Understanding Social Domination in Ngugi Wa Thiongo's Devil on the Cross

African literature is shaped by the events and problems of African societies, the commitment 

of African writers is so deep that it appears in the themes and languages that change over 

time. African literature is the by excellence in echoing its society. As regards postcolonial 

African literature, the writings of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o illustrate well this fact mostly in Devil 

on the Cross on which this paper is focused; dealing with the post-independence Kenyan 

society. This is why an understanding of socio-economic domination and social revolution 

in Devil on the Cross is worthwhile. This topic exposes the plight of the workers class and 

the political set up in Africa and Ngugi’s fight to liberate Africa from capitalism and 

imperialism and local corrupt bourgeoisie to build a society of justice, democracy, equality 

and brotherhood.

The political situation in postcolonial Africa is echoed in African literature where 

many writers have made of religion, politics and liberation the prevailing themes of works. 

It is important to note that the main issue of this corpus is a hotly-debated topic often 

analyzed yet rarely effective. The question may be asked: what has literature got to do with 

the whole lot of issues that have been raised so far? This question is important if we take 

into consideration the views of some writers and critics who insist that literature does not 

have any utilitarian value. Some authors such as Bart Difiore in Hybridization of the Bible

blends aspects of both the colonizer and the colonizer’s interpretation of Christian narratives. 

In using a familiar text, he spoke to the dispossessed masse of Kenya and spurred a rebellion 

to social justice through both a reiteration of Biblical justice and a revolution of the 

colonizer’s use of the Bible as an oppressive tool. Another point worth noting is Ben Okri’s 

reflection on the theme of dispossession, displacement, colonial and neocolonial domination, 

postcolonial corruption, cultural fragmentation and the problematic of postcolonial identity 

in Postcolonialism as a reading strategy: The Famished Road. In his article he uses 

Postcolonialism as a popular literary theory which mirrors the conditions of postcolonial 

societies. This is the case of Andrew Canessa who presents a deep and dramatic change in 

the social and the political landscape of Bolivia. Through his writing, A Postcolonial Turn: 

Social and Political in the new indigenous order of Bolivia, he provided a critical insight 

into how the power wielded in a country where whites have ruled over a majority indigenous 

population. Moreover the issue of exploitation and revolution did not escape from Kwame 

Nkrumah’s writing through the struggle Continues. The pamphlets in this book reflects the 

indomitable spirit of Kwame Nkrumah, the symbol of a fighting Africa. His theoretical work 

is a practical guide to revolutionary action. In this same perspective, A M. Babu discussed 

in general terms the fate of Africa in The Review of Classes and Class Struggle in Africa. 

Basing himself on Marxist theory, he demonstrated that the years of independence in Africa 

have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the road Africa has been treading, leads to a blind 

alley; no progress has been made economically and socially and Africa is still exploited and 

the masse of the people still suffer from unspeakable misery, all this because of the bourgeois ideology of leadership. By Contrast to Luanga A. Kasanga and Mambo Kalume in The Use 

of Indigenized Forms of English in Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross: A Linguistic and 

Sociolinguistic Analysis, the question of domination and revolution is far from being a 

predominant in this article. They examine only the functions of Africanized forms of English 

language used in Devil on the Cross in order to prove the argument of a deliberate use of 

hybrid language as means of contextualizing the English language in the novel.

These positions differ from our conception of literature. Literature is concerned with 

humankind and human life in its entirety. This includes everything that impinges on human 

life; it covers every aspect of experience and aspirations, politics inclusive. As a result of 

this literary review, it is worth noting that we study a common problem to many writers, the 

same chosen audience, and the means of communication, language and political message but 

differently assessed. 

Consequently, it goes without saying that the question of socio-economic

domination, exploitation, corruption and social revolution are most important in my research 

paper. That is why I have selected Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross to focus on the critical aspects 

that writers do not often evoked. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the writer whose works are the subject 

of our discussion has demonstrated in his creative and critical works that the writer is a 

product of society, and has a responsibility towards it, wherein he unequivocally says in his 

prison memoir, Detained that “literature is not …something belonging to a surreal world, or 

a metaphysical ethereal plane, something that has nothing to do with man’s more mundane, 

prosaic realm of attempting to clothe, shelter and feed himself”. (Devil on the Cross)

These critical writings also help in the debate on the definition of African literature, 

because they bring forth the historical connections that make it possible for us to analyze 

African literature dealing with the pre-colonial, colonial and neo-colonial phases of African 

history. In doing so, I have opted for the theme of exploitation and social revolution to draw 

that postcolonial domination through items and text-based justifications to allow an 

understanding of the corpus. It is in the context of the latter interpretation that we place 

Ngugi’s works as not only discourses on cultural and political decolonization, but also as 

works that are in quest of a new socio-economic and political order. Therefore, Devil on the 

Cross, despite the fact that it refers to Kenya in particular, depicts situation and problems 

that are common to almost all postcolonial African countries.