April 16, 2024
This is a comprehensive review of The Palmwine Drinkard Amos Tutuola, reviewed my Opara Moses, Odogwu. Take your time to peruse, comment and share

BOOK REVIEW BY MOSES

“The Palmwine Drinkard” is a novel written by Nigerian author Amos Tutuola and published in 1952. It is renowned for its unique writing style and the incorporation of elements from African folklore and oral tradition. The novel gained international recognition for its rich storytelling and use of traditional Yoruba oral storytelling techniques.

The story is a classic quest tale in which the hero, a lazy boy who likes to spend his days drinking palm wine, gains wisdom, confronts death, and overcomes many perils in the course of his journey. It has thematic links to The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a work that profoundly influenced many Nigerian writers.

At its core, “The Palmwine Drinkard” is a coming-of-age story that follows the adventures of the protagonist, an unnamed narrator referred, the novel tells the story of an unnamed narrator who embarks on a quest to find his palm wine tapster, Death, after Death goes missing. Along the way, the narrator encounters a variety of fantastical creatures and experiences numerous surreal and supernatural events.

One of the key elements of “The Palmwine Drinkard” is the use of language. Tutuola wrote the novel in a style that reflects the oral tradition of storytelling in Nigerian culture. He incorporates local dialects, proverbs, and idioms, creating a rich and vibrant narrative. This style of writing not only adds authenticity to the story but also immerses the reader in the world of the novel.

Characters:

  1. The Palmwine Drinkard: The main character and narrator of the story. He is a heavy drinker who embarks on a quest to find his missing tapster.
  2. Tapster: The Palmwine Drinkard’s loyal servant who goes missing at the beginning of the story, sparking the protagonist’s journey.
  3. Spirits and gods: Various supernatural beings who aid or hinder the Palmwine Drinkard on his quest. These include the Spirit of the Lost-Word, Spirit of the Living Dead, Spirit of the Flute, and Spirit of the Ball of Light.
  4. Sword-swallower: A character the Palmwine Drinkard encounters during his journey, who helps him gain entry into the domain of the gods.
  5. Woman of the Brass: A beautiful woman the Palmwine Drinkard encounters during his journey, who assists him in his quest.

Settings:

  1. The village: The story begins in the protagonist’s village, where the Palmwine Drinkard receives news of his tapster’s disappearance.
  2. The bush: The Palmwine Drinkard travels through the bush, encountering various challenges and supernatural beings along the way.
  3. The realm of the gods: The Palmwine Drinkard ventures into the spiritual realm, where he confronts the spirits and gods in his search for his tapster.
  4. The underworld: The Palmwine Drinkard visits the realm of the living dead during his quest, interacting with deceased individuals and learning valuable lessons.
  5. The final confrontation takes place at the Spirit of the Dead’s compound, where the Palmwine Drinkard confronts the spirit responsible for his tapster’s disappearance.

Another notable aspect of “The Palmwine Drinkard” is its exploration of Nigerian folklore and mythology. Tutuola draws on traditional Yoruba beliefs and folklore to create a narrative filled with mythical creatures like ogres, spirits, and gods. These elements not only provide entertainment but also serve as a reflection of Nigerian culture and beliefs.

The novel also offers a critique of colonialism and its impact on Nigerian society. Throughout the story, Tutuola depicts the clash between traditional Nigerian values and Western influences. The narrator’s encounter with the Englishman and the introduction of Christianity into the story are symbolic of the intrusion of foreign cultures and ideologies. Tutuola subtly exposes the flaws and contradictions of colonialism, highlighting the loss of cultural identity and the erosion of traditional values.

Furthermore, “The Palmwine Drinkard” can be seen as a coming-of-age story. The narrator undergoes a series of trials and challenges that test his character and maturity. Through his encounters and experiences, he learns important lessons about responsibility, loyalty, and the consequences of his actions. The novel can be interpreted as a metaphorical journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

  1. Narrative Style: One of the most distinctive aspects of “The Palmwine Drinkard” is its narrative style. Tutuola presents the story in a stream-of-consciousness manner, blending English language with rich and colorful African imagery. The narrative has a fragmented and disjointed structure, with multiple digressions and shifts in focus. This unique style creates a sense of oral storytelling and allows readers to immerse themselves in the fantastical world of the protagonist.
  2. Cultural Representation: Tutuola’s novel offers a vivid depiction of Yoruba culture and mythology. The protagonist, referred to as the Drinkard, embarks on a quest to find his deceased palmwine tapster in the spirit world. Throughout his journey, he encounters various mythological creatures and supernatural beings, often drawing from Yoruba folklore. Tutuola’s portrayal of the spiritual realm, its traditions, and rituals provides insight into the cultural beliefs and practices of the Yoruba people.
  3. Allegory and Symbolism: “The Palmwine Drinkard” can be interpreted as an allegory for the colonial experience in Nigeria. The Drinkard’s struggles and encounters can be seen as metaphors for the oppression and exploitation faced by African societies under colonial rule. The novel also utilizes rich symbolism, such as the journey through the land of the dead, the transformation of animals into humans, and the metaphorical significance of palmwine and its intoxicating effects. These symbols contribute to a deeper exploration of themes like power, mortality, and the complexities of human existence.
  4. Critique of Postcolonial Society: Tutuola’s novel can also be seen as a critique of postcolonial Nigerian society. Through his fantastical and sometimes absurd narrative, he presents a scathing commentary on the corruption, greed, and moral decay that he believes have permeated Nigerian society following independence. The novel uses satire and dark humor to expose societal vices, highlighting the erosion of cultural values and the allure of materialism.
  5. Controversial Reception: “The Palmwine Drinkard” received mixed responses upon its publication. Critics both praised and criticized Tutuola’s unconventional narrative style and his portrayal of African culture. Some argued that Tutuola’s use of pidgin English undermined the literary merit of the novel, while others commended his innovative approach. Overall, the novel’s unique blend of folklore, allegory, and social commentary challenged traditional Western literary conventions and opened up new possibilities for African literature.

In conclusion, “The Palmwine Drinkard” by Amos Tutuola is a novel that defies conventional narrative techniques and offers a rich exploration of Yoruba culture, postcolonial society, and allegorical themes. Its distinctive style and cultural representation have made it a significant contribution to African literature, paving the way for future generations of writers.

We have come to the end of tonight’s book review. I believe we have learnt something new via the text.

The moral lesson in the texts:

  1. Take responsibility
  2. Be resilient
  3. Loyalty
  4. Always know that you must embrace the consequences of your actions
  5. At the course of your journey in life there are people who will light your way or quench the light. Always go for those that will aid your journey.
  6. Take charge of your life.
  7. Embrace and be proud of your culture.
  8. Don’t let the white man’s culture or their ideologies make you neglect the right order.
  9. Don’t fail to keep pushing. Don’t stop.
  10. Believe. Keep believing.

Edited by: Onyinye.

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