My Marxist criticism of Devil on the Cross

NgugiPosterThe novel Devil on the cross is a work piece by Ngugi wa Thiong’o the cuts a cross section through the Kenyan society in the post colonial and decolonization era. It is pro Marxist that tries to portray the evils of the capitalistic society through an artistic presentation.

Marxist criticism: An approach to literature that focuses on the ideological content of a work-its explicit and implicit assumptions and values about matters such as culture, race, class, and power. Marxist criticism, based largely on the writings of Karl Marx, typically aims at not only revealing and clarifying ideological issues but also correcting social injustices. Some Marxist critics use literature to describe the competing socioeconomic interests that too often advance capitalist interests such as money and power rather than socialist interests such as morality and justice. They argue that literature and literary criticism are essentially political because they either challenge or support economic oppression. Because of this strong emphasis on the political aspects of texts, Marxist criticism focuses more on the content and themes of literature than on its form.

Marxist literary theories tend to focus on the representation of class conflict as well as the reinforcement of class distinctions through the medium of literature. Marxist theorists use traditional techniques of literary analysis but subordinate aesthetic concerns to the final social and political meanings of literature. Marxist theorist often champion authors sympathetic to the working classes and authors whose work challenges economic equalities found in capitalist societies. In keeping with the totalizing spirit of Marxism, literary theories arising from the Marxist paradigm have not only sought new ways of understanding the relationship between economic production and literature, but all cultural production as well. Marxist analyses of society and history have had a profound effect on literary theory and practical criticism, most notably in the development of “New Historicism” and “Cultural Materialism.”

The devil on the cross tries to portray the class divisions in Kenya. Jacinta Waringa is the protagonist and she stands for the working class who work for wages that they never make use of. This is evidenced the time she’s fired, the and at the same time evicted by the landlord. Bosses specifically Boss Kihara are a representation of the rich or bourgeoisie

The Marxist theory on literature argues that literature ought to be in lue with proletarian ethics where all entities build for the good of the masses are good and everything that endangers the development is evil,

Devil on the cross calls for a social cause in a sense that it tries to focus on social phenomena which corresponds with the Marxist principle that calls for a text to have social sensitivity, Ngugi in devil on the cross tries to reflect social sensitivity through Waringa who misfortunes hits back to back from being sacked from her job to being thrown out of her room by her tenant after failing to meet her rent bills.

Devil on the cross portrays a picture of principles of human society social life through showing how modern day Kenyans have detached themselves from cultural values that glorify the principle of fighting for a communal goal to adopted the principles and system of self interest that celebrate acquisition of money.

Marxist criticism: An approach to literature that focuses on the ideological content of a work; its explicit and implicit assumptions and values about matters such as culture, race, class, and power. Marxist criticism, based largely on the writings of Karl Marx, typically aims at not only revealing and clarifying ideological issues but also correcting social injustices. Some Marxist critics use literature to describe the competing socioeconomic interests that too often advance capitalist interests such as money and power rather than socialist interests such as morality and justice. They argue that literature and literary criticism are essentially political because they either challenge or support economic oppression. Because of this strong emphasis on the political aspects of texts, Marxist criticism focuses more on the content and themes of literature than on its form.

The form in which Ngugi presents this text is too obvious since he crosses the line to favour his intended audience through the use locally understandable language such as Swahili and another local language which contradicts with the Marxist theory on literature where one of the principles is that the language of the text should be easily understood and impacting to the readers with no bending the literature quality for the  sake of uncultured readers and this is exactly what Ngugi tries to make up.

Ngugi does not portray the Kenyan ruling society as directly draconian however in his economic evaluation; Ngugi brings out the evils between the master and servant which we can’t rule out to be only at economic levels. An example of the modern Bar and Lodge does it better whereby for one to find a job especially for female individuals, your must sexually appease your new boss first. “The modern Bar and lodge has become the main employment bureau for girls and women’s thighs are the tables on which contracts are signed.” This is a clear indicator of the capitalistic tendency that the hand that gives is then one that receives. This explains Wariinga’s conservatism cost her a job.

Ngugi’s literature is educative and hence gaining credibility of the Marxist principles. In the Matatu for example, one of the passengers amuses Mwaura, the driver after she announces that she hardly had any money to clear her transport fares but due to Mwaura’s capitalistic thinking, he loses it until when the fellow passengers help save the situation. That was lesson one; still aboard, in Mwiira’s congratulatory message, she puts another across saying, our children should learn the art of producing wealth for other people. This was because the business was self centered in Nairobi and other cities other than the production areas such as Wariinga’s village.

Mwaura’s economic and capitalistic thinking is used by Ngugi to portray the truth how the Kenyan dominant businessmen and bourgeoisies have taken advantage of the common man ignorance and helplessness to swindle from them to the extent that they are even invited to the robbers’ feast to witness how their ignorance has been manipulated by the few rich. Ngugi reveals it through Mwaura the Matatu driver who says “even something given to you freely by the lord, you now sell for only twenty shillings” “the volume of the fart is increased by the seat”.  The poor instead sweat too much for little pay or just food “he who is given meat doesn’t expect fat as well” is how Mwiira concludes her tale before she left Nairobi which matches with the Marxist principle that says that for any literary text to have truth and aspirations of communication so as to benefit the general will of the society.

The Marxist theory agrees to the argument that society and writers influence each other and in the novel Devil on the cross, Ngugi can be viewed as taking sides against the Kenyan status quo which indeed greatly influenced the style of the text devil on the cross. This is evident in the lines for instance; “you steal food from the people’s stores at midnight then at dawn you visit the victims wearing robes of charity and you offer calabashes filled with grain that you have stolen” he adds “you seize men’s wealth then you dress in robes of friendship and instruct them to join you in the pursuit of villain who robbed them” these statements clearly indicate how society influenced the writer’s angle of writing and mindset.

The post colonial Kenya is directly portrayed by the work Devil on the Cross which concurs with the Marxist theory on literature that argues that literature reflect what the society is exactly other than refracting the society within.

Conclusively, the novel Devil on the cross as the Marxist theory argues that literature gives a biased image of what a society is like; this is seen as Ngugi stands his arguments in the Kenyan government as his center of interest in an attempt to strip it naked. Honestly, I read the book to the last bit of it without meeting any song of praise that Ngugi sings about the Kenyan Leadership of the post independence era. All he does is vigorously attack them for every social vice in society be it corruption, theft and robbery claiming the Government has led western vices be absorbed into the culture to elude it. The validity of this statement can’t be question however. Ngugi deserves credit for that.

Email:  alex.taremwa@yahoo.co.uk

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