Socialist Realism in Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s Essay

Socialist realism, a slogan adopted by the Soviet cultural authorities in 1934 to summarize the requirements of Stalinist dogma in literature: the established techniques of 19th‐century realism were to be used to represent the struggle for socialism in a positive, optimistic light. Socialist realism had its roots in neoclassicism and the traditions of realism in Russian literature of the 19th century that described the life of simple people. Socialist realism held that successful art depicts and glorifies the proletariat’s struggle toward socialist progress. It demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism. Hence, this paper gives a critical presentation of what socialist realism is using Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s I Will Marry When I Want and Festus Iyayi’s Violence as a case study. The texts have their historical and fictional settings in Kenya and Nigeria respectively.

The Marxist theory, upon which the socialist realist literature set their canon, is that which is characterized with class stratification and struggle. Therefore we see two categories of characters; the Ahab Kioi wa Kanoru, Jezebel, and the Kiguunda, Gicaamba, Wangeci, Njooki in I Will Marry When I Want and Obofun, Queen and Idemudia, Adisa, Osaro, Omoifo, Mama Jimoh, in Violence they both portray the bourgeoisies and the proletariats respectively. Based on the Marxist theory, that states: let the rulers tremble at the communist revolution.

The poor has nothing to loose, but there chains.

There have a world to win.

Working men of all countries, unite!

The texts gave a truth and faithful presentation where the working class organizes liberation activities, in the examples below from the texts respectively.

Gicaamba says;

One man’s ability is not enough

One finger cannot kill a louse,

Many hands make work light

Development will come from our unity

Unity is our strength and wealth (115).

Similarly, Idemudia revolt and protest against their low wage for their labour, paid by Queen.

He says;

We cannot accept the money. We want an increase

on a daily basis! We go on strike (267).

The texts go on to give a detail account of critical conditions of the lives of the characters. In I will marry when I want, Ngugi gave a vivid history of the lives of the Kenyan before in the attainment of the Uhuru (independence), Kiguunda says;

The emergency laws became very oppressive

We were jailed

…to detention camps


…raped with bottles

But Mau Mau led by Kimaathi and Matheenge

…organized unity of the masses

We beat the whites

And freedom came (27).

Likewise in Violence, Iyayi depicts Idemudia and Adisa’s abject poverty by

The kerosene was finished in the kerosene stove. There was no

food in the house. And both of them are hungry… (14). The condition of his and his friends made them to compare their living to that of the rich (Queen and Obofun)

One man has enough to eat, in fact so much that he throws some away And exclaimed; “It’s so unfair” (20).

Further depicted in these texts respectively, is the denial of access to social amenities and the unequal social relationship between the two groups of people in the society. The poor are deprived of right to live a better life while is been enjoyed by them (bourgeoisies) only, Gicaamba says;

All the good tarmac roads…

Good hospitals belong to them

…we the poor

Have only dispensaries at Tigoni or Kiambu

Sometimes the dispensaries have no drugs,

Sometimes people die on the way… (38).

When Adisa to Idemudia to the University Teaching Hospital, she was told by the doctor that “there’s no bed in this hospital” against his wish he sent them to the “Ogbe Hospital”. (57) or

When in one public hospital, in the same society, one patient can sleep in a large air-conditioned room, whereas other ordinary patients… in corridors, mats, hard, cold, and roughly cemented… (186). This inequality is also portrayed in their homesteads. In I Will Marry When I Want we see Ahab Kioi’s house described as:

A big well furnished house- sofa seats, TV, radiogram,

plastic flowers on the table…electric lights. (74). In contrast is Kiguunda’s house;

A square mud-walled, white-ochred, one roomed house.

The ochre is fading…piles of rags on the floor. (3). Similarly, in Violence, we see Obofun’s house as a “luxurious place”, “a sitting room”, “a large sofa”, “a living room”. (22). As opposing that of Idemudia which is

It’s our house. We are afraid it might collapse. The roof leaks badly…

the gutters were filled with heavy red water in which frogs

croaked…flies…the mosquitoes flew about, disturbed. (68). Come to social interaction we see an incompatibility in marriage between Gathoni (Kiguunda’s daughter) and John Muhuuni (Ahab’s son) where Njooki says;

Rich families marry from rich families

Poor from the poor! (32).

In case any cordial relationship occurs, it is feign and deceitful. This is always developed by the bourgeoisies solely with the aim of exploitation and the expense of the poor. In I Will Marry When I Want, Gicaamba says:

If you want to rob a monkey

Of a baby it is holding

You must first throw it a handful of peanuts

We workers are like that monkey

When they want to steal our labour

They bribe us with a handful of peanuts (33).

Also we see how Ahab Kioi manipulated Kiguunda and bought his only one and half acre of land.

Who bought it?

Ahab Kioi wa Kanoru

…the oppressor

Son of Grab-and-Take

Grabbers exploiters

Eaters of that which has been produced by others… (13). Likewise, in Violence, Idemudia and his friends were offer Two Naira for the offloading of Fifteen Hundred (1500) bags of cement, before its rejection then later changed to Five Naira. Idemudia says; The exploitation reaches its peak. Thus the working class tends to wake themselves from slumber and give themselves awareness, This come through protest against the capitalists and the bourgeoisies deeds, either by raising voice of consciousness or physical protest. These are portrayed in the texts respectively. Gicaamba says;

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Aren’t we the ones who make them rich?

Were it not for my blood and sweat

And the blood and sweat of all other workers,

Where would the likes of Ahab Kioi and his wife now be?

Tell me? (14).

Are we the pot that cooks without eating? (20).

We workers in factories and plantations said in one voice

We reject slave wages! (68).

Don’t you know how it pains

…this sword is my law and my court

Poor people’s law court

You’ll die now

Kneel down

They also use songs to fight against exploitation;

The Satan of poverty

The Satan of theft

The Satan of robbery

The Satan of oppression

Must be crushed!

Let’s crush him! (5-7).

Similarly, the laborers working for Queen complains;

We earn so little and yet we worked harder than slaves.

When you point it out, she dismisses you. (246).

As the voices grow louder and stronger, the bourgeoisies seek to other measures to silent the raised voice of the working class. They use instruments like force, religion and bribe. In I will marry when I want we see use of force;

You will have to shut those mouth of yours

Was it not only the other day

That the police beat you

When you went on strikes

Demanding an increase in wages.

Did you get anything

Apart from broken limbs?

This depicts brutality and injustice of capitalism. Another means of getting their obedience is the use of religion. This implies the Marxists notion of “religion as opium of oppression”. Both the whites and overseers (wealthy blacks) use the Christian religion to manoeuvre the proletariats to be submissive and compel them to use their little earnings to pay ‘tight’ in the church on Sunday. In I Will Marry When I Want, Wangeci says;

Religion in this village will drive us all crazy!

Night and day

You are invited to a haraambe fund raising for the church…

Of the white Padre and Virgin Mary (9). Jezebel says;

… is very mature

He does not argue back

He does not demand higher wages

He just believes in hard work

Praising our Lord all the time

He is a true brother-in-Christ (44).

On contrary, is Violence, where corruption is the medium of oppression. Queen who “uses her body to get what she wants, but she does not give herself until she got whatever it is firmly in her grasps”. She tried to bribe Idemudia – being the leader of the workers in her site and one who spearheaded the strike – with her body, so as to stop the strike. She says to him; “you are a man, you need money. You need many other things, I could give to you. Things you have never had before”, he rejects her offer. Other than the themes of exploitation, oppression and protest, the two texts gives an exposition of the bad, debased, immoral, brutal, e.t.c., acts of the bourgeoisies.

In I Will Marry When I Want, Kiguunda says;

… rich man

Can even dig up forbidden sacred shrines! (29).

Wangeci says;

Aren’t they the real bed bugs

Local watchmen for foreign robbers?

When they see poor man’s property, their mouths water

When they get their own, their mouths dry up! (31).

Gicaamba says;

…they are real scorpions

They know three things only:

To oppress workers,

To take away rights,

And to suck their blood. (33).

On our blood

They take to Europe

To develop their own countries. (37).

…the rich wherever they are

Are the same

…their mission in life is exploitation (40).

Ikuua says;

The main problem with such a factory

Is that its bound to produce a smelly gases

And therefore it cannot be built in an area

Where important people live (75).

The negative effect of the bourgeoisies reflects on Gathoni’s change in attitude and morals towards her parents. Also we see their act of hostility to Wangeci and Kiguunda on their visit to the Ahabs. Amongst the concern of this paper, is to answer the question. Why the proletariats are so exploited and oppressed? This is because the working class, masses or the proletariats lack or were not given the least opportunity to the sharing and control of the means of production. For instance, in I will marry when I want, Gicaamba says;

In Violence, see a portrayal of the present corrupt Nigeria society, nepotism and favoritism in the government and the nation’s civil service. They talked and concluded that the best way to make money was to steal from government pocket, and save in foreign account, order for equipment in the name of government use but later sold by the civil servants. They also use cements which are to be use for government project for their individual houses. An example is Queen who went to bed with Iriso because of “twenty cartons of milk containing almost two thousand tins of peak milk and three thousand eggs” (p.88), these things are stolen from the government’s dairy and poultry. Ngugi in his stylistic method made use of songs like



freedom for Kenya our motherland (p.25). for social mobilization, liberation, and solidarity. He also use questions like “Are we the pot that cooks without eating?”, “Aren’t we the ones who make them rich?” (pp.14,20), to awake the consciousness of the masses. There is also the use of biblical allusion, a reference to the scriptures King Ahab and his wife Jezebel who instead of protecting the people, they rather snatch their lands from them. The names of the characters are symbolic, like ‘Ahab’ and ‘Jezebel’ represent the modern religion brought by the imperialist to ensure subservience from Africans. Thus, Kiguunda and Wangeci represent typical Africans. Finally, the title I Will Marry When I Want is derived from a song of protest and rejection;

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I shall marry when I want

While all Padres and are still alive

And I shall get married when I want

While all nuns are still alive (p.109).

Thus, the title reflects the revolutionary nature of the play against colonial and post-independence shackles. The messages which the two texts tend to pass across made possible through the use flash back. This is use in chapter 1(p.4). to capture his family background and in chapter 12 (p.144), to capture the battered life of the coughing old man at the hospitals. Also the old man portrays the connection between the old and new. The stream of consciousness is used to depict the psychological tension and trauma of the oppressed in Iyayi’s work. There is also the use of simple language, which gave the novel easy accessibility and a full reception of the freedom (from the bourgeoisies) message passed across. Finally, the play within the novel, serve as an instrument for the comprehension of the relationship between the title Violence and the content of the novel.

In conclusion, the authors – Ngugi wa Thiongo and Festus Iyayi – of the above texts I Will Marry When I Want and Violence respectively, use them to perform what is expected of them as playwright and novelist, in producing uplifting stories in a manner consistent with the Marxist doctrine of dialectical materialism, to explain socialist realist literature as that which elevates the common worker, whether factory or agricultural, by presenting his life, work, and recreation as admirable. In other words, its goal was to educate the people in the goals and meaning of Communism. Is that which sets out from scientific, dialectical criteria in its reflection of life. Socialist realism as earlier said also puts forward a true and clear programme of activity for the radical transformation of society, for the liberation of the working masses from exploitation, for the construction of a new socialist society.

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