A Comparative Study of Ngugi WA Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Dreams in a Time of War

A Comparative Study of Ngugi WA Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Dreams in a Time of War
A Comparative Study of Ngugi WA Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Dreams in a Time of War

ABSTRACT: This research work examined A Comparative Study of Ngugi WA Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Dreams in a Time of War. The interrelationship between fiction and autobiography provides the grounds for a comparative study of two literary works of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Weep not, Child and his Dreams in a Time of War. The two texts are therefore placed side by side to draw the inter-textual links between them. Ngugi’s works, both fiction and non-fiction, often articulate issues concerning his personal experiences as well as the socio-political concerns of the Kenyan people. Undertaking the comparative study of these two narratives is therefore aimed at unearthing various similar issues addressed in them. It is also aimed at critically examining the generic differences between fiction (Weep Not, Child) and autobiography (Dreams in a Time of War), to determine the extent to which each genre employs artistry. It is further aimed at examining the autobiographical dimensions of Dreams in a Time of War. The conclusions drawn from this study are arrived at through the use of qualitative study based on content analysis. The study thus puts the two texts side by side and looks at issues such as, Ngugi’s representation of society, home, and the self; land ownership, land appropriation and land alienation; and then the Mau Mau revolutionary resistance and the state of emergency in both narratives. It further looks at the narrative techniques in terms of Time, Narrator and Point of View.

The study confirms the fact that Ngugi uses the same data/material in different genres – one a fiction and the other an autobiography – to dwell on the same issues hence making the two genres inter-textually linked. The study further confirms that although Dreams in a Time of War is also a literary work, Weep Not, Child, being a work of fiction has more flexible narrative freedom than Dreams in a Time of War which is an autobiography and employs more memory. The study is significant because of the years between the two texts, since Dreams in a Time of War was written forty-six years after Weep not Child was written, yet the same data is used in the two different genres to achieve the same purpose.

A Comparative Study of Ngugi WA Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Dreams in a Time of War



1.1 Background to the Study

According to Singh (2015), Saint Augustine’s Confessions (c.AD 398-400) is often considered as the trendsetter to writing Western autobiography. The major feature of St Augustine’s Confessions is to construct a history of selfhood, a process which helps the author to discern who he is. Confessions are therefore written to represent a religious experience as an example for others; Singh writes:

Autobiography is traditionally a Western genre drawing on the Catholic ritual of confessions. The classical autobiographical genre based on introspection of the self, confession of sins, expression of remorse and guilt is indeed very theological in letter and spirit (Singh).

In their introduction to “Writing the Self: Essays on Autobiography and Auto fiction” Shands et al (2015) remind us that the word ‘autobiography’ comes from “Greek αὐτός-autos self, βίος-bios life, and γράφειν- graphein write.” Based on the definition above, autobiography denotes self-writing – that is, the account of an individual’s life written by him or herself. Autobiography therefore means writing about one’s self (Shands et al 7). Eakin (2004) defines autobiography as “a discourse of identity delivered bit by bit in stories we tell about ourselves day in day out” and that “autobiography structures our living” (Eakin). From the above it is obvious that ‘self’ stands prominent in what autobiography is.

It is a well-known fact that African self-writing existed long before the three main literary genres began on the continent; but not many people write autobiographies. Ngwenya (2001) in his “The Historical Dimensions of South African Autobiography” observes that South African autobiographies like Kingsley Fairbridge’s The Autobiography of Kingley Fairbridge (1927) and Francis Carey’s Slater’s Settler’s Heritage (1954) date as far back as “the colonial era” (Ngwenya). In Ghana, Caseley Hayford’s autobiographical fiction Ethiopia Unbound (1911) and Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (1957) are examples of autobiographical writings of Africans.

It is thus clear that Africans carry out self-writing long before writing the novel, drama and poetry took centre stage on the continent from the late 1950s. Self-writing in Africa can thus be said to be as old as, if not older than, the three major genres. However, scholars have rather made significant contributions on the development of the novel, drama and poetry. Not much attention is paid to self-writing, let alone scholarly contribution to it, until the early 1980s when writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achibe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o began writing their life stories.

Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood, Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Dreams in a Time of War and In the House of the Interpreter are examples of some of the autobiographies that have been written by well-known and well-grounded authors in the African Literary world.

At present, Africans from all walks of life have taken to self-writing. For example, apart from the autobiographies of the established African writers, now educationists, physicians and politicians are also coming out with their autobiographies. Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and recently John Dramani Mahama’s My First Coup D’état are examples. Most of these African autobiographies which attract critical discourse are analysed in terms of their thematic underpinnings. A Mnbde Rmebnedall’s contention that:

Three fundamental elements of slavery, colonisation, and apartheid…serve as unifying centre of Africans’ desire to know themselves, to recapture their destiny, and to belong to themselves in the world…show how current African imagination of self is born out of desperate but often intersecting practices, the goal of which is not only to settle factual and moral dispute about the world but also to open the way for self- styling. (Mbembe 2002). is true and cannot be ignored. What Mbembe and Rendall are saying in the above extract is that the experiences Africans undergo have a bearing on how they write about themselves in their novels and autobiographies. Thus, Africans fundamentally write fiction and nonfiction to address various issues ranging from colonial subjugation, politics, economics and culture. Few examples can be seen in the autobiographies mentioned above. These thematic underpinnings are so dominant in African fictional works and autobiographies that they always skew critics’ attention more to the themes than other concepts. For example, the concept of intersexuality in critiquing these African narratives is noticeably absent.

The two texts chosen for this study are Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s fiction, Weep not, Child and his autobiography, Dreams in a Time of War. These two texts are narratives which recall the author’s life experiences. The two texts chronicle the experiences of the author from his childhood to his secondary school days and the circumstances surrounding these experiences. Ngugi was born in 1938 and he wrote Weep not, Child in 1964 when he was twenty-six years old. Dreams in a Time of War were written in 2010 when Ngugi was seventy-two years old. Although the time gap between Weep not, Child and Dreams in a Time of War is forty-six years, in narrating his experiences, the issues tackled by Ngugi in these two texts reveal the same pattern of circumstances. The same data is therefore used in two different genres; that is the issues raised by Ngugi in Weep not, Child, which is a fiction and for that matter a work of art, is the same as the issues raised in Dreams in a Time of War, which is nonfiction/autobiography. This research therefore seeks to critically study Weep not Child and Dreams in a Time of War to determine the relationship between fiction and fact/autobiography in order to see how far they are inter-textually linked.

 1.2 Statement of the Problem

Although a few intersexual critical discourse on contemporary African novels can be found, the same cannot be said about the intersexual links between fictions and autobiographies in African literature. Critical discourse on intersexuality between fictions and autobiographies  is therefore practically non-existent.

Reading Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Weep not, Child and Dreams in a Time of War, it is clear that both texts, although fiction and nonfiction/autobiography respectively, appear to explore issues that follow the same trend. Ngugi thus uses different literary approaches in addressing the same thematic foundations.

This researcher therefore sees the concept of intersexuality as relevant to critical discourse on African fiction and autobiography hence seeks to feel the hiatus by engaging Weep not, Child, a fiction, and Dreams in a Time of War, an autobiography, to draw the relationship between the two.

A Comparative Study of Ngugi WA Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Dreams in a Time of War

1.3 Objective of the Study

This study intends to examine Weep not, Child and Dreams in a Time of War with the aim of unearthing their intersexual links through the eyes of fiction and autobiography.

To achieve this, the research will:

  1. Unearth the various issues addressed by Ngugi in the two narratives
  2. Critically examine the intersexual links between fiction and autobiography as portrayed in Weep not, Child and Dreams in a Time of War.
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