Advances in Literary Study
2013. Vol.1, No.1, 1-4
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 1
Metaphoric Topicality in Femi Osofisan’s Drama
Clement O. Ajidahun
Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Nigeria
Received November 8th, 2012; revised December 11th, 2012; accepted January 9th, 2013
This paper examines the functional and the significant role of metaphors in literary works. It discusses the
centrality of metaphors as a dominant literary device consciously deployed by Femi Osofisan to project
the theme of oppression, dehumanization, social injustice and poverty in his plays. The paper focuses on
the use of animal and predatory metaphors in Osofisan’s plays to launch an offensive literary attack on the
rich and the ruling elite in the society who use their privileged positions to brazenly oppress and brutalize
the poor and the downtrodden. The paper, on the other hand, examines the appropriate use of animal
metaphors to enlighten and educate the poor on their precarious condition as preys in the hands of the
carnivorous ruling class. Finally, the paper discusses the settings and the titles of Osofisan’s plays, the
quest motif and the traditional modes as metaphors for oppression.
Keywords: Osofisan; Metaphor; Language; Drama
Metaphor is indisputably a linguistic and literary tool em-
ployed by the writer to communicative effectively his message
to his audience. Writers, irrespective of their genres, find this
figure of speech compelling and indispensable in their literary
works. And since the emergence of linguistics, there has been a
deliberate and consistent attempt to provide a linguistic founda-
tion for the literary effects of figures of speech in literary works.
This has also attracted literary stylistics. Commenting on the
significance of metaphor, MacCormac (1972, p. 3) is of the
view that literature without metaphor would become less ima-
ginative and poetry would be so impaired as to become dull
and perhaps even trite. Writers and critics have rarely denied
the utility and attractiveness of metaphor for their trade.
Critical studies on metaphor in literature cannot be effec-
tively done without the employment of the appropriate linguis-
tic tools. According to Semino and Steen (2008, p. 232), “we
believe that metaphor in literature needs to be studied by com-
bining literary approaches with a combination of discourse
analytical, corpus-linguistic and psycholinguistic techniques.”
According to the classical view on the literal language theory,
which can be traced to Aristotle, metaphor is seen as extraneous
to language and therefore it requires a special interpretation. To
the classical school of thought, metaphor is anomalous. For in-
stance, according to Levin (1977) as reported by Finch (2000, p.
170), it is abnormal to say The stone died because the features
of stone and die are incompatible. Meaning and interpretation,
can therefore, be decoded through translation in order to find “a
non-metaphorical, literal equivalent.”
However, the romantic school of thought according to Finch
(2000, p. 171) “views metaphor not as an anomaly requiring
special methods of interpretation, but as an integral part of lan-
guage and thought…all language is essentially metaphorical.”
This is in tandem with the position of the cognitive semanticists.
The works of Lakoff and Johnson (1980) amply discuss this
concept using the structural, orientational and ontological types
of metaphor as illustrations.
Femi Osofisan differs from the classical school of thought on
the role of metaphor in literature. He is perfectly in agreement
with the romantic view that makes no difference between the
figurative and non-figurative language. Osofisan uses meta-
phors consciously as a normal linguistic apparatus to make
critical statements of facts that he considers crucial and to pro-
voke and arouse the consciousness of our leaders to the worri-
some living condition of the downtrodden in the society. This
paper is, therefore, an examination of the dominance of the use
of metaphors in the drama of Femi Osofisan.
Textual Analysis
Osofisan uses animal and predatory metaphors virtually in all
his plays to portray the unpleasant relationship between the rich
and the poor in the society. The rich and the ruling elite class
who are portrayed as rapacious, ravenous, inhuman, barbarous,
bestial and fiendish use their privileged positions to maltreat,
subdue, repress and oppress the poor with ferocious brutality.
The poor, in the hands of the rich, are completely dehumanized
through their draconian policies and authoritarian tendencies.
They rule with infernal authority. Osofisan thus finds appropri-
ate animal and predatory metaphors to project these bestial
manifestations in the ruling class.
Similarly, the poor are depicted as preys in the hands of the
rich and as pawns in the hands of the gods who kill them for
their meat at will. The poor are like flies to wanton boys who
trample upon them pitilessly. The poor are always at the mercy
of the rich completely depending on them for survival. The
playwright describes them with appropriate metaphors to depict
their socio-economic fragility, financial insolvency, physical
defenselessness and vulnerability. It is only when we look at
this predatory relationship between the rich and the poor that
our radical impulse and revolutionary consciousness can be
aroused. Some examples of these metaphors are juxtaposed
Oppressors (the rich) Oppressed (the poor) Source
Elephant Antelope The Chattering and the Song, 45
Lion ( Abiodun) Toad (Latoye) The Chattering and the Song, 38
Buffalo Antelope The Chattering and the Song, 45
Hunting Dog Sacrificial ram Once Upon Four Robbers, 67
Elephant Mosquito Morountodun, 18
Hawk (Sontri) Hen (Yajin) The Chattering and the Song, 2
Lion Dogs Red is the Freedom Road, 125, 128.
Crabs, Scorpions Stray dogs, maggots No More the Wasted Breed, 93, 100
Hen Cockroach Midnight Hotel, 61
Hyena (Adigun) Antelope (Akanbi) Farewell to a Cannibal Rage, 9
Locust Grasshopper The Oriki of a Grasshopper, 27
Monkey Goat Altines Wrath
Rodent Rat Another Raft, 27
Sharks Fishes Another Raft, 69.
Cannibals Toad Birthdays Are Not For Dying, 12, 20
Cat Rat Aringindin and the Nightwatchmen, 33
Vultures, Jackals, Dogs, Cat Cockerel, rat Nkrumah-NiAfrica, Ni, 47, 116, 130, 150, 153.
Jackals Pests Reel, Rwanda, 181, 191
Wolves Jackals The Inspector and the Hero, 97
Hawk Hen Yungba-Yungba and the Dance Contest, 72
Buffalo Antelope Yungba-Yungba and the Dance Contest, 32
Monster Bilisi Big Cock, fish Twingle-Twangle, A Twynning Tayle, 18
Lion Fat pigeon, fish Tegonni, An African Antigone,38, 108
Vultures Goats, Dogs Tegonni, An African Antigone, 38, 57
The use of these metaphors gives a concrete image and the
predatory relationship between the rich and the poor. While the
rich, who are the lions, the vultures, the hawks, the sharks, the
wolves, the jackals in the society, devour all the resources of
the land, the poor antelopes, goats, mosquitoes, rats and cock-
roaches are left with the crumbs or even nothing.
Often, they go on starving. The metaphors are apt therefore
as the stark reality of the oppression and the exploitation of the
people to stir the audience’s psyche. The audience cannot but
be sympathetic to the cause of the downtrodden. Alafin Abio-
dun in The Chattering and the Song (1976) is confronted with
the reality of his tyranny by Latoye when he says:
Yes, Abiodun, yes, Olori! Sango eats, Ogun eats, and so do
the ebora of the forest! But in your reign Abiodun, the elephant
eats, and nothing remains for the antelope! The buffalo drinks,
and there is drought in the land! Soldiers, seize him! He is ripe
for eating! (45)
In The Chattering and the Song (1976), Sontri, because of
his oppressive, repressive, harsh and cruel dispositions, he is
described as a hawk, the bird of prey, while Yajin his victim is
portrayed as hen. The relationship between a hawk and a hen is
predatory. The hawk feeds on the chicks and thereby deprives
the hen of its natural process of procreation.
In Atines Wrath (1986), the playwright uses monkey and
goat as animal metaphors for the rich and the poor respectively.
In the play, Lawal who is a Permanent Secretary in a govern-
ment ministry represents the rich and the elite, oppresses his
wife Altine who typifies the poor and the downtrodden. Lawal
exploits the peasant farmers like Onene and Audu. The poor are
described as goats meant as both beasts of burden and as meat
for the playful, laissez-faire and lazy monkey. Goats as domes-
tic animals in African environment are seen as irritants that
must be chained, beaten to submission or butchered for meat.
This is, therefore, the experience of the poor in the hands of the
rich in Nigeria. The use of predatory metaphors here to depict
the oppression and the exploitation of the poor by the ruling
class in the Nigerian society is appropriate.
In Another Raft (1988), Chief Ekuroola, Chief Orousi and
Prince Lanusen who symbolize the rich and the elites are de-
scribed as sharks, while Oge, Waje and Reore the poor are de-
picted as fish. The sharks are after the fishes in the sea to feed
on. The sharks and the fishes are again predatory metaphors to
describe the precarious rapacious relationship between the rich
and the poor.
Besides, the settings of Osofisan’s plays are in themselves
metaphors for suffering, difficulties and poverty. For instance,
the Iloto hill of Farewell to a Cannibal Rage (1986) is a meta-
phor for difficulties, hardship and destitution. The crossroads of
Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels (1991) is a metaphor for anxi-
ety, apprehension and despair.
The dark, bare stage of Nkrumah-NiAfrica-Ni (1991), the
dark empty stage of Another Raft (1989) and the bare sitting
room of A Restless Run of Locusts are metaphors for squalor,
emptiness, gloominess, murkiness, poverty and suffering. The
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Babalawo’s shed in Twingle-Twangle: A Twynning Tayle (1995)
is a metaphor for wretchedness, poverty and vulnerability. Oth-
ers are the public square of Twingle-Twangle, A Twynning Ta-
yle (1995; the public square of Tegonni: An African Antigone
(1999); the Beachside of No More the Wasted Breed; the hotel
of Midnight Hotel (1986) and the open space showing the tem-
porary tents of the old markets built of wooden and bamboo
stakes, and straw roofs, in which the women are being kept in
Women of Owu (2009). They depict the struggling, poverty,
depravity and the decadence that are often associated with the
poor and the downtrodden.
Even the D. O’s office in Tegonni: An African Antigone
(1999), which is up the hill side gives one the image of tough-
ness, tyranny and oppression. The market of Once upon Four
Robbers (1980), Fires Burn and Die Hard (1990) and Yungba-
Yungba and the Dance Contest (1993) represents the world in
African metaphysics where everybody comes to struggle, tra-
vail and trade. While some succeed, some fail depending on
several factors like destiny, perseverance, wisdom and so on.
As the market women return home at the end of each market
day, eventually, everybody will one day return to the ancestors
at the end of his or her journey to this world which the market
Osofisan also uses quest motif to symbolize man’s struggles
and travails in the world. Sango in Many Colours Make the
Thunder King (1999) is in search of how he can excel and sur-
pass his father’s achievements and be a man. In the course of
his search, he runs into trouble. He later misuses his position.
Taye and Kehinde in Twingle-Twangle, A Twynning Tayle
(1995) embark on a journey of life which symbolizes man’s
struggles, and the need for man to have patience and persever-
ance. Through the metaphor of the motif, Osofisan shows that
man in his search for happiness, hope and achievement and
fulfilment will experience difficulties in life which could in-
volve oppression. All that he needs are patience and persever-
Even the titles of some of his plays are symbolic of the suf-
ferings of the poor masses. For instance, A Restless Run of Lo-
custs (1975) shows the hardships and the devastation the politi-
cians and the ruling class brings upon the land through their
careless display of power and lust for money and position.
Also, the title of the play The Chattering and the Song (1976)
is Sontri’s belief that the chirruping of birds is called a song
while the weaverbirds’ chatter in chorus is also called a song.
The title will then become a symbol of liberty and freedom
which birds generally experience but which is elusive to man
because of the oppressive apparatuses in the society which are
perpetrated by the ruling class and the wealthy capitalists.
Other titles like Once upon Four Robbers (1980), Fires Burn
and Die Hard (1990), No More the Wasted Breed (1983), Red
Is the Freedom Road (1983), Farewell to a Cannibal Rage
(1986) and Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels (1991) are sym-
bolic of poverty, deprivation, suffering and oppression. “Rob-
bers” are a nuisance and outcasts in the society. Fires devour
and consume. “Red” is a symbol of danger. The danger in the
text could mean that any attempt made by the poor to liberate
themselves from the hands of the oppressors could be very
bloody. Truly, the attempt made by Akanji in the text ends in
tragedy both for the oppressed and for the oppressors.
“Cannibal Rage” symbolizes rivalry, strive and absence of
peace which the poor always experience in the hands of the
Adiguns of the society. “Vagabonds” stands for the level of
dehumanization and deprivation the society has created for the
downtrodden. For instance, the vagabonds in Esu and the Vaga-
bond Minstrels (1991) refer to themselves in powerful meta-
phors of poverty as “living corpses” and “furnace of rioting
embers” (p. 6) while the victims of Rwandan war in Reel,
Rwanda (1999) are referred to as “floating corpses” (p. 179)
and “rotting corpses” (p. 187).
Osofisan also uses songs, dances, riddles, parables and
games as metaphors for instance, the “Dance of the Crawling
Things” and “The Farmers” Anthem” in The Chattering and the
Song (1976) indict the bestial nature of the ruling class and call
for the unity of the masses in the dethronement of oppression
and exploitation. “The story of Stomach and the Limbs” in
Yungba-Yungba and the Dance Contest, (1993) “The Song of
the Market Women” in Once upon Four Robbers (1980), “The
story of Simbi and the Stranger” in Farewell to a Cannibal
Rage and “The riddles of Ant” in Many Colours Make the
Thunder-King (1999) portray the awful condition of the poor
caused by the recklessness and misuse of power by the capital-
ists in the society. Games, like the card game played by Leje
and Mokan in The Chattering and the Song (1976), are used as
a dramatic metaphor and a transistor device to re-enact the past
and project the future.
Metaphor, therefore, to Osofisan is a formidable and indis-
pensable literary apparatus for lampooning and chastising the
oppressive structures in the society and for enlightening and
exposing the true conditions of the masses with a view to pro-
voking them to stand in unity for their liberty and total emanci-
pation. Metaphors have therefore been adequately deployed by
the playwright to strengthen the theme of oppression that is
prevalent in his plays.
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