Existential Crisis in Wole Soyinka’s The Road

Wole Soyinka’s The Road is an absurdist play where Professor, the protagonist of the play seeks a ‘Word’. Throughout the play Professor’s searching for the ‘Word’ implies various interpretations regarding what this ‘word’ means, as in the play neither Professor nor Soyinka makes it clear.  Professor’s search for the ‘Word’ actually is a trope of searching his existential crisis. The play is not just a drama, but a philosophical statement on the problem of existence. The writings of Wole Soyinka define life as a void in search of meaning. As human’s existence is meaningless so we find Professor’s searching for the ‘Word’ comes in vain and its end with his death where the finding of ‘Word’ or meaning of existence remains an unfolding question.

Prior to our textual analysis we must have a clear conception about Wole Soyinka’s existential views. Wole Soyinka is regarded as more a thinker than a writer. The writings of  Soyinka define life as a void in search of meaning which man can only accomplish through the affirmation of the will to live, freedom and conquest.

In this regard there is a similarity between Wole Soyinka and Nietzsche. In the first place the two thinkers define life and meaning in terms of the will to action. In his theory of will, Nietzsche opines that at the root of our existence there is a will or will to overpower that creates drive in individuals and when an individual becomes aware of this will, he or she can uplift his or her position. This will is also responsible for creating a sense of affirmation in us. Wole Soyinka holds almost the same view about the overpowering nature of will. Moreover, both of the thinkers hold the view that through the sheer power of will, pessimism can be overcome in our life.

A number of Soyinka’ s works especially those dedicated to the Ogun deity who, for Soyinka serves as a moral standard for mankind, to illustrate how the same quest for vitality and affirmation of the human essence runs through his works.  Soyinka’s humanism which is route to understand the basis of  his existentialist convictions. Soyinka’s works define life in terms of quest for the autonomy of the individual. His existentialist conviction upholds the will and says that every other item or value: culture, institution, constitution, agencies, government, etc, should be negotiated to its favour. Apart from this , Soyinka also has portrayed the fact that the persisting belief in will can surmount the sickening pessimism that lies coiled in the heart of the modern people.

With the above information now it will be a bit easier to analyze the text The Road. At the very beginning of the play we see the professor so much eagerly seeks for a ‘Word’, as if it is the ultimate aim of his life. Throughout the play professor does not provide any definition of this ‘Word’ but he gives so many features of this word so that the reader can guess what it could be. So, to go before our analysis we must know what the professor says about the ‘Word’. Here one thing can be noticed that most of the time in the play the word “Word” is capitalized which indicates that it must have some important meaning. In the play, the professor describes the word as “companion not to life, but death”. To him it is a powerful thing that “can crack [any one’s] bones in a hundred splinters” He may consider word, which is the basic component in writing process, as a dead entity that when it comes out of mind and mouth or once being written down on the paper, it becomes stable, unchangeable and dead. To him word is nothing but a “key” to control of the universe. So in order to search the ‘word’ he goes to several stages.

As the ‘word’ actually indicates human existence so Professor does not find ‘word’ in Bible or church. He goes to church thinking that he will find ‘word’ in Bible. But he does not find it in Bible.