Running After Riches By Oladejo Okediji: An Analysis Of The Playwright’s Use Of Figures Of Speech

RUNNING AFTER RICHES BY OLADEJO OKEDIJI: AN ANALYSIS OF THE PLAYWRIGHT’S USE OF FIGURES OF SPEECH INTRODUCTION
RUNNING AFTER RICHES BY OLADEJO OKEDIJI: AN ANALYSIS OF THE PLAYWRIGHT’S USE OF FIGURES OF SPEECH INTRODUCTION Running After Riches is an interesting English translation of Oladejo Okediji’s Yoruba play titled Aajo Aje. The play deals with a number of social issues, such as the quest for wealth, gambling, religious charlatanism, family crisis, divorce, predestination, etc. As noted by the playwright himself in p. IV, the play “highlights countless human dilemmas, yet refrains from pontificating about dogmatic solutions.” One very significant feature of the play, however, is Okediji’s exploration of the peculiar Yoruba habit of thought and language which lavishly adorns
discussions with proverbs and figures of speech. This study aims to examine these figures of speech in relation to the play’s setting, characterization and thematic concern. As the play opens in scene 1, we are ushered into Good-luck Collecting Centre, where Korede is handling some football pools coupons and punters entering one by one, including Kola. Here, we find the playwright handling the issue of gambling in the poverty-stricken Nigerian society. This is closely related to the idea of running after riches or the quest for quick money. The name of the pools collecting centre (Good-luck Collecting Centre) immediately draws attention to the issue of belief in luck as a prevailing social phenomenon among the poor masses. In a poverty-stricken society like ours, the tendency to hold superstitious beliefs, such as luck, fate, predestination, and so forth, is quite high. METAPHOR USED EXCLAMATORILY In this play, Okediji presents characters whose conversations are interspersed with various figures of speech. Korede is the first character to speak in the play, and he immediately addresses another character, Kola, with a metaphorical expression: …Kola, a nightjar flying by day! This is an exclamatory utterance which is pregnant with metaphorical meaning. Structurally, it is an appositive noun phrase: both Kola and “a nightjar flying by day” refer to one entity. Here, Kola is compared to a nightjar, a nocturnal bird. This is an example of metaphor – a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two things that are basically dissimilar. PROVERBS AND SIMILES USED IN MATERIALISTIC DISCUSSIONS In most of their conversations, each character uses a number of proverbs that are closely related to the quest for wealth. The subject of gambling (pools betting) dominates their discussions. The search for wealth compels each person to stake some money expecting huge sums of money in return. Each of the characters is in a serious search for wealth, so most of their conversations, including their use of proverbs and other figures of speech, centre on money and related issues. In Kola’s conversation with Korede, for instance, Kola states: “When you’re generous to someone and he isn’t grateful, it’s like a thief carrying your goods away” (p. 1). Here, the image of “a thief carrying your goods away” is used to describe the bitter feeling you have “when you’re generous to someone and he isn’t grateful.” This is an example of simile, a comparison made two things through the use of a specific word of comparison (such as ‘like’, as in the above example). In a conversation with Korede, Tunde complains of serious financial problems, and uses a simile in the process: If I can keep anything out of my winnings today, it’ll be like the pepper on a bean-cake – not enough to cure a cough! (p. 3). Here, simile is used to paint a powerful picture of insufficiency. The theme of insufficiency is obvious in his plain complaints: “money’s my problem,” “I’m up to my neck in debt” etc. The image of insufficiency is continued in the proverb: A handkerchief’s no good as a covering cloth. (p. 3) Just like “the pepper on a bean-cake” which is “not enough to cure a cough,” a handkerchief is “not good as a covering cloth.” The idea of insufficiency is central to both figures of speech. The image of insufficiency painted in these figures of speech in turn helps to highlight the bigger issues of the poverty in the land which, in turn, accounts for the anxious search for wealth. As the dialogue between Korede and Tunde continues, Korede gives Tunde the winnings for the previous betting and advises him to stake the winnings. Again, the message is spiced with an appropriate figure of speech, a simile: Why not do like the porcupine that supplied the firewood for its own roasting? (p. 3). The simile here is intended to challenge the hearer (Tunde) to stake his winnings. Tunde’s response is also a simile: You mean stake my winnings? Like money made in Lagos that never leaves Lagos? (p. 3). Here, Tunde’s use of simile makes a comparison between staking with his winnings and money made in Lagos. Staking with his winnings implies that instead of going home with the money he has won he has to stake with it. This, he argues, is like the money made in Lagos that never leaves Lagos. It is made in Lagos and spent in Lagos as well. One significant point in their use of similes here is that some shared background knowledge exists between both of the interlocutors. PROVERBS USED IN REINFORCING ARGUMENTS In the bid to convince his friend to stake with his winnings, Korede, employs figures of speech as a way of reinforcing his arguments. For instance, he tells Tunde: Unless you throw water in front of you, you can’t be sure of having wet ground to step on” (p. 3). This is a conditional sentence used as a proverb; it expresses something that must happen or be true if another thing is to happen or be true. Korede’s argument here is that, as he puts it, “It’s trading that brings in profit. If you can’t lose you can’t gain.” Then he adds that “money begets money.” His aim is to convince Tunde to stake with his winnings. And he concludes by saying that “it’s all part of the quest for wealth.” This statement in itself shows that the focus of the discussion is wealth. What we can deduce from Korede’s argument is that spending money is an essential precondition for getting money. This, of course, is the philosophy guiding the business and practice of pools betting. You have to stake your money if you expect to get winnings. PROVERBS AND SIMILES USED FOR EXPRESSING DISAPPOINTMENT OR PACIFYING ANGER Another significant use of figures of speech can be seen in Korede’s attempt to pacify Kola, who is angry and disappointed after losing everything he had staked in his first attempt at pools betting. Korede says: You can’t expect your head to touch the sky the day you start to grow (p. 4). This statement is made in response to Kola’s complaints: “But in my own case, I’ve lost completely. Emptiness, like day after market day.” It is necessary to examine both Korede and Kola’s statements, as each of them uses figures of speech to paint the type of picture relevant to the speaker’s claim, complaint or line of argument. Kola’s statements are meant to register a complaint, having lost everything (“I’ve lost completely”). Then he uses a simile: “Emptiness, like the day after market day.” By comparing his situation to the day after market day, he paints the picture of emptiness. In other words, the pools transaction had resulted in complete loss: it had yielded no profit at all for him. Korede’s statement, on the other hand, is a proverb calculated to pacify his disappointed friend who is a novice in the pools betting: “You can’t expect your head to touch the sky the day you start to grow.” This is a way of telling his friend (Kola) that it is unreasonable to expect to start gaining huge profits the very first time he staked his money. The image invoked by this figure of speech is that of growth, and it is meant to appeal to the hearer’s knowledge about life. The background knowledge exploited by the speaker here is knowledge about nature and growth – that is, the fact that growth is a gradual process and requires a lot of time to take place. Comparison is the tool for developing argument here: the ability to win at the pools is compared to growth. In other words, just as growth requires time to take place, being able to make the right prediction so as to win at the pools also requires time and experience on the part of the punter. These figures of speech exploit shared background knowledge, such as knowledge about life, nature and the socio-cultural environment; the playwright picks his images from the local environment. HYPERBOLE USED IN LAMENTING BETRAYAL BY A FRIEND The use of hyperbole is obvious in Kola’s account of his encounter with Korede, whom he blames for the loss of the whole money he had staked: Korede put me on a hill and pulled the chock from under the tyre. Then he abandoned me (p. 4). The element of hyperbole is obvious from Kola’s reference to being put on a hill and being abandoned after the chock had been pulled from under the tyre, when what he wants to say is that “Korede drew me into betting on the pools – me, when I’d never laid a bet in my life” (p. 4). In hyperbole, exaggeration or overstatement is used for special effect. Here, Kola uses hyperbole as a means expressing his feeling of disappointment and betrayal. It is a special way of saying that what Korede did to him is an act of betrayal. PROVERBS USED EXPLANATORILY In page 5, we find a typical example of the use of proverb to explain the phenomena of cause and effect. The discussion is between Tunde and Kola, and the subject of discussion is still Kola’s loss at the pools. Tunde, a more experienced punter, tries to explain to Kola the actual cause of the loss he had sustained. And he uses this proverb: It’s the crooked wood that disturbs the fire (p. 5). This figure of speech uses images from the local environment. Wood and fire are common items in the Nigerian (Yoruba) environment. Here, the natural phenomena of cause and effect are employed to give force to an argument. Tunde is saying that Kola should not regard his loss at the pools as something strange; he should rather find out the cause of that loss in other to prevent a future occurrence. Tunde says, “It’s the crooked fire that disturbs the wood – you would have won a lot of money.” His intention is to help his listener realize the cause of his loss; this explanation is based on the speaker’s superior knowledge at pools betting. The “fire that disturbs the wood,” as Tunde goes ahead to point out, is the wrong manner in which Kola had filled the coupon: “…because your X here has run over into the number 4 line.” He explains: “The way you filled in the coupon isn’t right… You’ll say you chose number 3 here, but this isn’t how coupons are filled in! Even if it had been a draw, they wouldn’t have awarded it to you, because your X here has run over into the number 4 line.” (p. 5). Tunde in his proverb uses the natural law of cause and effect to explain how the violation of the rules of pools betting can jeopardize one’s chances of winning at the pools. From the way Kola responds to the explanation about the rules guiding pools betting, we can deduce that he (Kola) is a novice in the business. Kola complains: “What outlandish rules they make!” Which draws another proverb from Tunde to further demonstrate his edge over his listener in matters concerning the importance of rules and customs in human activities: One town’s custom is another town’s taboo (p. 5). This implies that the rules guiding pools betting are for those involved in pools betting, not for those outside it. He then explains that “pools betting rules aren’t difficult, but they’re very strict. The coupon should never be dirty or torn, and you mustn’t change any of the figures” (pp. 5-6). PROVERBS ENCOURAGING COLLABORATION The use of proverb to argue in favour of working in collaboration with others can be illustrated with the following: … if two people piss on one spot, they can raise foam on the ground (p. 6). The above statement is made by Tunde as he tries to persuade Kola to join his pools betting syndicate. Tunde says, “There are two of us in my syndicate – we work on the principle that if two people piss on one spot, they can raise foam on the ground! That’s our strategy. We don’t usually stake separately” (p. 6). PROVERBS AND SIMILES USED TO JUSTIFY DECISION OR ACTION Kola, in his conversation with Tunde, uses some proverbs and similes to support his view that one can only continue staking one’s money if one usually makes gains. One of such proverbs is: A child will always keep returning to the spot where he picked up a snail yesterday (p. 6). He uses this proverb to back up his view that “you people who win are bound to go on staking” (p. 6). On the other hand, he argues that those who lose are bound to discontinue. If negated, the proverb becomes the opposite: a child will not always keep returning to where he never picked up a snail. Having lost all the money he staked in his first attempt at pools betting, Kola has resolved to discontinue. The following simile paints very strong pictures of disillusionment: But I’m like someone who has just taken a step into the river and had his leg grabbed by a crocodile” (p. 6). Then he uses a combination of rhetorical question and proverb to reinforce the argument in support of his decision to discontinue pools betting: Am I likely to wake up and start singing the same song that got me into such trouble the night before that I didn’t sleep a wink? This was my very first time and I failed woefully. And it will be my last time. The eye that is going to see clearly to the end of the day doesn’t start oozing pus first thing in the morning (p. 6). The images used in the above passages all help to express Kola’s disillusionment with pools betting. He started with a simile invoking the image of someone who has just taken the first step into the river and had his leg grabbed by a crocodile. This paints the picture of his horrible experience at gambling: this was his first shot at pools betting and he lost all the money he staked. The image of disenchantment is continued in the rhetorical question: “Am I likely to wake up and start singing the same song that got me into such trouble the night before that I didn’t sleep a wink?” On the whole, a combination of proverb, simile and rhetorical question is used as devices to project the speaker’s world view. Kola’s arguments here are clear. Having failed in his very first attempt at pools betting, he is not going to continue in it. His clearly expressed view is that there is no bright future for him at the pools. This view is buttressed by the proverb: “The eye that is going to see clearly to the end of the day doesn’t start oozing pus first thing in the morning.” RHETORICAL QUESTION AND PROVERB USED AS COUNTER-ARGUMENTS The use of rhetorical questions and proverbs for reinforcing arguments is evident in the Tunde’s counter-arguments aimed at convincing Kola to remain in the business of pools betting: Do you suppose we win all the time? Many times our squirrel climbs the iroko tree leaving the hunter empty-handed (p. 6). Here, Tunde, a more experienced punter, argues that losing one’s stake is no sufficient reason for quitting the business. The question (“Do you suppose we win all the time?”) is a rhetorical question; the question is meant to achieve a persuasive effect on the listener rather than to elicit a reply. This question helps to emphasize the point that a punter doesn’t have to win all the time; that even the most experienced punters don’t win all the time. To reinforce this point, he invokes the images of the hunter and the squirrel which sometimes climbs the iroko tree, leaving the hunter empty-handed. Thus, he juxtaposes pools betting and hunting experiences in order to show that life is generally characterized by ups and downs and that one should not expect to win all the time. PROVERBS USED AS INTRUMENTS OF PERSUASION Let’s consider other proverbs employed as instruments of persuasion in Tunde’s speech to Kola: With its two wings, the dove flies benefits into the house… More than one road leads to the market (p. 7). The above statements refer to another line of argument which Tunde has opened, still aimed at persuading his friend to remain in the pools business. He explains that although he and his partner don’t win all the time, yet they continue playing pools, and that what they do is to keep exploring different ways of improving their winning chances. He cites the things they do: “My partner is making an experiment, so that it’ll only be when we don’t stake that we don’t win. We also buy “bankers from forecasters. And we also buy pools magazines” (p. 7). He then drives his message home with the two proverbs stated above. The first proverb concerning the dove’s use of its two wings conveys the image of diligence as a means of gaining benefits by maximizing one’s potentials. The image invoked by the second proverb is that of a market having more than one road that leads into it. This buttresses the argument that there are several ways of achieving one’s goal. A COMBINATION OF PROVERB AND PERSONIFICATION USED PERSUASIVELY As Korede rejoins Kola and Tunde, we are treated to other proverbs used for persuading a disillusioned punter to remain in pools betting. The following proverbs are Korede’s arguments aimed at convincing Kola not to quit pools staking: It’s perseverance that enables the needle to sew a seam. If the axe doesn’t persevere, how will the wood be split? (p. 7). Here, the issue being discussed is Kola’s decision to quit pools betting as a result of his total loss in his first attempt. And Korede’s proverbs are meant to present logical reasons why Kola should not quit. The message embedded in these proverbs is that perseverance is required in order to achieve success in whatever one does in life. The first proverb (“It’s perseverance that enables the needle to sew a seam”) deploys personification as a means of making its images more powerful. The needle, a tiny object, is represented as having perseverance, a human attribute. The second proverb not only uses personification, but also makes use of the simple present verb form to add force to the personification: “If the axe doesn’t persevere, how will the wood be split?” He is saying that it is because the axe perseveres that it is able to split the wood. Here again, the axe, a non-human, inanimate object, is depicted as persevering in order to split the wood. Thus, by using personification to power his proverbs, the playwright is able to present the arguments of his characters very effectively. BIBLICAL ALLUSIONS USED REPROVINGLY The play is full of instances of characters’ statements which are allusions to the Bible. One of these is Delani’s statement in response to Tunde’s question in page 8: First remove the beam in your own eye so you can see the mote in your brother’s eye (p. 8). Though this statement is an allusion to Christ’s words of rebuke to the Pharisees in the Bible, it conveys very familiar message to the local audience. To the average Yoruba or Nigerian, the beam and the mote present very familiar images. The beam is a long wood or metal used as part of the roof in a building, while the mote (or speck) is a small piece of dust or dirt. If someone has a beam in his eye but is eager to remove the mote in his brother’s eye, such a person is a hypocrite like the Pharisees to whom Christ had addressed that statement in the book of Matthew. The allusion by Delani came in response to Tunde’s question whether the shoes that Delani had sold to get money were Delani’s or Doyin’s. Delani knows what Tunde is trying to insinuate – that he (Delani) had misappropriated Doyin’s shoes. So, he retorts, “First remove the beam in your own eye…” The phrase “the beam in your own eye” actually suggests that the addressee (Tunde) is perceived to be guilty of something worse than selling someone else’s shoes to get money. In other words, Delani is saying that even if he had sold Doyin’s shoes to get money, Tunde is not morally qualified to judge or condemn the action since Tunde does the same or even worse things than that. What can be deduced from the allusion used in the conversation between these two characters is that each has the tendency to use misappropriation or any other means to get money, which is what the play, Running After Riches, is about. ALLUSIONS EXPRESSING MARITAL DISAPPOINTMENT AND INDICATING SUPPORT FOR DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE Delani’s penchant for Biblical allusions can be seen in page 13, where he quotes copiously from the Bible in response to Tunde’s question about his wife’s whereabouts. The following statement is an allusion to words in the Bible concerning Judas Iscariot after his betrayal of Christ: His place, and his office, let another take (p. 13). These words imply that Delani is fed up with his wife, and would like to substitute her with another wife as Judas was substituted with another apostle. Another instance of Biblical allusion can be seen in Delani’s outburst in response to Tunde’s comment about the state of Delani’s room: “Why’s your room in such a mess?” Reacting to Tunde’s observation, Delani says: It’s my destiny. It’s been written. And I accept my fate. If thine eye causeth thee to stumble…pluck it out… (p. 13). Here, Biblical allusions are used to raise a number of social issues. For instance, Delani says “It’s my destiny,” and corroborates it with a reference to the Biblical statement “It’s written.” Then he goes further to say “And I accept my fate.” All these raise questions about predestination and fate. In all the utterances, however, Delani is obviously referring to his wife, Doyin’s betrayal, which he repeatedly describes as something that has been destined to happen. To him, “it’s been written.” PROVERBS PORTRAYING FAMILY CRISIS The subject of Delani’s strained relationship with his wife, Doyin, is still being discussed by Delani and his friend, Tunde. Through the characters’ use of proverbs and other figures of speech, the playwright raises the issue of family crisis and people’s negative attitude to marital relationship in the Nigerian society. Let’s consider the following: 1. We should beg an evil-doer not to betray his home-town (p. 18). 2. The noise of confusion should never be heard twice in an elder’s house (p. 18). 3. Until the lice have all been removed from a cloth, there’ll always be blood on your fingernails (pp. 18-19). The speaker of the first proverb above is Tunde, who is concerned about the endless quarrels between Delani and his wife, Doyin. “We should beg an elder not to betray his home-town” is meant to support his view that Delani should have pleaded with his wife rather than allowing her to go wild. Tunde decries women’s habit of letting neighbours hear the “the noise of confusion” in the house but insists that a husband should ensure that peace prevails in the home, even if it means that he has to resort to “pleading with her.” Then he uses the next proverb “the noise of confusion should never be heard twice in an elder’s house” to further buttress his argument that Delani should explore all avenues (including pleading) to ensure that the misunderstanding between him and his wife does not degenerate to “the noise of confusion.” In response to Tunde’s views, Delani says that “until the lice have all been removed from a cloth, there’ll always be blood
on your fingernails.” This proverb implies that he differs with his friend on how to solve the crisis (noise of confusion) in his family. He is saying that pleading with Doyin is not the solution to the “noise of confusion” in his house, insisting that even if he pleads with her, “people would hear the noise for the tenth time.” To Delani, the only solution to the crisis rocking his home is divorce: “until the lice have all been removed from a cloth, there’ll always be blood on your fingernails.” This proverb actually implies that Delani sees his wife’s departure from his house as good riddance to bad rubbish. The following proverb further exposes Delani’s complete lack (or loss?) of love for, or confidence in, his wife, Doyin and his preference for divorce: Why would an epileptic urge people to treat him gently – isn’t he who’s dashing himself on the ground?” (p. 20). In page 19, the conversation between Delani and his friend, Tunde, had revealed that Delani intends to take a new, younger woman, Arinlade, whose behaviour he says “has been perfect.” Delani says: “It’s Doyin who’s being impossible; Arinlade’s behaviour has been perfect.” Tunde’s response is very suggestive: “Meaning that you’re the one chasing out the old wife because you’ve got a younger one.” It is at this juncture that Delani retorts: “Did I drive her away? Why would an epileptic urge people to treat him gently – isn’t he who’s dashing himself on the ground?” (p. 20). This proverb exposes Delani’s dissatisfaction with his wife Doyin. A COMBINATION OF SIMILE AND ALLUSION USED TO DESCRIBE AN UNSTABLE MARITAL RELATIONSHIP Delani’s marital relationship with Doyin has been very unstable, and he shows this through the following similes: She was coming and going like the waste beads of a woman with a limp! Only after the seventh departure did she fail to come back… She’s now left completely, and I’m free. She’s gone like the born-to-die child who’s finally kicked the bucket (p. 20). The first simile is used to capture the frequency of the couple’s quarrels which always results in the wife’s departure from the matrimonial home and after which she comes back (“she was coming and going”). This situation (that is, her frequent departure and return) is compared to “the waste beads of a woman with a limp,” which invokes the images of instability and disability. The second simile is used to capture the finality of Doyin’s latest departure: “She’s gone like the born-to-die child who’s finally kicked the bucket.” In this simile, there is an allusion to the superstitious abiku (the “born-to-die child), referring to a child who is believed to have been destined to die young, come back and be born again, and then die. Here, the same element of instability or “coming and going” is implied. The clause “who’s finally kicked the bucket” uses the image of abiku’s final death to describe the finality of Doyin’s latest departure. ALLUSION PORTRAYING UNCERTAINTY Suspecting that his departed wife, Doyin, is pregnant, Delani confides in his friend, Tunde, and adds: “But let’s keep watching” like a well-know name (p. 22). This is an allusion to the Yoruba name “kasimaawoo” (Let’s watch him meantime) given to some born-to-die children, because the parents can’t yet be sure the child will live long. PROVERBS INDICATING CAUTIOUSNESS In scene 3, we learn that Kola, having joined Delani’s syndicate, has been winning bit by bit at the pools. In response to Korede’s question (“Are you preparing for next week’s games?”), Kola comes up with the following proverb: But to get out of a hole you take one step first and then another (p. 27). Kola has been known for exercising great caution since he lost all his money in his first attempt. His decision is that he must know the previous week’s results before staking on the next. The above proverb invokes the image of someone in a place where he needs to take cautious steps to avoid falling back into the hole. PROVERBS PORTRAYING BELIEF IN PREDESTINATION In page 39, we find the following proverbs uttered by Delani in the heat of his quarrel with Doyin: 1. The destiny of the man who will inherit the widow doesn’t allow the sick man to recover (p. 39). 2. The dog that is destined to be lost will not hear the hunter’s whistle (p. 39). Prior to the above proverbs, Doyin has been tongue-lashing both Delani and his friend, Tunde, who is in the house at the time of the quarrel. The exchange of abusive words between Delani and his departing wife, Doyin, has been going on. Doyin, who has been angry at Delani’s habit of selling the things in the house to raise money to play pools, has come back to pack her remaining belongings from the house. Delani’s proverb implies that Doyin has been destined to depart so that the younger damsel, Arinlade, would take her place. In the proverb, the image of the sick man who must die to fulfill the destiny of the man who will inherit the widow raises the issue of predestination and widow inheritance in the Yoruba society. The proverb reflects Delani’s belief in predestination. He is saying that Doyin’s going wild is simply because she has been destined to do so and to depart to pave way for his heart throb, Arinlade, to inherit her position as the mistress of the house. This idea of predestination is embedded in most of Delani’s Biblical allusions, such as: “his place and his office let another take.” To Delani, it is written. The proverbs, “the destiny of the widow…” and “the dog destined to be lost…,” reinforce his conviction that his wife’s departure has been predestined and that her anticipated replacement by Arinlade is also a thing already decided by fate. VERBAL IRONY USED SARCASTICALLY There is verbal irony in the following words spoken by Delani to Doyin: “Why won’t you come back? Won’t you return to see the children?” (p. 40). The irony in Delani’s words lies in the fact Doyin has not born any child for him yet. In other words, Delani has used those words sarcastically. Sarcasm is a way of using words that are opposite of what you mean in order to be unpleasant to someone or to make fun of him or her. Responding to Delani’s words, Doyin retorts: “Do you want to force me to bring things out into the open? Listen, man, who in my family do you know to be barren? It’s your own deficiency you want to foist on me, but I pray to fend it off.” This response shows that Doyin captured the irony or sarcasm in Delani’s words. Delani takes his sarcastic attacks even further by calling her a nursing mother: Nursing mother, I notice your concern for your children. You’re nursing them well! (p. 40). This type of language use is common among the Yoruba and others in the Nigerian society, especially between quarelling couples or neighbours. Being angry at each other, they use verbal ironies and mocking expressions. Words are used sarcastically as a way of exposing the shortcomings of the other person. PROVERBS AND VERBAL IRONIES USED TO REPLY SARCASM Doyin uses the following proverb in response to Delani’s sarcasm: When the son of a cripple buys shoes for his father, he’s inviting a lecture (p. 41). Doyin’s words here imply that she has a lot of unpleasant things to say about Delani. In other words, she is privy to his shortcomings, which Delani’s attacks can prompt her to expose. This is shown in her statement: “you’d better cover your mouth with your hand” (p. 41). Then she threatens further: “Don’t let me describe the contents of your bald head for you, I beg you… If I cited all your praise-names today, you’d be shocked, and you’d develop an undying hatred for pools” (p. 41). Here, it is also clear that irony is implied in the word “praise-names”. What Doyin is referring to is not praise-names but rather abusive words or words describing Delani’s shortcomings. PROVERBS MEANT TO PERFORM ADVISORY FUNCTION The following proverb is meant to perform an advisory function in the text: Let’s use the calabash at home with care, because no one knows if the one still growing in the farm will ripen… One doesn’t throw away the water in one’s pot when one hears the thunder rumbling. Suppose it doesn’t rain? (p. 42). These are Tunde’s words to Delani, who seems to have made up his mind that his wife, Doyin’s departure is good riddance. The use of proverb here is meant to advise Delani to take precaution. His words imply that Delani should not get rid of his old wife because he is expecting a younger one. Tunde explains: “Doyin may be stubborn, she may be forward, she may be outspoken, she may be excessive, but who knows what Arinlade will be like when she comes?” (p. 42). Then he reinforces his argument with yet another advisory proverb: We shouldn’t discard the dog because it squats and then go on to replace it with a monkey! (p. 42). PROVERBS ADVOCATING RELATIATION Unlike the above proverbs which call for caution, the following proverb is a clear argument in favour of retaliatory action: If an ant thinks you’re a twig and climbs onto you, then you flick it off (p. 43). This is a proverb by Delani and it shows his retaliatory stance towards his wife, Doyin’s action. It shows that he is not interested in doing anything to pacify her; in short he is no longer interested in the relationship. This is shown in his words: “the way she’s carrying on, I might totally close my eyes to her for ever…Is it so difficult to get engaged to a young girl that married women will shake their waists in invitation of men?” (p. 43). PROVERBS TEACHING HOW TO COPE WITH A RELIGIOUSLY OVERZEALOUS WIFE The following proverbs by Tunde are meant to furnish his friend Delani with ideas on how to cope with or overcome Arinlade’s excessive religious zeal: 1. However crafty the tortoise is, it will always trail behind the snail. 2. It’s because you put your food down in the wrong place that it gets eaten by sheep. 3. If you want to catch a monkey you have to act like a monkey to attract one (p. 47). Tunde uses these proverbs to strengthen Delani and assure him that he can handle the problem of Arinlade’s excessive emphasis on religious observances. Tunde’s words are in response to Delani’s complaints about Arinlade’s religious dos and don’ts: “I must abstain from alcohol. I must not talk to women along the road. I must not smoke. I must not keep late nights. I must not take snuff.” (p. 46). As a solution to these, Tunde tells Delani: “You can pretend to be an angel when she is around, as if you were in favour of her hard-line approach, but when she’s away, you can spread your wings, you can become a devil or even a small god. You can spin a yarn of lies and pretend to idolize her” (p. 47). All these pieces of advice are reinforced by the above proverbs. The third one tends to summarize Tunde’s arguments: “If you want to catch a monkey you have to act like a monkey to attract one.” The above proverbs are an example of the playwright’s use of proverbs to portray the world views of his characters. It is obvious that Tunde is someone who is not interested in morality. He is of the view that one can pursue one’s goals by hook or by crook. This view is in line with the idea of running after riches. Similarly, he believes that one can use pretence, tricks and lies to win a girl’s hand in marriage. So, by Tunde’s proverbs we can deduce the kind of person he is – someone who is not bothered about moral principles. He advises his friend, Delani, to pretend to be an angel in Arinlade’s presence and return to his devilish ways in her absence, in order to get what he wants from her. In other words, Tunde advocates the use of fair or foul means to achieve one’s goals. PROVERBS IN SUPPORT OF MARRYING A CHURCH-GOING GIRL Tunde uses the following proverbs to buttress his argument that “it’s the height of good fortune to marry a church-goer”: • Salt moistens the place where it’s kept. • The broom spends the night wherever you throw it (p. 46). These words are spoken in response to Delani’s continued complaints about his fiancée, Arinlade’s excessive devotion to church activities: “Revivals, in out-of-the-way villages and hamlets, vigil, fasting, evangelizing, sermons, incessant prayers, seeing visions, conventions, singing practice, Bible classes, visitations to the sick, seeking the wanderers, class meetings, meetings of…” (p. 45). In response, Tunde reveals that marrying such a devoted church-goer has its advantages: “Her husband will have her exclusively to himself. She has no time to mess about. If another man makes advances to her, he’s in trouble; she’ll simply turn him down, turn up her nose at him and start preaching at him. Meanwhile, the husband is relaxing at home waiting for her to come back” (p. 45-46). To drive his message home, the above proverbs come handy: “Salt moistens the place where it’s kept.” Here, salt is used as a metaphor to describe the church-going wife. Similarly, she is likened to the broom which spends the night wherever you throw it. In other words, the church-going wife will remain faithful to her husband in all situations. PROVERBS CONDEMNING INDECISION While Tunde and Kola are conversing about Delani’s indecision, Kola speaks the following proverbs: 1. We can’t do two businesses at the same time without losing one of them. 2. Whoever chases two rats at once will kill neither. 3. How can a man answer to two conflicting names? (p. 83). Here, Kola is referring to Delani who is torn between Arinlade and pools betting. Arinlade sees pools betting as a taboo because of her religious devotion and insists that Delani should be born again and quit pools betting as a condition for their marriage. Delani loves Arinlade and wants to take her as wife but at the same time loves pools betting which has become part and parcel of his life. Using the above proverbs, therefore, Kola is saying that Delani must take a clear decision – that he must make a definite choice between the two alternatives. The above proverbs are intended to show the inevitability of choice-making in the situation facing Delani – that is, he cannot pursue the two goals at the same time since chasing one means losing the other. Just as “we can’t do two businesses at the same time without losing one of them,” Delani cannot continue his relationship with Arinlade without stopping pools betting and vice versa. The second proverb even paints the picture of total loss as the outcome of pursuing “two rats at once.” The third proverb raises a rhetorical question to illustrate the impossibility or futility of Delani’s action: “How can a man answer to two conflicting names?” PROVERBS FOR AND AGAINST PREMARITAL SEX In a conversation between Arinlade and Delani in scene 10, we find that each of them uses some proverbs to buttress their arguments either against premarital sex or in support of it. Delani has been approaching his fiancée (Arinlade) for love-making, but she declines, insisting that premarital sex is a violation of God’s commandments. To buttress her arguments against the act, Arinlade uses the following proverbs: 1. What’s the hurry for a chicken to peer into the cooking-pot? 2. Why does a farmer need to uproot and eat his seedlings? 3. We shouldn’t sip hot soup in a hurry or it will scald our tongues. 4. I know that when you make a new dress you have an urge to wear it all round the place; but if you’re going to have something for supper, why nibble at it before-hand? By using the above proverbs, Arinlade intends to convince Delani that it is wrong for them to indulge in sex before marriage but that the right thing is to wait until they are legally married. According to her, “when the right time comes, it won’t be a sin to make love…” (p. 114). Delani, on the other hand, does not want to wait until they are legally married before love-making; he wants it at once. In his argument in support of premarital sex, Delani uses the following proverbs: 1. Strike while the iron is hot (p. 114). 2. So we should let the soup go cold as a dog’s nose first, so it’s completely unappetizing? (p. 114). 3. So you have to be as tall as a palm tree before you can drink palm wine? (p. 115). Delani’s proverbs are aimed at convincing his fiancée that there is no need to wait for marriage before they start making love. To him, one should “strike while the iron is hot.” He is not in support of waiting until “the soup” goes “cold as a dog’s nose” and thus becomes “completely unappetizing.” In response to Arinlade’s argument that unmarried people have no right to make love to each other, Delani contends that you don’t have to be “as tall as a palm tree before you can drink palm wine.” What Delani is saying in plain words is that people don’t have to be married before they can have sex. Generally, what we find in the above conversation is that the playwright uses proverbs as vehicle for expressing a speaker’s point of view as well as reinforcing the intended meaning. PROVERBS USED TO ISSUE THREATS In page 157, we find some proverbs used by Doyin, which are meant to express her anger and issue threats to Delani. She starts by saying: “Your evil plans are working, Adelani. I’ve been having stomach pains since morning. If I miscarry, if I miscarry, you’re in trouble” (p. 157). She is angry, obviously, because Delani has overlooked her after her departure from his house. He makes no move to reconcile with her in order to bring her back, and she is pregnant for him. She probably knows too that Delani plans to marry Arinlade, which is why she warns: “if anyone else dares get pregnant for you, I’m going to beat that foetus out with a cudgel” (p. 157). She uses the following proverbs to give force to her threats: 1. We never see baby snakes tied to the backs of their mothers. 2. If the rat is unable to eat hard beans, it scatters them on the ground (p. 157). The first proverb invokes the image of impossibility: “we never see baby snakes tied to the backs of their mothers”. This image of impossibility can be linked to her insistence that no one else should get pregnant for Delani, a situation she is prepared to use violence to forestall: “if anyone else dares get pregnant for you, I’m going to beat that foetus out with a cudgel”. The second proverb is meant to reinforce the image of violence already created in the preceding threats: “if the rat is unable to eat hard beans, it scatters them on the ground”. This proverb is used to emphasize her readiness to resort to violence if her interests are jeopardized. The action that follows is a demonstration of her ability and readiness to put her threats of violence into action: “she rushes at the whisky bottle and breaks it on the floor [and] does the same to the chairs, glasses, coupons” (p. 157). PROVERBS PORTRAYING PREDESTINATION AND JUSTIFYING DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE In a conversation between Kola and Tunde in scene 25 (page 161), each of them uses some proverbs which reflect their belief in predestination as well as their support for divorce and remarriage: 1. The luck of a man destined to inherit a wife will not allow the husband to survive his illness. 2. If a wild animal’s head doesn’t break, how will a man’s mouth taste nice soup? 3. If one person’s life doesn’t muddle up, someone else’s life can’t run smooth (p. 161). The first proverb above is used by Kola to buttress his point that Arinlade is fortunate to be the person to take Doyin’s place at a time when Delani has hit the jackpot: “That’s life! This girl is going to take Doyin’s place at this time of all times.” (p. 161). The proverb itself (“The luck of a man destined to inherit a wife…”) shows the speaker’s belief in predestination and wife inheritance. However, it is used in reference to Doyin’s departure and her anticipated replacement by Arinlade. The second and third proverbs are spoken by Tunde and they tend to provide justification for divorce and remarriage. Each of the proverbs paints the picture of one entity having to suffer loss as a condition for another entity’s gain. As the proverbs posit, one has to get into trouble for another entity to have peace. One entity has to suffer pain and death so that another entity’s mouth will “taste nice soup”. One person’s life has to “muddle up” so that another person’s life can “run smooth”. These images are employed to justify Doyin’s divorce with Delani and Delani’s anticipated marriage with Arinlade. The images painted in the first proverb – the image of the sick husband who must die and that of the lucky man “destined to inherit a wife” – are not only used to justify the divorce of Doyin and the marriage of Arinlade but also to highlight the characters’ strong belief in predestination and luck. This belief dominates the actions and utterance of the play’s main characters – so much so that when their hope of amassing wealth at the pools is dashed by Pastor Elkanah’s tearing of the winning coupon, the belief in predestination is reechoed in Delani’s final utterances: “It’s fate. It’s been written.” (p. 169). CONCLUSION The examples discussed in the foregoing paragraphs are clear illustrations of the playwright’s use of proverbs and other figures of speech, replete with images taken from the local environment, to enrich the art of conversation, develop and reinforce arguments as well as deepen speakers’ intended meanings. The play can generally be described as an exploration of the peculiar Yoruba habit and language which adorns discussions with figures of speech. Our study of this exploration has shown that the characters’ use of proverbs, similes, metaphors, rhetorical questions, irony, sarcasm, satire and other figures of speech, have been employed by the playwright as devices for not only depicting the Yoruba socio-cultural setting but also for highlighting a number of social problems such as the desperate quest for wealth in our poverty-stricken society, gambling, religious charlatanism, family crisis and the bastardization of the marriage institution, belief in luck, fate or predestination as a reflection of the prevailing poverty and ignorance in the Nigerian society and so forth.


Article Written By Abugu Benjamin

An English Language Graduate of Lagos State University, he is the author of many books and educational materials used in schools and colleges across the country.

Last updated on 29-07-2016 7K 0

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