Gender, unreliable oral narration, and the untranslated preface in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Devil on the Cross

Evan Mwangi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

In this paper, I consider the narrative in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Devil on the Cross against a largely ignored preface in the Gĩkũyũ edition of the novel Caitaani Mũthamba-inĩ, and against the conventions of the gĩcaandĩ art that the novel invokes. Focusing on the interimplication of gender and orality in the story I employ cultural narratology as my framework to examine the dialogic relationship between the novel's formal features and their cultural contexts, especially the gendered implications of the oral narrative strategies that Ngũgĩ deploys to frame the narrative. I argue that, contrary to most readings of the novel, the "gĩcaandĩ" oral artist who frames the story is unreliable, and the text provokes the reader to see his presentation as incomplete and contradictory. When the preface is considered, and the narrator subjected to tests of reliability, the oral narrator's account comes through not only as totalized and teleological but also as shot through with imperatives of hegemonic masculinity that call for a challenging voice as required by the protocols of the gĩcaandĩ art-form that this frame narrator conjures up. Although the preface is paratextual, untranslated, and consigned to the margins of the narrative, its consideration in the analysis of the text offers new ways of unpacking the gendered dimensions of Ngũgĩ's use of oral techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-44
Number of pages17
JournalResearch in African Literatures
Volume38
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory

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