Three plays that explore clashes between cultures are Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman,” Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” and Anna Deavere Smith’s “Fires in the Mirror. ” In general, these three plays depict and illustrate how conflicts between two cultures arise due to differences in beliefs and practices, among others. However, while these plays are similar in that they depict conflicts between cultures, they also show these clashes differently from one another.
In “Death and the King’s Horseman,” the plot is mainly set in Nigeria at a time when the country was still a British colony. The focus is on Elesin, the horseman of the Yoruba tribe Chief. Since the chief died, Elesin must follow Yoruba tradition and commit a ritual suicide as his spirit is highly important in helping the Chief’s soul to pass through the afterlife. Otherwise, the Chief’s spirit will wander the earth forever and bring misfortune to the Yoruba people. The play sets the tone for a clash between culture when the British ruler of the Nigerian colony, Mr.
Pikings intervenes and prevents Elesin from taking part in the ritual suicide at the very last minute. Basically, Mr. Pikings viewed the ritual as barbaric and illegal under British laws. Since the suicide ritual is integral to the Yoruba tribe, the people were thrown into pandemonium, which eventually resulted in Elesin’s son Olunde, commiting suicide in order to restore honor to his family and restore order to the tribe. Ultimately, Elesin commits suicide himself in order to compensate for the consequences of his actions.
Evidently, in the play “Death and the King’s Horseman,” the clash between two cultures is vividly illustrated in the differences in customs and traditions between the Nigerian tribe Yoruba and their British colonizers. On the side of the Nigerians, a tradition of committing ritual suicide is necessary for the maintenance of order among the tribe while on the side of the British, the said ritual is considered brutal and illegal. Meaning to say, the Nigerian people, being a colony of Britain, had no choice but to follow the rule of their superiors.
The difference between the practices of the two cultures resulted not only in two deaths in the Yoruba tribe but chaos among the tribe. On the other hand, in the play “Angels in America,” the conflict between two cultures is mainly shown in the different sexual orientations of the characters. Generally, most of the play’s characters are gays. Although it is not shown that gays are mistreated in the play, it is the relationships between the characters and their issues with themselves that depict the clashes between cultures. For one, most of the characters in the play are afraid of revealing their sexual orientation.
This indicates that homosexuality is not fully accepted in the play’s society, which creates a virtual clash between gays and straights. This is evidenced by one scene in which Roy Cohn, a straight-male and top-class lawyer in the play, was enraged upon finding out that Joe Pitt, one of this best subordinates, is a gay. One notable symbol that play utilizes is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In the play, Prior Walter and Roy contract AIDS. After discovering their illness, they suddenly feel isolated from the world as evidenced by events in their life—Prior is left by his lover Louis Ironson and Roy is disbarred as a lawyer.
Roy, who is not a gay, is also shown to be in denial of his illness and claims that he has liver cancer instead of AIDS. He also believes that AIDS is only associated with gays, which symbolizes another form of clash between two cultures. In short, in the play, two cultures are virtually presented: Roy represents the straight group of men who hates anything associated with homosexuality such as AIDS while Prior represents the gays. Although homosexuality is not a true culture per se, its various practices such as the sexual intercourse between two men, among others, has enabled it to become more or less a culture of its own.
Another form of clash between two cultures shown in the play is the social prejudice against or blacks. In the play, the blacks are epitomized by Belize, who is a registered nurse who cares for Prior and Roy. However, Roy, being the racist that he is, treated Belize with the same disdain and dislike he has for gays. In short, it can then be said that the central conflict between the two cultures in the play revolves around the characters differences in sexuality or sexual preferences and practices.
Finally, in the play “Fires in the Mirror,” the chief conflict between cultures is the clash between the Jews and the blacks or African-Americans. The conflict is traced to an accident in which a Jew lost control of his vehicle and ran over a seven-year old black child named Gavin Cato. This caused tension between Jews and the blacks in a place called Crown Heights, which eventually resulted in violence, riots, and the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, who is a Jew. Notably, the play is not a straight-forward type wherein scenes are played out by people with different roles.
Rather, it consists of monologues by 26 different characters that witnessed or saw the Crown Heights, with each providing their own perspective or view of the conflict between the cultures. These various perspectives fuse to form a multi-faceted and deep account of the tension between the Jews and Blacks and also form the central conflict of the play. Basically, the 26 characters that had monologues belong to different races and cultures. Meaning to say, in their accounts of the events of in Crown Heights, their opinions and comments are most likely biased depending on which race or culture they belong to or which side they are on.
For example, the Anonymous Young Man # 2, one of the 26 characters in the play, claimed that all blacks are only rappers, athletes, or murderers and robbers. Likewise, Sonny Carson, an activist on the side of the Jews, commented that the Jews were second to the police in showing their hatred for blacks. On the other hand, Reverend Al Sharpton, an advocate of black civil rights openly criticized the discrimination against African-Americans by the Jews. Carmel Cato, the father of the murdered black boy, also lambasted the social prejudice against blacks and claimed that the Jews were running the show.
Meaning to say, the conflict between the two cultures in the play is illustrated through a battle between the Jews and the blacks, which was started by a car accident that killed a boy. However, it is evident that even the white race, such as members of the police, favored the Jews over the blacks, which added further tension in the already growing conflict between the two cultures. It can then be argued that this play showed a very superficial difference in cultures.
Over-all, the three plays differ in their depiction of cultural diversity and conflicts between cultures in terms of the nature of the conflict and the source of the clashes. In “Death and the King’s Horseman,” the tensions between cultures were spawned by differences in traditions and practices. On one side, these practices are considered sacred while on the other, they are viewed as primitive and illegal. In “Angels in America,” the conflict between cultures arises from differences in sexuality or sexual orientation.
It mainly involved one side freely accepting his homosexual nature and another side utterly despising everything associated to being gay. Lastly, in “Fire in the Mirror,” the clash between the two cultures was rooted from a single accident that could have been easily resolved but was instead worsened by stereotypes and racial advocates. Evidently, “Death and the King’s Horseman” showed a classic form of culture conflict while “Angels in America” depicted a conflict between sub-cultures. On the other hand, “Fires in the Mirror” showed a more personal and superficial side of a clash between cultures.