion by all parties concerned.
Dr.Sotubo: wonderful! Has it come to the point where every order I give in this house, every position I take in this place, every instruction I give here must be contemptuously thrown through the window?(9)
Dr Sotubo sees no reason why his authority should be challenged; he believes women should always follow instructions without objection.
Dr. Sotubo: Get it into your head once and for all that your university education does not raise you above the illiterate fish seller in the market. Your degree does not make the slightest difference. You are a woman and must be treated as a subordinate. Your wish, your desires and your choices are subject to my pleasure and mood. Anything I say is law and unattainable. When I say something it stays; whether you like it or not, clear? (10)
This line makes it clear the kind of Patriachical society and hostile life women faces. Clara’s husband sees no value in woman even with her education. Inadvertently, this callous statement spurs the women into action. Mrs. Ajala begins the sensitization campaign and says:
Mrs. Ajala: I was just telling Mrs. Oyegunle, she should not allow any man to pull the wool over her eyes. Men are necessary evils. You treat them with kindness and they take you for an idiot. You must always protect yourself against their barbarous bestiality or else you will be completely annihilated. (13)
Thus, the women decide to embark on a liberation and freedom fight for the realization of their rights. But to secure the elusive rights was not so easy because the male folk were all out in making such crusade unattainable by brutalizing and oppressing the women at home.
Clara: That beast has done the unbelievable!
Fatima: please, don’t be upset
Mrs. Ajala: Did that brute lay his ugly hands on you?
She queries her and Clara responds;
Clara: He broke a bottle of beer on my head and dared me… (14)
The women therefore decide to stop the assault and battery by their husbands at home. Meanwhile there are two women groups in the play, those who are totally submissive, obey all instructions and always see their husbands’ decisions as final and those who claim to be equal with their husbands are presented to us. The first group does not counter or alter decisions taken by their husbands. Mrs. Jinadu who belongs to this group confronts a member of the second group (the radical feminist group) and opposes their decision to challenge their husbands.
Mrs. Jinadu unequivocally condemns Mrs. Fatima’s decision to buy expensive materials and party items without her husband’s approval. Scolding Mrs. Fatima she says; “These party items and this fine expensive cloth tell enough of what is wrong. Husbands are usually very upset by the sight of such objects.” (24) But Fatima flares up and says:
Fatima “… I will buy what I want and do what I want whether or not he has given his
Mrs. Jinadu, adopts dialogue and persuasion in order to convince and win Fatima over to the side of the conservative women.
Mrs. Jinadu: That is not a good attitude on your part.
Fatima tries to defend her position and says
Fatima: It is a good attitude. Simply because I am not a university graduate he thinks he can treat me anyhow. Which graduate wife will accept such nonsense from her husband?
The two women continue this war of words below with Jinadu becoming more passionate:
Mrs. Jinadu: It is not so. I am a university graduate myself, but my happiness is in what I can do to make my husband happy.
Fatima: Even if he says no to what you want very much?
Mrs. Jinadu: Yes if he says no and I see that he will be unhappy if I go against his will, I immediately abandon my plans.
Fatima: It is only idiots and those washed with juju that do that I am not a fool and I have prepared myself against anything from anybody.
Mrs. Jinadu: You have been moving in the wrong company.(24-25)
The above conversation between the two women shows difference in ideology and belief. Fatima belongs to the radical group who resist, reject and oppose anything said by their husbands while Mrs Jinadu is of the conservative group. Thus, the arrow-head of the feminist group, Dr. Jinadu persuades Dr. Sotubo to change his chauvinistic attitude towards his wife. She addresses him by his first name and says;
Femi, women are human beings. They may be more prone to follow fads than we, but at the bottom of every woman’s heart is a sincere longing for a stale home where she can be happy with her husband and children. (34-35)
Consequently the clash of liberalism and radicalism becomes Sofola’s locomotive engine for this enigmatic paradigm shift that brought enormous influence on African women writers and the African feminist agenda. The conflict makes Mrs. Ajala and Mrs. Fatima to become introspective and change their radical feminist stand. Though initially the duo of Mrs. Ajala and Fatima attempted to influence Mrs. Oyegunle against the male folk, through persuasion, the liberalists are able to convince them and suddenly we see them transform to womanists who recognize their natural roles in the society and acknowledge that their husbands deserve respect (Nwosu and Chielotam, 205). Mrs. Fatima brings this to us when she says:
I was not going to allow her to insult my husband any longer. My mother had always taught me that a woman’s husband is her crown and it is her duty to protect crown. A lot has happened to that crown since last night and I am not going to allow it to continue. I have told her goodbye forever and that is that.(62)
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