Eros and politics: Love and its discontents in the fiction of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
MetadataShow full item record
In this study I focus on how Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s fiction portrays his socio-political vision through the prevalence of the intimate relationships it displays. The study critically analyses the significant role romantic love and friendship play in the novels The River Between (1965), Weep Not, Child (1964), A Grain of Wheat (1967), Petals of Blood (1977), Devil on the Cross (1982), Matigari (1987) and Wizard of the Crow (2006) against the backdrop of Ngũgĩ’s other fiction, plays and non-fiction. Ngũgĩ identifies himself as a Marxist, anti-colonialist/imperialist, and anti-capitalist writer, for whom there is no contradiction between aesthetic and political missions. The aesthetic and political projects take form through the representation, very importantly, of romantic love in his fiction. The significance of eros, which is clear in the fiction, is not, however, present in Ngũgĩ’s theoretical reflections on his writing as formulated in his essays. In Ngũgĩ’s early novels, we see love attempting to break the boundaries of religion and class in the creation of a modern nation-state. But there are obstacles to these attempts at national unity through love, the only relationship apart from friendship that is self-made, and not determined by kinship relations. In the fiction from the middle of Ngũgĩ’s career, we see romantic love consummated in marriage. The achievement of unity is, however, undercut by betrayal, which is a repeated theme in all the novels. The “betrayal” of the ideal of romantic love by materialism is the most significant threat to love. Friendship emerges in one of the later novels as a kind of “excursus” to romantic love that foregrounds, by default, the ways in which Ngũgĩ’s political vision seeks be consolidated through the personal relationship of romantic love. In Ngũgĩ’s final novel, we see his personal and political visions coming together in a utopian erotic union for first time. Because of the nature of the exploration, which aims at opening up the wider significance of eros, the study is not framed by a dominant theory, most of which would lead to understanding eros through gender and power relations. Instead, the study has been framed through concepts and debates on romantic love that emerge in sociology, anthropology, philosophy and literary history.