Marxist View and "Conversation
at Night with a Cockroach"
Marxism to put it shortly and bluntly
was Marx's ideas of trying to better the working conditions and lives of the working class. This is something completely ignored
by Capitalist thought. Marxist suggests our lives are better when we have things like social security, retirement plans, 401(k)
s, IRAs, Medicare or Medicaid, unemployment benefits, public education, retraining programs, medical benefits for children
and pregnant mothers, etc. The kind that a recent presidential candidate was accused of becoming if he won the 2008 Presidential
election, by becoming a “Chief Re-distributor of Wealth,” in essence spreading the wealth around as it was explained.
Here in this poem Soyinka discusses the
problem of stopping violence in his poem "Conversation at Night with a Cockroach" which is been brought on because the poor
was despaired, angry and frustrated with the upper class for not sharing the wealth. This poem supposedly was written during
the Nigerian Civil War when the election of 1965 erupted with violence and riots, followed by corruption in Nigerian politics.
These setting all seem to fit well into the theme discussed in the particular poem.
In a Marxist world the poem evidently show a broad-based demand for reforms in view of the poverty among the majority
of the people - farmers, workers, and the whole citizenry, for a redistribution of the nations' wealth from the upper class.
These certainly are strong revolutionary measures viewed on positively by the Marxist.
We can fairly assume here that the speaker
in the poem is the poet. The cockroach speaks for the encouragers of violence, it tells those involve in the atrocities to
kill for profit and to continue the violence by using lies and treachery. The cockroach replies to the man's protest that
too many have lives have been lost by saying:
I murmured to their riven
Yet blood must flow,
a living flood
Bravely guarded, boldly
From this stanza we notice that much
of the violence in Nigeria during this time of writing by Soyinka was done in the name of disdainful causes such as the preservation
of Yoruba identity; a tribe which the poet himself belong. The cockroach's argument represents these rationalizations for
continuing violence. Marxism will point out that the upper class is driving this movement of violence to protect their wealth.
In Biodun Jeyifo's book "Conversations with Wole Soyinka," Soyinka suggests that these are "stale deception,
and Blasphemer's consolation." Soyinka suggests a force worse than anything humans could produce plagues his nation, thus
he uses cockroaches to symbolize this evil. This evil is representative of what the Marxist will term act of suppression and
repression against the lower class of this nation, by turning one group against another through the social stratification
set in stone to maintain different levels of wealth.
In this poem the human speaker claims
the things that fall upon them were not of human attributes and does not befit humans. Undoubtedly
the man and the cockroach are aware that the violence is unstoppable due to the cockroach's actions, and the weaknesses of
the poor which has been baited into this violence. The Marxist will be quick to record that these are intentionally planned
violence to distract the citizens from the main causes of wealth disparity.
The poem opens with the man addressing
the cockroach and lamenting the fact that all of his people's plans for peace have been ruined by the cockroach, referring
to the upper class by a Marxist interpretation. The upper class - cockroach acknowledges
its fault and laughs at the useless attempts by the lower class to fix their land, by indicating that:
Half-way up your grove
We watched you stumble-mere
Lose footing on the peaks
But for the poor to survive, corruption
must erupt from the hands of the upper class by handing rewards to those who will come to their side. Here the poet says the
poor has given into and joined with evil. We further notice that although the human speaker condemns the cockroach's falseness,
many have believed in it and allowed it to continue. From a Marxism approach, this is exactly how the rich and affluent bring
the weaker but rebellious groups into their quarters to maintain their affluent status. This example was seen in Rwanda when
the Hutu and the Tutsi were paired against each other by their rich colonial powers. Although the Hutus account for 90 percent
of the population, the Tutsi minority was considered the aristocracy of Rwanda and dominated Hutu peasants for decades and
massacred them for seeking change.
third voice which enters the poem becomes unbiased as the narrator describes it that:
A round table, board
Of the new abiding-man,
Jackal and broods of
Broke bread to a loud
Of awe-filled creatures
of the wild.
Sat to a feast of love-our
Throughout the poem, the poet uses imagery
and symbolism to express his ideas and emotions. In addition to the symbols of the image, Soyinka uses images of the land
to help establish the ideas in the poem. The non-cockroach speaker describes the land as
No air, no earth, no
loves or death
Only the brittle sky
And in due season, rain
to waken the shurb
A hailstone herald to
Of hills, echoes in canyons,
In the palm of ranges,
On distant ridges, anthill
spires for milestones.
This image reveals the sadness of the
country as well as the mindset of its citizens. The typical result of what Marxism warns of larger upper class societies.
The poor are despaired and weak are forgotten. For example, the phrase "anthill spires for milestones" shows both the flat
barrenness of the land and suggests that anthills may be made mentally into milestones. The poem ends when the cockroach
Spread its wings in a feeble sun
And rasped his saw-teeth. A song
Of triumph rose on the deadened air
A feeler probed the awful silence,
Withdrew in foreknowing contentment
All was well. All was even
As it was in the beginning
Essentially, the most prevalent symbolism in "Conversation
at Night with a Cockroach”, is the cockroach. At once it brings up feelings of treason, determined survival, and disgust,
all of which are appropriate associations for the oppression and evil the upper class inflict on its lower class to stay up.
Another symbolism is Fire in the poem, which evidently stands for the attempt by the lower class to purge the land of upper
class corruption. The non-cockroach speaker claims
In that year's crucible
To force impurities in
As the Marxist will again observe, that
with all groups that control power, they are not relinquished by just the ushering of gestures at their face or at the thrown
they occupy without some times resorting to a revolution. Thus one can view the elections of 1965 in Nigeria when the poet
wrote this poem, as a reflection of the first free elections held in Nigeria in several years, or it may stand for the collective
attempts to purify Nigeria’s upper class. The cockroach picks up on this symbolism and states
You lit the fires, you
Your dawn of dawning
To our noon of darkness
One of the most remarkable symbols in the poem is
"a mine Of gold-filling the teeth of death". This personification refers to the continuous nature of violence for personal
gain by Nigerian leaders and elite.
Thus Soyinka's poem "Conversation at Night With
a Cockroach" reveals a depressing image of what happens to oppressed societies and why it becomes important to recognise
the benefits of Marxism to curtail the upper class from running wild.