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Keywords: “SATIRE AS A LITERARY DEVICE IN FEMI OSOFISAN’S MIDNIGHT HOTEL: AN EVALUATION”
This project evaluates satire as a literary device in Femi Osofisan’s Midnight Hotel. The play deals with the decadence in contemporary Nigerian society from socio-political and historical periscope. Chapter one centers on definition, types of satire, satire in selected African literature, as well as a brief history of the author. Next chapter focuses on plot summary of the play; chapter three discusses characterization in the play; and satire as a literary device forms the thrust of discussion in chapter four. It concludes with chapter five focusing on the continued relevance of satire based on achievements, challenges and prospects of using satire in the play.
1.0 WHAT IS SATIRE?
Etymologically, the word ‘satire’ comes from the latin word satur and the subsequent phrase lanx satura; satur meant “full” but juxtaposition with lanx shifted the meaning to “medley” or “miscellany”, i.e a full dish of various kinds of fruits (www.wikipedia.com). Relating this to satire means that satire is a literary device with various devices like parody, burlesque, e.t.c embedded in it.
According to Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary of Current English (2005), satire is ‘a way of criticizing a person, an idea or an institution in which you use humour to show their faults or weaknesses’.
In the Complete English Language Companion (2007), satire is defined as’ a literary work in which folly or evil in people’s behaviour are held up to ridicule.’
Ugoma (1982:75)asserts that satire ‘comes is the forthright and abusive language directed against a person. In some cases, it involves exaggeration, caricature of the character by their actions and speech’.
Barnet, Berman and Burto (1980:26) define satire as ‘a literary work ridiculing aspects of human behaviour and seeking to arouse in the reader, contempt for its object’.
Satire is the literary art of diminishing a subject by making it ridiculous and evolving towards its attitudes of assessment, contempt, indignation or scorn. It differs from the comic, in that comedy evokes laughter mainly as an end itself while satire derides, i.e uses laughter as weapon and against a butt existing outside its own world (Abrams 1981:167).
Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement (www.wikipedia.com).
Satire is a way of making fun of people by using silly or exaggerated language (www.vocabulary.com)
On Online Literary Devices, satire is defined as a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humour, irony, exaggeration or ridicule. (http//literarydevices.net/satire).
Satire is described as term applied to any work of literature or art whose objectives is to ridicule. (www.questia.com).
Satire is a way of using humour to show someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, e.t.c.; a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn; trenchant wit, irony or sarcasm used to expose or discredite vice/folly; humour that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, e.t.c. (www.meriamwebster.com).
Next, according to Chambers Encyclopedic English Dictionary (1994), satire is a variety of humour aiming at mockery or ridicule, often using sarcasm and irony.
The Chambers Dictionary (1993) defined satire as ‘a literary composition, ‘orig’ in verse, essentially a criticism of folly or vice, which holds up to ridicule or scorn, its instrument being irony, sarcasm, invective, wit and humour; such writing as a genre; its spirit; the use of, or inclination to use, its methods satirical denunciation or ridicule in which such methods are employed’.
In addition, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1978) Satire is defined as ‘a work of literature, theatre, e.t.c, intended to show the foolishness or evil of some persons, organization or practice in an amusing way’.
Similarly, the A.U.P- Harrap’s Standard Learner’s English Dictionary (1980) defines satire as a humorously critical piece of writing.
Satire, according to Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (1997), is defined as a literary composition, originally in verse, which holds up follies and vices for criticism, ridicule and scorn.
The World Book Dictionary (1976) defines satire as the use of mockery, irony or wit to attack or riddle something, such as a habit or custom that is, on is considered to be foolish or wrong.
Satire is a way of criticizing people or ideas in a humorous way, or a piece of writing or play that uses this style. (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/satire).
Also, Satire is an artistic form, chiefly literary and dramatic in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, parody, caricature or other methods, sometimes with an intent to inspire social reform (www.britannica.com).
In essence, satire is any piece of writing or literary work that brings to the fore, the ills in a society, an individual or institution for ridicule with a view to correcting them, not only for laughter.
Satire is found not only in written literary forms, in preliterate cultures, it manifests itself in ritual and folk forms, as well as in tricksters tales and oral poetry. It appears also in graphic arts, music, sculptures, dance, cartoon strips and graffiti. Examples are Dada Sculpturs, Pop tart works, music of Gilbert and Sullivan and Erik satie, Punk and rock music. In modern media culture, stand-up comedy is an enclave in which satire can be introduced into mass media challenging mainstream discourse; comedy roasts, mock festivals and stand up comedians in night clubs and concerts are the modern forms of ancient satiric rituals (www.wikipedia.com).
Satire is occasionally prophetic, i.e the jokes precede actual events. Among the eminent examples: The second episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus which deputed in 1969, featured a skit entitled “the Mouse Problem” (meant to satirize contemporary media exposes on homosexuality) which depicted a cultural phenomenon eerily similar to modern furry fandom (which did not become widespread until the 1980s, over a decade after the skit was first aired).
The comedy film “Americathom”, released in 1979 and set in the United States of America in 1998, predicted a number of trends and events that would eventually unfold in the future, including an American debt crisis, Chinese capitalism, the fall of Soviet Union terrorism aimed at the civilian population, a presidential sex scandal and the popularity of reality shows.
In January 2001, a satirical news article in ‘The Onion’, entitled “Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over’ had newly elected president, George Bush vowing to ‘develop new and expensive weapons technologies’ and to ‘engage in at least one Gulf War-Level armed conflict in the next 4 years’. Furthermore, he would ‘bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession’; this prophecizes the Iraq war and to the Bush tax cuts (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/satire#cite_note-6_)
The practice of satire is ancient; historically, satire was sometimes the only way to make an open political statement. People could not say “I hate a king” for instance, but they could use the king in a political cartoon to be a vulnerable tool for political expression in some regions of the world where people lack free speech, the satirist can hide behind the guise of humor, the meaning of the humor is then left up to interpretation. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/satire#cite_note-6)
Although, satire is often comic, its object is to evoke not only laughter but laughter for a corrective purpose. Their targets are the pretense, falsity, deception and arrogance which is held up to ridicule by the satirist with his/her license to attack. It’s somewhat a unique form of expression because while it’s humorous at the surface level, it carries embedded commentary and usually intended to send a message or make a statement, rather than to be purely amusing. It’s marked by the inclusion of stylistic elements like wit, sarcasm and irony as well as biting social or political criticism. (http://www.Questia/satire.com).
Satire may take different forms, ranging from the written words to jokes, drawings, television, sketches and entire shows or production. In terms of literature, satire can be as short as a poem/letter or as long as a full length novel. It’s nowadays, found in many artistic forms of expression, including literature, plays, commentary, television shows and media, such as lyrics. (http://www.Questia/satire.com).
1.1 TYPES OF SATIRE
Satire is a diverse genre which is complex to classify and define, with a wide range of satiric ‘modes’. Satirical literature can commonly be categorized as Horatian, Juvenaliian or Menippean, but there are two major types of satire, and these are:
i. Horatian Satire
ii. Juvenalian Satire
1.1.1 Juvenalian and Horatian Satire
Juvenalian satire is named after the Roman satirist Juvenal (late 1st century- early 2nd century A.D) is more contemptuous and abrasive than the Horatian satire. Juvenal Satire follows the pattern of abrasively ridiculing societal structure; he disagreed with the opinions of the public figures and institutions of the Republic, and actively attacked them through his literature. Juvenal satires attacked public figures or officials and governmental organisations; their opinions were regarded not just as wrong, but also evil, and use sarcasm and Irony to attack them for the purpose of change. Juvenalian satire is vitriolic and replete with moral indignation; it attempts to punish to provoke (political and societal) change.
Examples of Juvenalian satires are: Bradbury Ray’s Fahrenheit 451, Bulgakov Mikhail’s “Heart of a Dog”, Burrough Williams Naked Lunch, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, e.t.c.
Horatian Satire, on the other hand, named after the Roman satirist, Horace (658 BCE), playfully satirizes some social vices through gentile, mild and light-hearted humour. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) wrote satires to gently ridicule the dominant opinions and “philosophical beliefs of ancient Rome and Greece” (Rankin). Rather than writing in harsh/accusing tone like Juneval, he addressed issues with humour and clever mockery. Horatian satire follows this same pattern of ‘gently ridiculing the absurdities and follies of human beings’ (Drury). It directs wit, exaggeration and self-deprecating humour towards what it identifies as folly rather than evil. Its sympathetic tone is common in modern society, and its goal is to heal the situation with smiles, rather than by anger, it’s a gentle reminder to take life less seriously and evokes a wry smile; it attempts to teach.
“In a book using Horatian satire, readers often laugh at the characters in the story who are the subjects of mockery, as well as themselves and the society for behaving in those ways” (Shiameka Thomas).
Examples of Horatian Satires are: Bierce Ambrose’s The Devil’s Dictionary, Twain Mark’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, e.t.c.
Menippean satire is named after cynic Philosopher Menippus (3rd century B.C) whose works are lost, but initiated by the Roman writer, Varro (1st century B.C.E); it closely resembles Juvenal’s ideas on satire but lacks the focus of a primary target. Rather than a single target, it takes a scatter-gun approach that aims poisonous prongs at multiple targets. Menippean/Varronian satire is characterized by attacking mental attitudes rather than specific individuals or entities. This type of satire often ridicules single-minded people like bigots, misers, pendants, braggarts, cranks, rapacious and incomplete professional men of all kinds, which are treated as disease of the intellect (www.wikipedia.com).
Examples of Menippean satire are: Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Robert Burton’s ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ (1961), Jonathan Swifts ‘A Tale of a Tub’, e.t.c.
1.1.2 Satire in Selected African Literature
Literature employs satire as a tool through which human foibles are highlighted such that bumps on the road to progress are smoothened.
Several works of satire abound across cultures the world over. African writers have adopted satire in their works based on classical origin, few of them would be exemplified in this project.
Echoing Juvenalian tone of satire, Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, exposes humanity in all its baseness and cruelty. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) is one of the finest satirical works in English literature. Swift, in this book, satirizes politics, religion, and Western culture. It satirizes man’s quarrelsome nature in the face of slightest provocation using the conflict between the ‘little Endians and the Big Endians’ about where best to break an egg, i.e whether an egg should be broken at the big end or small end. The point is, of course, that it doesn’t matter which end one breaks an egg, but Swift is pointing out how ridiculous some controversies are.
Swift, in another instance, also satirizes the over-abundance of genuine ‘projectors’ in England who were constantly coming up with outlandish and unworkable ways to cure society’s problem. Swift used Gulliver’s voyages to satirize various aspects of English society and the way England is governed.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) satirizes the breakdown of political ideology and the misuse of power, and does so, in the ingenious form of a beast fable. The major players are animals but their failings are all too recognizably human. They begin with an idealistic attempt to form a new society, liberated from the tyranny of human and founded on the principle of equality and freedom for everyone, but it all goes wrong as the Pigs take over. Backed up by the brute power of the dogs, they appreciate all manner of comforts and luxuries for themselves, reducing other animals to the same condition of slavery they suffered under humans; Orwell’s point is that the pigs are really just the same as the human tyrants they replaced. The novel thus, exposes the perversion of political ideals and the corruption of power which occur all two regularly in human societies. Most obviously, it functions as an attack on Stalinist Russia, where the original communist Revolution degenerated into war, interior power struggles and the emergence of a grim totalitarian regime under Josef Stalin.
Alex Laguma’s A Walk In The night (1962) and Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972) reveal the excruciating pains of the Southern Africans under the repressive weight of ‘Colour bar’. These works of satire criticize apartheid system in South Africa. Apartheid system is dedicated to upholding white supremacy and white minority rule.
Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautiful Ones are not yet born (1968) is a novel which generally satirically attacks the Ghanian society during Kwame Nkrumah’s regime and the period immediately after independence in the 1960s. The book satirizes corrupt practices like bribery, abuse of office (through Abednego), fraud (boat business), sex mania, indolence, smuggling, Western mentality (Estella, Koomson’s wife, the been-to-son; ludicrous names like Binful, Fentengson, e.t.c), government neglect (squalor, penury, health: the coughing child, filth) all contrasting with the opulence of the new “whites”, the new colonialists, the golfers.
Also, Ola Rotimi’s Our Husband As Gone Mad Again (1975) is also a satirical work that extensively ridicule the society and individuals by means of abuses; the political and electoral position of Nigerian Politics as epitomized by Lejoka Brown and his group.
Next, Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People (1966) satirizes the democratic practices on display in African society, i.e it captures and projects the sardonic irony of African democratic experience at the Post-Independence period; it ironically mimics the time-honored definition of democracy by Abraham Lincoln as “a man of the people, by the people, for the people”. ‘A man of the people’ exposes how the practice of European democratic system by African political elite is turned on its head to a corrupt government of the people, not by the people and not for the people; a cabal which feeds fat on collective wealth while the people languish in abject poverty.
In Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s Devil on The Cross (1981), the bitterness and frustration of the Kenyan people who saw their hopes of independence dashed as the new leaders of the country concentrated on getting rich and collaborating with foreign corporations to exploit the people are satirized.
And of course, Wole Soyinka’s Trials of Brother Jero (1974) is a light satiric comedy that takes aim at religious hypocrisy in the form of a charlatan, or fraud, named Brother Jero, who preaches to his followers on a Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria. Jero is a master of manipulation and keeps his followers in a subservient position because he understands what they long for – Money, Social Status and Power and convinces them that they will soon be able to fulfill these materialistic desires and they are so gullible enough to believe him, i.e Soyinka uses a Juvenalian tone to convey the follies and vices of the contemporary Nigeria Society via religious institution. Through symbolism, comedy and irony, the corrupt nature of our religious leaders, as well as moral decadence prevalent in the society are exposed. Brother Jero, who is the main character, pretends to be a true prophet who lives on the Beach but in actual sense, he is a cheat, rogue, and in fact the devil’s incarnate. Brother Jeroboam represents the hypocritical religious and political leader.
Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel (1976) ridicules some traditional African cultures, ranging from bride price, to polygamy, wife wooing girls for her husband, e.t.c. which are regarded as archaic values through the Western cultured or elementary school teacher, Lakunle; he calls their customs as ‘savage custom, barbaric, out-dated, unpalatable’. Soyinka also satirizes the educational system in his land through the character, Lakunle; Lakunle is an embodiment of the qualities found in the foreign educated African student. He must be an intelligent herald of the revolution against old customs and blind faith, but he is stuffed with empty bombastic words and unclear vision to change his society.
Niyi osundare in a good number of his poems axes social misconducts and environmental degradation. Particularly striking is his satiric swipe at short-sighted leader. Osundare in “Eating Tomorrow’s Yam” and “Eating with all the fingers”, delves into the fundamental question of sustenance and berates greedy leaders (Aniemeka 2009:8). One sees the lack of foresight on the part of leaders who are alluded to as “biblical prodigal son” in the lines below:
There is only one yam left in the village barn
The prodigal calls for a knife “what shall we eat tomorrow”?
The people ask,
If we finish all the yam today? (line 6-11)
And says the prodigal,
Tomorrow will take care of itself (Line 15-16)
(Culled from Language and National Development, 2005)
1.2 ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Babafemi Adeyemi Osofisan, known as Femi Osofisan is a critic, poet, essayist, lecturer, editor, publisher, culture activist, novelist, literary theorist, newspaper columnist, most prolific, most performed and most enthusiastically received playwright in Nigeria (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/femi_osofisan). He was born on the 16th of June, 1946 in a little village called Erunwon, near Ijebu-Ode, South-Western part of Nigeria but lost his father very early. With the help of relations, he managed to complete his primary and secondary school education, and then proceeded with a government scholarship to the University of Ibadan, where he took his first degree in French in 1969, after a year’s study at the University of Dakar. He then went to Paris, to the Novelle Sorbonne, and came back to complete his Post-graduate study (Ph.D) in Ibadan in 1974. He attended primary school at Ife and secondary school at Government College, Ibadan (Femi Osofisan: Interpretative Essays 1, 1996).
He has at various times lectured at the University of Ibadan, where he was promoted to the Chair of Professor of Drama. In addition, he has taught at many other institutions both at home and abroad, including the University of Benin, in Lome, Togo, and Pennsylvania and Lowa, both in the U.S.A (Femi Osofisan: Interpretative Essays 1, 1996).
He has published a substantial number of academic essays, translations of a play, a book of criticism and poems from French to English as well as his own creative works of poetry, fiction and Drama. He is, or has been, the author of literary journals like “Opon Ifa”, “Positive Review”, “Ibadan Journal of Comparative Literature”, e.t.c, and was a founding member of the Editorial Board of “the Guardian” newspaper of Nigeria. He was twice elected the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), and he is the current Vice-President of the Pan African Writer’s Association (PAWA). Among the literary awards and commendations, he has won prizes from the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for both Drama (1980) and Poetry (1989), and in 2004, he was awarded the Nigerian National Order Merit (NNOM), and the highest academic prize in the country.
It is in the theatre, however, that Osofisan is best known, where he has worked and acquired a solid reputation as actor, director, song-writer and in particular, as a major contemporary playwright. He features frequency as a visiting fellow and Guest lecturer of institutions and Governments outside Nigeria. Examples include: British Council Fellow at the Cambridge Summer Seminars (1984), participant at the International Writer’s Programme of the University of Loma (1986), e.t.c. (Femi Osofisan: Interpretative Essays 1, 1996).
Osofisan writes both under his real name, and a pseudonym (Okinba Launko). He has written and produced over 40 plays, and several poems. Numbered among his published works are: “Midnight Hotel” (1982), “Morountodun” (1983), “Who’s Afraid of Solarin” (1978), “Birthdays Are Not For Dying” (1990), “A Restless Run of Locusts” (1975), “Farewell To A Cannibal Rage” (1986), e.t.c. Other fictional novels includes: Kolera Kolej (novel), Cordelia (novelette), Ma’ami (novelette), Wuraola Forever, Abigail, e.t.c. His poems published under the pseudonym, Okinba Launko are Minted coins (1988) and Dream seeker on Diving Chain (1993).
Femo osofisan is happily married to professor (Mrs.) Oyinlola Adenike Osofisan, the first Nigerian Professor of Computer Science; they are blessed with four Children. He retired as full professor in 2011 at University of Ibadan, and currently a distinguished Professor of Theatre art, Kwara state University, Nigeria.
1.3 A SURVEY OF FEMI OSOFISAN’S MAJOR WORKS
Femi Osofisan has written and produced over 40 plays and several works, and numbered among his works are: Reel Rwanda (1996), Behind the Ballot Box (1967), Oduduwa, Don’t go (1968), A Restless Run of Locusts (1975), The Chattering and the Song (1976), Who’s Afraid of Solarin? (1978), Once Upon Four Robbers (1980), Morountodun and other plays (containing Morountodun, Red is the Freedom Road and No More the Wasted Breed) (1983), Once Upon Other Robbers (1984), Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels (1991), Farewell to a Cannibal Rage (1986), Making Children is Fun (1996), Nkrumah-ni…Africa-ni! (1994), Kolera Kolej (1975), Cordelia (1989), Ma’am (novelette, 1994), Minted coins (Poetry, 1988), Dream Seeker on Divining Chain (Poetry, 1993), Pain Remembers, Love Rekindles (Poetry, 2001) e.t.c. (Femi Osofisan: Midnight Hotel, October 2003).
Several of Osofisan plays are adaptations of works by other writers; “Women of Owu” from Euripidos’ “The Trojan Women”, “Who is afraid of Solarin?” from Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector”, “No More The Wasted Breed” from Wole Soyinka’s “The strong Breed”, “Another Raft” from J.P. Clark’s “The Raft”, “Tegonni: An African Antigone” from Sophocles’s “Antigone”, and others (Femi Osofisan: Interpretative Essays 1,1996).
“Women of Owu” (2006) depicts the history of the people of Owu Kingdom who succumb to defeat of the Ife, Oyo and Ijebu armies who bombarded the city of Owu for 7 years, killing all of its male inhabitants and children, i.e it focuses on the aftermath of a 19th century war-torn Owu kingdom. It reflects on the pains, depression and agony of the survivors who were only women after the killing of all males in the kingdom.
“Who’s Afraid of Solarin?” (1978) is a book in honour of Late Dr. Tai Solarin, the Principal and Proprietor of the Mayflower Grammar School at Ikenne, and Public Complaints Commissioner of the former Western State of Nigeria. The book deals with corruption in Nigeria, loosely based upon a real historical figure – Tai Solarin. Solarin was a man with strong beliefs and fought hard to eliminate corruption. Isola, a rascally and irresponsible traveller, is mistaken for the dreaded Public Complaints Commissioner, Solarin by the corrupt officials of the Local Government Council. He plays on this until the real commissioner arrives.
“No More The Wasted Breed” (1985) is an intertextual response to Syinka’s “The Strong Breed”. Osofisan seeks to prove that ‘carrier’ syndrome that seeks to make the poor heroic scapegoat or sacrificial lamb for the gods is neither heroism nor patriotism, but suicide due to ignorance and stupidity. “No More The Wasted Breed” x-rays the process through which reasoning interacts in favour of the oppressed, in text and performance, and appreciates the playwright’s use of myth, an essential element in African Drama to strengthen his characters and audience to reason rather than emotion.
“Morountodun” (1983) reflects the 1985 Agbekoya uprising when Yoruba peasants revolted against oppressive Government. Osofisan, utilizes flashbacks to connect past events with the present to bear on the subject matter, which is the evaluation of the contribution of women in nation building and peace keeping; it portrays a society where women are the ruling force. “Morountodun”, translated in English
Keywords: “SATIRE AS A LITERARY DEVICE IN FEMI OSOFISAN’S MIDNIGHT HOTEL: AN EVALUATION”