Places: The Palm-Wine Drinkard

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1952

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Folktale

Time of work: Indeterminate

Places DiscussedAfrican bush

African Palm-Wine Drinkard, Thebush. Wild, shrubby landscape through which the drinker of palm-wine (a naturally alcoholic beverage that is tapped directly from trees) travels during most of the novel. Occasionally, he and his wife discover a road, but they are soon driven back into the uncharted bush. The setting is never specifically stated, but it may be inferred. The author is Nigerian, and he incorporates Yoruba myths and legends into his loosely connected narrative. The setting is either West Africa or a magical landscape that physically resembles West Africa.

Death’s house

Death’s house. Former residence of the personified Death, an eight-hour journey down Death’s road. It is a house and adjoining yam garden where human skeletons are used as fuel woods and human skulls as basins, plates, and tumblers. The palm-wine drinkard ensnares Death in a net and carries him away. Since that day, he has wandered homeless in the world.

Endless forest of the Complete Gentleman

Endless forest of the Complete Gentleman. Forest in which only terrible creatures live. The Complete Gentleman (or Curious Creature) is greatly admired in the market but, when he returns to his forest, he begins to return his body parts to the creatures from whom they were rented. He finally becomes Skull, when that is the only body part he retains. The protagonist follows Skull to his family’s house. When Father of Gods who can do anything in this world (as the protagonist now calls himself) saves the daughter of the nearby village’s headman from Skull, she becomes his wife.

Wraith Island

Wraith Island. High piece of land located in a bush full of islands and swamps. The people of the island are the most beautiful in the world of the curious creatures. They are kind and loving. Other than planting their food, their only work is constantly playing music and dancing. When the protagonist and his wife leave the island, the beautiful people give them valuable gifts.

Unreturnable-Heaven’s town

Unreturnable-Heaven’s town. Large town full of perverse creatures who are cruel to human beings. All activities in the town are backward. The residents avoid the flat land near their town and build their houses on a steep hillside. They climb ladders before leaning them against trees. They wash their domestic animals but not their own bodies. They trim the fingernails of these animals but not their own. They sleep on the roofs of their houses. The protagonist is finally able to cut a window in the tall, thick wall surrounding the town, through which he and his wife can escape.

White tree

White tree. Giant tree, about one thousand feet tall and about two hundred feet in diameter. Inside the white tree is a big house. Sitting in a chair in a big parlor is an old woman called Faithful-Mother. The house has a beautiful spacious hall with over twenty stages for musicians and dancers, a kitchen employing 340 cooks, and a hospital with many beds. The protagonist and his wife sojourn there for a pleasant year and two weeks before resuming their quest.

Red-town

Red-town. Town located within the Red-bush, where everything is deep red in color: bush, trees, ground, people, animals, food, water. The town has been under a spell since the Red-king inappropriately caught a red bird in a fish net and a red fish in an animal trap. These creatures, grown to an enormous size, come out from a big hole near the town once each year to receive a human sacrifice. The Red-people choose the protagonist as their victim. However, since he sold his death at the door of the white tree, he is invulnerable. Though terrified, he kills the creatures and lifts their spell.

Deads’ Town

Deads’ Town. Where the qualified dead, both black and white, reside after two years of training. The denizens of Deads’ Town, along with their domestic animals, walk backward. In fact, everything they do is opposite to that of living people. There, the protagonist finds his tapster, the only man ever able to satisfy his insatiable thirst. The tapster can not return to the land of the living, but for consolation he gives the palm-wine drinkard a magic egg.

BibliographyAsagba, O. A. “The Folklore Structure in Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard.” Lore and Language 4, no. 1 (January, 1985): 31-39. Builds on earlier studies to analyze the novel’s use of folklore motifs and to examine claims that it is a “quest” novel.Coates, John. “The Inward Journey of the Palm-Wine Drinkard.” In African Literature Today, compiled by Eldred D. Jones and edited by Eldred Durosimi Jones. New York: African Publishing, 1973. Examines the novel as a psychological development with allegorical overtones.Collins, Harold R. Amos Tutuola. Boston: Twayne, 1969. In-depth treatment of Tutuola’s writings, using his life and environment as background. Workmanlike survey of aspects and critiques of his work.Lindfors, Bernth. “Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard and Oral Tradition.” Critique 11, no. 1 (1969): 42-50. By a pioneer student of Tutuola’s work, solid in its analysis of folklore structure in the novel.Lindfors, Bernth. Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1975. Useful collection of critical comment on all of Tutuola’s works, divided into early reactions, reappraisals, and later criticism.
Categories: Places