Themes in Ola Rotimi’s “The Gods are not to Blame”

The Gods are not to Blame by Ola Rotimi is a story about a valiant warrior and king, Odewale, who is cursed from birth by the gods to kill his father and marry his mother.

His parents, King Adetusa and Queen Ojuola, try to have him killed but the kindness and compassion of the king’s messenger spare him and set him on the hollowed path of his destiny.

Odewale’s impatience, hot temper, and tribal sentiment accelerate the fulfilment of his destiny. In this post, we shall look at the themes in The Gods are not to Blame.

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Some of the themes expressed in The Gods are not to Blame include predestination, manipulation, incest, suicide, patricide, anger, good leadership, blindness, the efficacy of royal utterances, women servility, responsibility, and the absence of trust.

Now, let’s take each theme one after the other.

Theme of Predestination

Predestination is the main thrust of Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame. The play shows the importance of fate in the interplay of man’s struggles.

Odewale is fated from birth by the gods to kill his father and marry his mother. Every effort by men to thwart this destiny only brings Odewale even closer to the trajectory of that destiny.

After the divination about his future, the monarchy orders Gbonka to take Odewale to the evil groove where he would be killed. In the evil bush, Gbonka’s emotions get the better of him and he spares him.

Many years later, Odewale’s fear of killing his father and marrying his mother makes him flee from his foster parents. It brings him to the farm where he kills his real father and to Kutuje where he marries his real mother.

This indeed shows that there is no escaping the bad destiny set for him by the gods.

Theme of Manipulation

The gods harness man’s fear, compassion, curiosity, and hot-temperedness to bring forth the realisation of Odewale’s abominable destiny.

If for example, the king and the queen come to terms with reality of their son’s destiny and accept him for who he is, I feel things might not have turned out the way they did. Or if they could let go of their fear and have him killed on the spot, the gods’ plan would have gone to rust.

If Odewale too had followed the instructions of the Ifa Priest not to fight fate, been less curious and a little patient, things would have turned out differently for him.

The gods manipulate the innate qualities of man so Odewale fulfils his destiny: fear in King Adetusa and his wife; compassion and kindness in Gbonka; and in Odewale’s case, a combination of fear, curiosity, ethnic bigotry, hot-temperedness, violence and impatience.

Theme of Incest

Incest involves having sexual relations with one’s close relatives and family members. In the case of The Gods are not to Blame, it is between the son and the mother.

The theme of incest is shown in the sexual relation between Odewale and Ojuola. Odewale marries his mother, Ojuola, and together they have four children, two boys and two girls: Adewale, Adebisi, Oyeyemi, and Adeyinka.

Theme of Suicide

Suicide is the act of killing oneself. It is often committed out of frustration or depression. It is also resorted to in order to save one face from disgrace or shame. It is sometimes taken as an honourable option.

When Queen Ojuola learns that her husband and father of four children for the past eleven years is actually her husband, she withdraws to the inner chamber of the palace where she stabs herself to death with a knife.

She does this because of the burden of shame and sadness her incestuous relationship with Odewale weighs on her.

Theme of Patricide

Patricide refers to the act of killing one’s father. This is the central emphasis of Odewale’s birth prophecy: “He would kill his father, and marry his mother”.

Odewale kills an old man in his farm in Ede, at a place where three paths meet. The old man turns out to be his biological father, King Adetusa.

Odewale therefore fulfils a core part of his destiny. The idea of a son killing his father as revealed by the priest’s prophecy and its fulfilment highlights the issue of patricide in the text.

Theme of Anger

It takes a day for anger to destroy what one has built for many years. Anger is the strength and yet a weakness of Odewale. It fuels his resolve. But then, it is one reason for his downfall.

Baba Fakunle admits this during his encounter with Odewale: “Your hot temper like a disease from birth is the curse that brought you trouble”.

Odewale has no self-restraint when he is angry. Nothing holds him back. He goes all-out to do regrettable things on impulse. His easily triggered anger makes him kill a man who would later turn out to be his real father.

We see he regrets his decision and he has to leave Ede completely. He is also very remorseful when he opens up to Alaka, his childhood acquaintance, eleven years later on how he kills a man because the man insults his tribe.

This of course shows that Odewale is blinded by anger when he kills the man and suggests that he has no control over himself whenever he is angry.

Besides, his anger shows in his relations and encounters with his chiefs, Aderopo, Baba Fakunle, and even Alaka whom he manhandles for his reluctance to set straight the details of Odewale’s origin.

It is in this hot-temperedness that he, a king with his people’s respects, takes Aderopo head-on. At the tail end of this confrontation, Odewale swears by Ogun that may he never see Aderopo with his two eyes. And true to his words, the next time the two meet, Odewale has lost his sight.

He says and does a lot of regrettable things when he is angry. It is right to say that anger, among other things, is a magnetic force that pulls Odewale to his tragic end.

Theme of Good Leadership

Aside his anger issue and distrust, Odewale is an exemplary leader. He is an embodiment of good leadership.

Odewale is the kind of leader that listens to the clamours and complaints of his people; the kind of leader that identifies with their fate. He is a problem-solver, a goal-getter, and an efficient, proactive leader.

The people of Kutuje owe their victory over the Ikolu warriors to Odewale’s good and efficient leadership. The quick unravelling of King Adetusa’s murderer is also a demonstration of the kind of leader he is – elsewhere, such case would have taken forever to unearth.

Theme of Blindness

There are different dimensions of blindness in the play. There is physical blindness and spiritual blindness. Baba Fakunle, the Ifa priest and soothsayer, is blind but can see spiritually what people with sight can’t see. He can foretell the future and has the gift of spiritual vision.

It is ironic that people with sight have to depend on a blind man for spiritual directions. The people of Kutuje therefore are blind spiritually.

The physical and spiritual blindness complement each other in the play. While Baba Fakunle has to rely on a boy for physical directions, he too is relied on for spiritual directions.

The Efficacy of Royal Utterances

The Yoruba royal institution is portrayed as a respectable institution in the play. And the words of traditional rulers are considered sacred, effective and binding on their subjects.

Even when other characters are crossed with their king or not satisfied with the conduct of their king, they still respect Odewale and give to him the reverence the throne deserves.

The words Odewale utters do not count for words said by an angry man. He talks about gouging out the eyes of King Adetusa’s murderer and sending the person on exile. When Odewale discovers he is the culprit, he carries out his threat to the last letter.

When he decides to go on exile with his four children, his chiefs and townsmen know better than to flout his threat to curse anyone who tries to stop him. This only confirms how weighty and effective words from the Yoruba traditional ruler are. Some of these notions about the efficacy of royal utterances are still retained in the present day perceptions of the Yoruba royal institution.

Women Servility

Women are portrayed as servile in The Gods are not to Blame. They play the role of second fiddles. We can say this much from the treatment of Queen Ojuola. As the queen, she is the archetypal Kutuje woman in the play. So, it is convenient to use her as a yardstick for the place of women in the play.

Ojuola is a submissive woman, a good hostess, and a patient and dutiful wife and mother. Despite these characteristics, she contributes very little to the politics and affairs of Kutuje. In a characteristic patriarchal manner, Odewale keeps her off issues which involve the running of the affairs of the land.

As the numero uno among Kutuje women, she should (in a different clime) be in attendance at meetings involving the king and chiefs. Even when the people come to table their complaints before the king and his council of chiefs, Ojuola has to be called to bring out the children by Odewale only when he wants to show the people that his household is afflicted too. Her absence in the first instance shows that being in such important meetings is not part of her queenly duties.

Theme of Responsibility

Odewale is not the type of person to shy away from his duties or responsibilities. While he is a strong proponent of the idea of not placing one’s entire life in the hands of a leader, he understands however that his subjects are his responsibilities. When the land is afflicted, he sends Aderopo to Ife to seek for solutions even before his people come to the palace to complain.

When he learns the nature of how his predecessor dies, he takes it upon himself to unravel the murderer. He goes about swearing to do this and that to the culprit.

And when it becomes clear that he has committed a grievous abomination for which his people suffer, Odewale again steps up and shoulders his responsibility. He blinds himself, abdicates the throne, and goes on exile.

The following Yoruba proverb from the play sums up his idea of responsibility:

When the wood-insect gathers sticks, on its own head it carries them.

Odewale, The Gods are Not to Blame.

Theme of Distrust

Odewale’s distrust in people makes him hyper-suspicious of them and also affects his judgement.

After being intimated of how Adetusa dies, Odewale becomes suspicious of his chiefs and the entirety of Kutuje people. He accuses them rather hastily of being complicit in the king’s murder and that they might as well be planning his too. By the time Baba Fakunle calls him the murderer, Odewale has lost the sympathies of his chiefs.

He also accuses Aderopo wrongly of bribing Baba Fakunle to call him names. In his confrontation with Aderopo, he drags the royalty in dirt and also sends Aderopo away from the palace.

It is evident that distrust is a bane of Odewale’s life and it turns away his friends from him.

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About Ridwan Adédèjì 165 Articles
Ridwan Olánrewájú Adédèjì is a Nigerian anglicist and writer with critical interest in English Grammar and African Literature. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English (in view) from a university in Ife. Some of his creative writings can be found on his blog, Ridwan Adedeji.

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