Devil on the Cross: Ngugi's Marxist Invitation

Literary Analysis

Scientific Study, 2010

11 Pages



Abstract: This paper is a Marxist approach to Ngugi-Wa-Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross It seeks to show how Ngugi is committed to the struggle against Neo-colonialism and imperialism. It presents Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross as an invitation for the prole tariat and the oppressed people to act

Key words: Commitment, Marxism, Socialist realism

Résumé: Cet article est une étude sur le roman de Ngugi-Wa-Thiong’o dans la perspective de la critique littéraire marxiste. Il cherche à montrer comment l’écrit de cet auteur est engagé pour la libération de l’Afrique du Néocolonialisme dont les conséquences constituent un obstacle total au développement autonome. Il invite, de ce fait, tous les prolétaires à s’unir pour démanteler le Néocolonialisme, l’impérialisme et leur corrélatif, le capitalisme.

Devil on the Cross tells the tragic story of Wariinga, a young woman whose parents are arrested and detained while she is still two. Then, she is taken by her aunt as caregiver, but the latter’s husband, because of capitalism, becomes Wariinga’s executioner and defiler together with the Old Rich man from Ngorika. This old man makes her pregnant and consequently she drops out school and gets deprived from the chance to study, her only key to repay the corrupt society.

Wariinga starts pondering over her misfortune very early and the scary possibility of the end of her studies looms large in her mind to the extent she becomes traumatized. Trauma pushes her to think suicide would be a solution to her plight as she notices that her dearest ideal is trampled upon. But in order to earn her living, Wariinga accepts to pursue her studies and learns typewriting and shorthand. She then emigrates from her small rural town to the city of Nairobi but there also only to be requested sexual offer by her boss Kihara so as to safeguard her job. As she refuses to offer sex, she is dismissed on Friday morning and her lover John Kimwana, instead of comforting her, rather abandons her the same day, Friday in the evening, as she can no longer earn anything. The next day, Saturday, her landlord fires her out after having increased the rent. The heroine is therefore overwhelmed by series of ordeals and, and attempts to commit suicide for the second time. Fortunately, she is saved by a fantastic character, as this quote shows:

A city bus came speeding towards her. Wariinga shut her eyes. Her body shuddered. She swallowed a lump, and her heart began to beat as if to the rhythm of a prayer: in times of troubles, do not O Father, look the other way.

Do not hide your face from at this time of tearsNowreceive me Suddenly Wariinga heard a voice within her: why are you trying to kill yourself again? Who instructed you that your work on earth is finished? Who has told you that your time is up? (Devil on the Cross page 12)

Wariinga then decides to journey back home, but not knowing what to do and from where to start. Fortunately, on her way home she meets with helpers such as Wangarii who confronts with “the black short man and his white boss for raising their awareness about neo-colonialism, capitalism and their practices as the scourge of all the fellowmen and women. Thanks to this awareness raising, the helpers come to understand the cause to fight for is common, noble and worthwhile to engage in. They therefore gather masses of peasants, workers and students. But Wariinga somehow passively watches their process towards the cave to fight against the devil and his followers for she does not find it worth to take active part in the struggle while she has not mastered all the lessons on self-reliance, constancy to purpose, sacrifice, courage and endurance.

As the masses’ struggle only succeeded in scattering the private businessmen and resulted in killings of the marching people, the arrest of Wangarii and Muturi’s clandestine life, the victory is seen as partial. Yet it constitutes a shed of light on Wariinga’s way to the total victory of the devil for thanks to this partial failure, she happened to think more on how to dismantle the devil.

Galvanized by lessons learnt from the past and present experience, the different trials encountered by Wangarii, Muturi, Mwireri and all her other duplications, Wariinga takes the responsibility as community spokeswoman and therefore sharpens her forces against forces of evil, gathers means and skills, shows her concern for masses of workers, peasants and students’ welfare above her personal pleasure and satisfaction. She bravely decides to put an end to her betrothal and love with Gatuira (the old Rich man’s son) and chooses a place among the peasants, workers, students and all those who pay by their brain, sweat and body serve the kind of the Old Rich man from Ngorika. She chooses her target and sets up time to shoot at the Old Rich man from Ngorika, mister Gitahi and some of his guests of honour.


The problem this paper tries to solve rises from the title of the novel throughout its whole text. In his dissertation “The Metaphor of Devil and Cross in Ngugi-Wa-Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross” under the researcher’s supervision, Nvunabandi Byamana (2010) tried to show that more than what everybody would be led to put at first sight of this title, that ‘Devil’ and ‘Cross’ are mere symbols, they can be constructed into metaphors after a careful reading of the novel. The findings show that the following metaphors would be correct if based on the novel’s analysis:

- Colonialism was a devil.
- Capitalism is a devil.
- Imperialism is a devil.
- Neocolonialism is a devil.
- Independence was a cross.
- Communism is a cross.
- Unity is a cross.

But the title of Ngugi’s novel ‘Devil on the Cross’ draws attention to itself and raises some queries whether the devil he is talking about :

- is on the cross;
- was on the cross;
- has been put on the cross; or
- should be put on the cross.

The opening of the book, however, unfolds this initial ambiguity by specifying that the devil should be put on the cross by the oppressed class: thus my interest in the topic because the title appears as an invitation to crucify the devil and this justifies the title of the paper, Devil on the Cross: Ngugi’s Marxist Invitation.

Still, after agreeing that the title is an invitation, there is need to know who is/are invited to crucify the devil and how they should proceed to crucify him. The analysis in the whole paper seeks to give satisfactory answers to any of these queries.

This paper uses the Marxist approach due to the class conflict and the reinforcement of class distinction portrayed in the novel. The Marxist theory uses traditional techniques of literary analysis, but subordinates aesthetic concerns to the final social and political meanings of literature. It champions authors sympathetic to the working classes and depicts economic inequalities found in capitalist societies. The Marxist view of literary texts focuses on their social significance.

At this point Ngugi-Wa-Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross is a great novel of social relevance: its contribution to social change and the improvement of the working class living conditions.

In fact, a writer is a product of society towards which he has responsibility. This responsibility is for him to speak out, through his art, about the evils that prevail in his society, or say to commit his art to the cause of the proletariat (Eagleton 1976:2) . The same writer stresses the same point when he says:

“Literature results from conscious acts of men in society. At the level of the individual artist, the very act of writing implies a social relationship: one is writing about somebody for somebody. At the collective level, literature, as a product of men’s intellectual and imaginative activity embodies, in words and image, tensions, conflicts, contradictions at the heart of a community’s being and process of becoming.” (Ngugi quoted in Writers in Politics (1981, 5), This paper seeks to show how Devil on the Cross exposes the plight of the masses and workers in the present day political set up in Africa. It is Ngugi’s conviction that writers should address themselves to the crisis or conflict between the emergent African bourgeoisie and the African masses.

Ngugi felt that the need to invite the proletariat to gather for crucifying the devil as the beginning of the novel reads:

The Devil who would lead us into the blindness of the heart and into the deafness of the mind should be crucified, and care should be taken that his acolytes do not lift him down from the to pursue the task of building Hell of the people on Earth. (Devil on the Cross, page:1)

Ngugi, as a prophet of justice, embodied in the narrator, felt it his burden to tell out the social evils prevailing in his society and in this way, he overcomes the fear of his “antelope which hates more the one who shouts to alert others to its presence than the one who sees it”. The paper describes the way Ngugi takes courage to denounce the presence of the ‘devil’ and invites the proletariat, including the exploited oppresses people and masses of peasants for freeing themselves from imperialism and neocolonialism is the main concern of this paper.


Ngugi clearly appears as a Marxist novelist and a committed writer. Marxist Criticism calls on the writer to commit his art to the cause of the proletariat. The layman’s image of Marxist critics, in other words, is almost entirely shaped by the literary events of the epoch we know as Stalinism, which is a movement supporting that the communist party should be the only party and that the central government should control the whole political and economic system (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 2007). The communism believes in an economic system in which the state controls the means of producing everything for the people to create a society in which everyone is treated equally. Once these prerogatives are not met, there is need to raise the proletariat’s awareness to claim for a fairer situation. This is according to the Marxist theory, one of the writer’s duties. Similarly in Writers in Politics Ngugi (1981: .79-80), writes:


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Devil on the Cross: Ngugi's Marxist Invitation
Literary Analysis
African Literature
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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devil, cross, ngugi, marxist, invitation, literary, analysis
Quote paper
Bonaventure Muzigirwa (Author), 2010, Devil on the Cross: Ngugi's Marxist Invitation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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