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Wole Soyinka’s dystopian/utopian vision in <i>A Dance of the Forests</i>

S O Azumurana


Although very few critics have ventured to analyze Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests owing to its apparent difficulty, yet those who have attempted simply see it as a metaphorical commentary of the sociopolitical situation in Nigeria. While their observations might be valid, taking into cognizance that the play was written in 1960 as part of the celebration of Nigeria’s independence, the problem with such readings is that it does not take into account the structure of the play in which Soyinka traces the past to the present to forecast a dystopian future. While a utopic past and a dystopic present is often enacted as a narrative gesture that concomitantly leads to a utopian future, the reverse is the case in this play. What Wole Soyinka depicts is a dystopian past as well as a dystopian present and future. Therefore, my proposition in this paper is that more than being a work of postindependence disillusionment, Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests links the hopeless past with the fruitless present to project a bleak future. In this way, my point of departure in this essay is that while the writing of the play has been motivated by the betrayal of the common trust and hope as it relates to the Nigerian socio-political climate, the message of the play has a universal underpinning. In this respect, Soyinka insists that the atrocities that have so often characterized human interactions generally are unavoidable. Yet, by portraying the unavoidability of these human atrocities, Soyinka invariably quests for a futurity that is utopian. My conclusion, therefore, is that within the aesthetic trajectory of Soyinka, the boundary between dystopian and utopian visions is not clear-cut: they are one and the same.

Keywords: A Dance of the Forests, dystopia, Nigerian sociopolitical situation, utopia, Wole Soyinka.