The Pilkings’ behavior in Act II

I found it interesting that I was able to understand Act II much more than Act I. I enjoyed the flow of the conversation and was therefore able to enjoy it. My comfort at interpreting Act II as opposed to Act I probably comes from the fact that I relate to the society from which the Pilkings’ come, and can understand their behavior better than the behavior of Elesin Oba and the marketwomen.

The dialogue exchanged by the Pilkings with each other, Joseph, and with Amusa contrasts with that of the Yoruba. While the dialogue between Elesin, Iyaloja, and the praise-singer is humorous and playful, it still remains respectful. Their conversation is also peppered with sayings and proverbs that reflect their rich culture. In contrast, the Pilkings’ language is more informal, free, and borderline disrespectful in their ignorance. Their words seem to come from people who are used to getting their way in the world, OUT OF HABIT. “Get your costume back on,” Simon assures his wife, “Nothing to worry about. I’ve instructed Amusa to arrest [Elesin] and lock him up” (26). This expectation and lack of worry is a testament to the easy life the Pilkings seem to have, one that is not governed by rigid customs and deep religious belief. Instead of worrying about the great cosmic repercussions that can come about from not completing the native law, like the Yoruba people, the Pilkings concern themselves with tango, the Prince coming to tour the colonies and how the “other provincials are going to be damned envious” (26).

A sense of self-righteousness, conscious or otherwise, is also evident in their speech. When Jane surmises that the reason that Elesin was mad at Simon was because he took Olunde away, Simon declares that “it makes me all the more happy I did” (23). He has no regrets at interfering in Elesin’s affairs and is of the opinion that he did the right thing in bringing Olunde to a better civilization and culture in which he can fully exercise his skills to become a doctor. This kind of cultural supremacy extends to Joseph the servant, although he prescribes a slightly different kind of supremacy: “Oh no, master is white man. And good Christian. Black man juju can’t touch master” (23). But while it may be easy to read into the white supremacist notions that underlie the Pilkings’ actions, it should not be their defining characteristic, as it is only one aspect that shapes their identity. The Pilkings are not entirely bad people, as the majority of their negative traits stem from their blinding ignorance of the Yoruba customs and of their own actions.

The easy, free, and impersonal manners the Pilkings display may be misconstrued as a lack of respect to the natives. Indeed, Amusa and Joseph seem to think so. “Oh, come in Joseph! I don’t know where you pick up all these elephantine notions of tact,” Simon says to the houseboy when he displays hesitance at entering their room without knocking (21). Perhaps this is a trait he retains from before his “conversion” from tribal to Christianity or “that holy water nonsense” (24). While Joseph may view his actions as proper and polite, Simon seems to be fed up with it. Amusa is so shocked at the Pilkings’ blatantly ignorant and inappropriate use of the egungun costumes that he refuses to speak to Simon until he has changed. In a show of inconsiderate behavior, Sam attempts to appeal to Amusa’s sense of ‘reason’: “Look here Amusa, I think this little joke has gone far enough hm? Let’s have some sense” (19).

In the Pilkings’ point of view, Amusa’s reluctance is absurd. In Amusa’s point of view, the Pilkings’ disrespect the egungun costumes, and by extension, his customs. Therefore it is all a matter of perspective; what may be seen as nonsense to one side, may be seen as sensible by the other. Sanity and sensibility all depend on the cultural context, a fact that prevents me from condemning the Pilkings’ as self-absorbed, superficial, and prejudiced people. Another reason is that I can easily understand and even sympathize with their horror at the Yoruba customs. Personally, I struggle to understand and accept the reason behind the act of killing oneself through sheer will because it is customary. As I have said earlier, this is probably due to the fact that I have grown up in a similar society as the Pilkings’ and can therefore more easily understand what has shaped their identity.

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