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The Writer and Africa’s Post-Colonial Crisis: Ideology, Language and Representation in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat

Nicholas Kamau Goro

Abstract

This article attempts a re-reading of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat within the broader context of Africa’s cultural history. Faced with the reality of the failure of the post-colonial state to deliver on the promises of independence, the author is confronted with a dilemma: how does he transcend the disillusion and sense of despair engendered by this failure? To answer this question, I read the novel through the prism of post-colonial theory to illustrate how Ngũgĩ’s attempts to mediate Africa’s post-colonial crisis precipitates a review of his ideological stances leading to a jettisoning of the liberal humanist aesthetic that had characterised his earlier novels, The River Between and Weep Not, Child. A Grain of Wheat, I illustrate, marks a shift in the author’s ideological stance by embracing a socialist-Marxist outlook. But while the shifts in Ngũgĩ’s authorial ideology have been widely acknowledged, critics have not always appreciated how they impacted on Ngũgĩ’s representational aesthetic. This article, therefore, sets out to demonstrate how the author’s disavowal of Western modernity leads to a more deliberate mobilisation of oral storytelling strategies and oral memories to write an alternative history that contests colonialist historiography of Kenya’s post-colonial experience. Ngũgĩ, I show, deliberately subverts the English language through the use of numerous instances of untranslated Gĩkũyũ and Kiswahili terms. The supposedly English aesthetic of A Grain of Wheat is further undermined by its subordination to the egalitarian nuances of a speech in a gesture that presages the author’s later abandonment of the English language as a medium of his literary expression.

Keywords

African literature, Ngũgĩ, language, ideology, post-colonial, Christianity

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