A Grain of Wheat

English, Nationalism, and Ngugi: Language in A Grain of Wheat

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat is a Kenyan novel written in English, a language traditionally associated with colonialism and oppression in Africa. Despite the fact that the novel is written in English, Ngugi still uses language to speak to the novel’s theme of revolution by incorporating his native Gikuyu in the form of proverbs and folk songs. Additionally, the novel juxtaposes these Gikuyu proverbs with verses and parables from the Christian Bible, a medium through which missionaries spread English early in its history in Kenya. Though Ngugi wrote A Grain of Wheat in English, he manipulates and uses language in order to promote Gikuyu and Kenyan culture and to discredit English as a Kenyan language. In portraying English in a negative light in his novel, Ngugi reveals his opposition to English as a language of African literature and his larger national concerns for Kenya after its colonization and for its new status as an independent nation.

In his essay “The Language of African Literature,” Ngugi expresses the opinion that the English language is unable to relate his African experience. Ngugi claims that every language is “a carrier of culture,” and that if African writers use English in their work they automatically...

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