Soyinka captures worldwide issues by using a West African setting. The satirical message in the text is conveyed through ridiculing of the vice and follies of the contemporary Nigeria society via religious institution. His fictive output belongs to the horatian mode of satire which ridicules the follies with the intention of correcting society.
Through symbolism, comedy and irony, the aberrant and corrupt nature of our religious leaders are exposed. Moral decadence, prevalent in the society is also dealt with. The text centre around a bar beach prophet Jero who pretends to be a true prophet but in the actual sense, he is a cheat, a rogue, and in fact the devil’s incarnate. As the play unfolds Soyinka presents prophet Jero as a representative of hypocritical religious and political leader.
He presents him in a humors and comical way that we see through the front of the holy hermit which he put on for the benefit of his deluded worshippers. The wrong mentality or orientation of some so called prophet is brought to the force prophet hood ought to be a call to selfless and sacrificial living towards God and mankind.
However, prophets like Jero don’t have this mentality. To Jero it’s a business, a profit making venture, the easiest way to meet ones material needs, in one word a trade just as he call it. The Trials of Brother Jero is a lighthearted satirical comedy based on the activities of phoney beach prophet, Jero, Brother Jeroboam. The satire is there, but it is almost concealed by the predominating humor which depends on a series of undiscovered identities which threaten at any moment to become known and upset the beach prophet’s house of cards. As this rickety structure is rocked by one threat after another the comedy of the play is generated. Brother Jero is a self-confressed rogue who trades on the insecurities of his flock (his ‘customers’ as he calls the in a moment of candour). ‘I know they are dissatisfied because I keep them dissatisfied. Once they are full, they won’t come again. “The audience is under no misapprehension about Brother Jero, who described his approach to his ‘trade’ from the very beginning of the play.
Indeed, much of comedy arises from the discrepancy between what the audience knows Brother Jero to be by his own confession and the front of holy hermit which he puts on for the benefit of his deluded gulls. The threat of his unmasking sustains the play, and once Chume discovers the true nature of his mater, the whole structure threatens to collapse. Soyinka, however, saves the knave in order to make the play’s final satirical point. Chume is the classic victim of the prophet’s method. The bane of his life is a wife whose constant scolding and nagging keeps him on the edge of distraction. All the women needs are, according to the desperate husband ‘Just one sound beating… But I’ve got to beat her, prophet. You must save me from madness’. (P. ) Brother Jero knows this too, but the release which this beating would bring to Chume’s frustrated spirit would deprive the prophet of his most faithful adherent. So he forbids Cume in the name of God to beat his wife. He confides in the audience. “If I do, he will become then that’s another of my flock gone forever”.
The prophet’s grasp of human psychology is sound. But what he does not know is that the woman, he is thus protecting is the same dreadful woman who has set up camp outside his house and threatens to keep up the siege until he settles his debt to her. In their double ignorance-Chume of the identity of Ampoe’s detor Brother Jero of the relationship between Amope and Chume-lies a potential source of comedy which Soyinka exploits. Amope’s encounter with the unsuspecting prophet is pure comedy; it is the first to the prophet’s carefully built up image. He escapes from it only because the quarrel some Amope. Instead of maintain her siege with single mindedness, pick as side quarrel with a passing fisher woman during which Brother Jero gratefully escapes. The comedy of the encounter is both visual and verbal.
Soyinka is a master of the prophet as his careful preparations to climb out of his window and steal away unseen by Amope are shattered by her almost casual (without looking around) “where do you think you are going?’ At which, according to the playwright’s stage directions (Brother Jero fling himself back into the houses) (P. 207) Brother Jero’s obvious disadvantage in relation to the entrenched Amope makes him vulnerable so that his attempt to buff Amope with the prophet façade soon crumble, and the holy man has to change his plea from freedom to do work of Christ, to an opportunity to get money out of the post office savings bank.
Amope is practice both in repartee and abusive complaint (as poor Chume knows) and she completely demolishes the prophets’ façade first with cool repartee then with her indictment: Only Amope’s own inability to miss an opportunity for new quarrel gives the prophet an escape from this tight situation. Brother jeroboam’s problem with ‘the daughters of Eve’ are not yet over the suffering agonies of self-control as the young girl returning from her daily bath in the sea tantalizes the prophet with her body.
When a little later woman trader runs past chasing the drummer boy, her skirt hitched up for the chase exposing her limbs, the prophet cannot resist this second feminine temptation and gave chase from this encounter he returns’ a much altered man, his clothes torn and his face bleeding’. (P. 220).The alternation between the devout prophet lasting his flock into holy paroxysms and the woman-chaser-getting for once what be deserves is a good comedy. It is also part of the exposure of the true nature of Jero still so far only to the audience. Through all his adventures Brother Jero still just manages to mask his unholy activities from his unholy activities from trusting flock but it seems to be only a matter of time before events catch up with him. The first discovery, however, is when, taking the opportunity of the prophet’s revelation of his own suffering at the hands of the daughters of Discard’ Chume pours out once again his sufferings at the hands of his wife and incidentally reveals his identity to the prophet. Brother Jero is just running into one of his routine injunctions against wife-beating when the penny drops: ‘Brother Chume did you say that your wife-went to make camp this morning at the house of someone who owes her money)(P. 221).
Brother Jero is unable to resist this obvious chance of vicarious revenge against Amope, and promptly gives Chume permission to beat her. This decision generates more comedy and a further development of the plot, for it leads to Chume’s discovery of the connection between Amope and the prophet. The second encounter between Chume and his wife is in dramatic and comic contrast to their first appearance at the beginning of the play. The comedy here derives from the fact that in the intervening. Period Chume has become transformed by the prophets permission, from a tame hen pecked husband to a dominating male – first Amope’s refusal to recognize the change, then her shock when Chume’s unwanted rough handling of her makes change then obvious, produce hilarious comedy.
The visual comedy of Chume bundling his wife bodily to the accompaniment of her piecing screams is lively enough. The comic action takes another dramatic turn as chume in the midst of all this activity make his discovery. The moment of realization is tantalizingly delayed as he tries to get the screaming woman to answer his questions: Did I hear you say prophet Jeroboam?’… Woman, did you say it was the prophet who owed you money?’’’ is this house? Does he live there?… Is Brother Jeroboam…?
Despairing of any answer from the screaming woman Chume turns to a bystander, gets his answer and revelation dawns, “so…so…so”. All would now seem to be set for Chume’s confrontation with his master, and a final unmasking, but Soyinka turns away from the obvious ending, and makes an even more telling point Brother Jero’s true nature is no surprise to the audience. He confessed his roguery from the start. An unmasking would have given some physical comedy, but little else.
Soyinka introduces a new character, an M.P. who appears just when the prophet need some prop of influence. Through his help the prophet can deal with his erst while apprentice who has now become troublesome. I have already sent for the police. It is a pity about Chume But he has given me a fight, and no prophet likes to be frightened with the influence of that nincompoop. I should succeed in getting him certified with ease. A year in the lunatic asylum would do him good any way (p. 233). The grimness of Chume’s fate must not be missed in the general atmosphere of the comedy of the M.P’s eventual gullibility. That Chume can be treated so unjustly is a telling comment on justice. The plum position which Brother Jero dream up for the M.P. too has a significance that may be list in the general comedy; It is Minister for War’: I saw the mustering of men, gather in the name of peace through strength and at a desk, in a large gilt room, great men of the land awaited your Word, and on the door leading into your office, I read the words ministered for war.
The point is not laid on with a towel but the passage together with the comment on political influence and justice gives the end of the play and its comic satire a more acid taste. Brother Jero ends the play a more sinister figure than he began. His roguery is now allied to power. He can easily eliminate ordinary mortals like Chume, and contrary to his deserts (but in keeping with the way of the preserve world) he survives his day of ordeals and live to plague his deluded countrymen further for Brother Jero is a false prophet. His people look pathetically to him for leadership and he replies with deceit. The situation is capable of wider more sinister applications.