The Reversal of the Father and Son dynamic in Sections 4 and 5

The father and son dynamic is reversed in section 4. We would expect that Olunde would be ashamed in front of his father during their reunion, but that is not what happens; instead, Elesin is ashamed in front of his son in the aftermath of his failure. Elesin is aware of this reversal of their positions: “Oh son, don’t let the sight of your father turn you blind!” (49). Olunde seems to have no choice but to turn away and condemn his father: “I have no father, eater of left-overs” (50).

Pilkings remains oblivious to the shift in the relationship of Elesin and Olunde: “Are you dreaming now, white man? Were you not present at the reunion of shame? Did you not see when the world reversed itself and the father fell before his son, asking forgiveness?” Elesin asks on page 51. Not only does Elesin fail his duty as the king’s horseman, but he also fails his duty as a father in that he has destroyed their honor. The father’s role becomes ineffectual since he has “lost the father’s place of honour [and his] voice is broken” so the duty now falls upon the son to salvage what has become lost (52). Elesin welcomes his son’s disownment, saying that “the contempt of my own son rescued something of my shame at [Pilking’s] hands…[Olunde] will avenge my shame” (52). It is interesting to note that Elesin does not appear to suspect that Olunde would die in his stead.

The reversal of the father and son dynamic is not the only reversal present in sections 4 and 5. Iyaloja mentions that there is also a reversal to “the cycle of [their] being” (57). “Whose trunk withers to give sap to the other? The parent shoot or the younger?” she asks, to which Elesin replies, “The parent.” It is the cycle of [their] being / It is customary that “the parent shoot…withers to give sap tot eh younger” and yet, as a consequence of Elesin’s botched death, his son is the “young shoot [to pour] its sap into the parent stalk” (62). Iyaloja’s plaintain metaphor for the relationship between father and son represents another way in which the natural order of their world has been disrupted. Olunde has taken his father’s burden on himself, the son has rectified his father’s failure; “this,” Iyaloja says, “is not the way of life. Our world is tumbling in the void of strangers, Elesin” (62). The tragic circumstances of Olunde’s death seems to at last sever any lingering hesitation in Elesin and in one swift, decisive pull, he strangles himself. However, Elesin’s small success at performing his final duty cannot undo the damage of it is all too late. “The gods demanded only the old expired plantain” but instead it is the “sap-laden shoot” who falls first (62). The Yoruba tradition is thrown into chaos and the people are left “floundering in a blind future.” The reversal of the father and son dynamic illuminates the greater reversal of tradition that arises from Elesin’s failure and Olunde’s sacrifice.

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