Title

Decolonizing the Mind with Ngugi Wa Thiong'o and Chinua Achebe: Searching for a Voice in Postcolonial African Literature

Date of Award

12-1-1998

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

Any discussion of postcolonial African literature requires consideration of both the inherent diversity of “African” and the complex history of colonialism throughout Africa. Ngugi wa Thiong’o claims there are “broad affinities” among the diverse peoples of sub-Saharan Africa which allow for a broad discussion of the common experiences of colonialism, but it is necessary to complement these broad affinities with specific cultural references and historic contexts. This paper attempts to delineate some of the common struggles facing postcolonial African peoples by focusing on the specific writings of Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe. Though they are from disparate regions within Africa, Ngugi and Achebe share the common experiences of being subjects to British colonial rule and, later, of witnessing the births of their respective nations. From their common experiences, several key issues pertaining to postcolonial literature emerge, namely the political and cultural implications of retaining English as the lingua franca in an independent African nation. The debates concerning the role of English in postcolonial African nations inspires serious consideration of the relationship between a language and its people, the relevance of a language to cultural identity, and, as the Alice Walker discussion willdemonstrate, the ideological conflict between cultural autonomy and cultural chauvinism.

A close analysis of the primary works of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe reveals a political imperative from each author. Exploring this relationship between literature and politics, this paper will attempt to present and then address several of the key political issues portrayed by Ngugi and Achebe. To complement these primary works, the paper employs additional secondary sources to help develop a conceptual framework through which Ngugi and Achebe can be read and interpreted.

This paper will not pretend to be exhaustive in exploring the many serious issues facing postcolonial African peoples, and it will not presume to solve the issues it does address. Rather, this study provides a starting point for understanding the dynamics of two of Africa’s leading contemporary writers and thinkers-Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe-and a forum for addressing the complexity inherent to the postcolonial discussion itself

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