In this post, we are going to briefly run through the characters in John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo’s Song of a Goat. Elsewhere, Literature PADI has analysed another J. P. Clark’s sensational play, The Wives’ Revolt, a play situated in an oil-rich community in which the female members protest against what they adjudged as unfair and unequal treatment from their husbands in matters involving communal sustenance and development. This analysis is done along the lines of critical analysis (including setting, plot summary and dramatic devices), themes, and characterisation. You may do well to read about what constitutes this interesting play.
The characters in Song of a Goat are Zifa, Tonye, the Masseur, Ebiere, Orukorere, Dode, and the Neighbours.
Zifa is the central protagonist and tragic hero of Song of a Goat. He is a fisherman and part-time ship pilot on the Niger Estuary. He is an important person in his community. He grapples with issues of impotence and faces the turmoil within his family due to this affliction.
Zifa is rendered impotent by the gods as punishment for prematurely bringing his deceased father’s spirit home. This act disrupted the cosmic harmony of his community. His father had incurred the gods’ wrath and had been afflicted with leprosy for killing within his own clan, a murderous act which by Izon standards is a taboo.
As typical of all tragic heroes, Zifa’s tragic flaw is his pride. It is this pride that makes him make rash and hasty decisions. It is the same pride that causes him not acknowledge he is impotent. He blatantly refuses to carry out the ritual that will appease the gods. When he eventually performs the ritual after discovering that Tonye impregnated Ebiere, he does not do it in a proper way. He spills the blood of the goat without ritual cleansing and demands it cleanse his compound instantly.
He also refuses the Masseur’s advice that another man take his place in order for his wife to conceive.
Zifa attempts to kill his brother for impregnating his wife but the latter kills himself before Zifa could. By the end of the play, Zifa, as reported by the messenger, takes a suicidal walk into the sea.
Tonye is Zifa’s younger brother and assistant fisherman. He is involved in coital relationship with his brother’s wife. At the end of the play, he chooses to hang himself instead of facing his brother’s wrath after Zifa discovers the incestuous relationship between him and his wife.
Masseur serves multiple roles in Song of a Goat. He functions as a priest, family doctor, confessor, and gynecologist in the play. He plays a pivotal role in advising and guiding the characters. He stands as a crucial influence on the events and decisions within the tragic play.
Masseur reveals the cause of Zifa’s issue and presents the solution demanded by the gods. He also assures Ebiere that she isn’t the cause of the problem and directs attention to her husband instead. He implies that she can still conceive if she agrees to take a lover who will take the place of her husband in sexual intercourse, after she carries out the gods’ prescribed sacrifice.
The Masseur is also portrayed as a trustworthy person who does not joke with his professionalism. As a confessor, he is privy to people’s secrets. He, however, does not reveal them to anyone.
Ebiere is Zifa’s beautiful wife. In Song of a Goat, she faces the challenge of infertility and is entangled in familial conflicts and cultural expectations. Due to her inability to conceive, she goes to the Masseur who assures her that it is her husband, not her, who is infertile.
She thereafter follows the Masseur’s advice for her to have an affair with another man. She gets laid with Tonye, her husband’s younger brother and becomes pregnant. Her infidelity and pregnancy ultimately culminate in the complete destruction of her family. She collapses by the end of the play.
Orukorere is Zifa’s half-possessed aunt. She bears the weight of the family’s curse and serves as a foreteller of tragic events. Her mental state varies between insanity and sanity. Her presence and prophecies shape the course of the play.
Her refusal to serve as the god’s handmaiden in her youth makes no one believe in her visions and prophetic abilities. She had disregarded the appointment as unworthy of her beauty and status as a young girl.
Dode is Zifa’s and Ebiere’s child. He is a peripheral character in Song of a Goat. Dode represents another tragic character who witnesses his loved ones self-destructing without the ability to intervene.
Dode becomes a victim of circumstances, much more like a sacrificial goat, as he’s also sacrificed for his mother’s personal happiness. His life takes a tragic turn from joy to despair despite his innocence and lack of fault in the situation.
The neighbours are the collective voice of the village. They serve as a chorus, providing commentary, insight, and reflection on the events that transpire within the play. They offer a communal perspective on the tragic situation of Zifa and his family, and the overall impact of the unfolding tragedy on the community.