History of English Literature-Mar.20 "Nigugi & Achebe"
Ngugi & Achebe
o 1600-1800s: British develop West Africa as its major source of slaves for the
o 1861-1914: Britain consolidates its hold over the Colony and Protectorate of
o 1960: Independence
o 1967-70: Biafra Civil War
o 1960’s onward: development of oil reserves breeds political and economic
corruption; ongoing ethnic violence;
escalating violence between Christian and Muslims – British actions
brought together ethnic groups unnecessarily
Achebe a major critic of the oil industry in Nigeria
Conditions for extraction are ‘less than ecological’
o Empire of implantation, conquest, and extraction – want to own the whole
o 1895: British East Africa Protectorate established, followed by the white
o 1920: Kenya Crown Colony,
Dominated by white settlers (more of a settler colony)
Local Kikuyu resistance, as many are displace by coffee and tea
o 1952-56: Mau Mau uprisings; eventually suppressed, but caused political
o 1964: Kenya forms a republic
White settlers leave,
Mzee Kenyatta becomes president
- Ngugi: Decolonising the Mind (1986)
o What is Ngugi saying about the role of stories and of language more broadly?
Language as harmonizing; all encompassing, all inclusive.
Language as a creator of perspective of the world, the stories
structure life into good and evil, elemental stories touching something
in the soul.
Folk tales and the work they did for communities: ethical, want to
teach social virtues, castigate those who break down social order.
Connective moralities with how life is lived – the lives of the animals,
the struggle of the animals are the confrontations of everyday life of
The connectedness of the stories to life is important.
o British colonization used language to rule:;
Language changes for him as he grows up;
In schools, children are denied their first language, which is a
powerful tool of culture,
Through education, speaking Kikuyu is punished.
English is imperative for advancement
English literature replaces oral traditions
Ngugi – stuck writing in English, the language of power – stuck in
Autoethnography: “instance in which colonized subjects undertake to
represent themselves in way that engage with the colonizer’s own
Forced to define themselves through the language of their
Paralleling Equiano and the slave narratives – going right back
to their childhoods, to try and explain being human and being
o Ngugi’s Marxist view of Language:
The aspects of manifestations of language;
The language of real life: the relations people enter into with
one another in the labour process. How we work side by side,
body language, patterns of being in the world – all language
has to come back to that.
o The British wish to control this form of language; the
bourgeoisie’s oppression of the working class.
Speech, which imitates that language of real life
Written signs which imitates the spoken
The colonial child, in school, becomes someone going through a
mental activity to survive in the world – driving a wedge between
language and the language of the real world - destroying the African
Consequences of Ngugi’s line of thought? In terms of our own modern
Culture is profoundly bound in culture, ultimately,
o Language that speaks to our complex diasporic culture
Material social exchange is at the basis of culture: cooperation
of the stories
o No just about survival or economic. But a vision of the
Colonial oppression is a version of class oppression of the
Literature is a tool of political oppression.
- Achebe, An Image of Africa
o Exposing Conrad’s racism in Heart of Darkness, Achebe explores the
stereotypes of Africans: what are they?
Portrayal of Africans as animal, watchers, alien, as figures in the
darkness. Equating them with inhuman.
As childlike, natural, prehistoric land.
Exposes that: “Africa as a backdrop which eliminates the African as a
“The Other”: (like Edward Said – orientalism, but also..) the dark
cultural mirror image of Europe.
The process in which this occurs is a projection of Western
fear, not even relevant to what the reality is.
Franz Fanon on Blackness: poses Europe as ‘the other’ to the
Africans.. talks about the neutrality of black skin, with only the
connotations given by white colonists shaping the perception
- Achebe, “The Sacrificial Egg”
o Description: what is Achebe doing?
Gives identities.. detailed, individual descriptions of their everyday,
normal, purposefully un-sensationalized.
Invokes Igbo spiritual and cultural traditions
Detailing and valuing what Nguigi calls ‘the language of real life’
Moving from the generic to the individual and family
o What else do we learn about the Igbo culture?
Belief in deities
Old social order
o Evidence of colonization in the story?
Majority of scenes in the marketplace, working in Niger Trading Post,
the explosion of the market – capitalism, British brings an explosion of
Christianity: Ma as a convert
A new social order based on greed
Product of mission school..member of the Church Mission
Newcomer from the country to the city
Clerk at the Trading company
Mixed name; mimic of the colonizer – a hybrid figure.
Caught between two cultures – causes terrible alienation
o What meaning does the egg have?
In breaking the egg, he feels as though he has violated his culture,
offended Kitikpa’s rules..