The tendency to invest characters with ritual identities in the work of a minority of West African poet-novelists has led at least one critic to mistake the ritualistic for the real, the figurative for the factual. Richard Priebe writes of Armah's first novel: 'That we never see how regeneration is effected is not important to the integrity of the work, for the tacit assumption of society, and by extension the artist, is that the ritual process enacted by the hero is the only way society can be rejuvenated.'' Ritual, by virtue of its very existence, is assumed to have magical power and efficacy: in the absence of any visible sign of regeneration, it is deemed to have been accomplished invisibly by ritual. 'Can't you bastards ever tell the difference between ritual and reality?' protests Tiresias when the merely 'symbolic flogging' goes too far in the perverted carrier-rite of Soyinka's Bacchae. Clearly, the overseers of the rite are not alone in their confusion. All three of the writers dealt with here make use of the particular figure of the carrier as ritual metaphor or motif and the precise relationship between ritual and reality is different in each case.
Wright, Derek, Ritual and Reality in the Novels of Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Okara and Kofi Awoonor, Kunapipi, 9(1), 1987.