Detained Essay - Critical Context

Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Critical Context

Political detention, a far too common twentieth century reality in Africa and elsewhere, has often been, for those who have recorded it, a mind-altering experience. Ngugi’s fellow African, the Nigerian Wole Soyinka, imprisoned during the Biafran War, had his vision darkened considerably as he faced the threats of spiritual and physical death. His memoir, The Man Died (1972), much different from Ngugi’s in its immediacy, its subjectivity, and its metaphorical density, like several works following his release exhibits a bitter, cynical tone while nevertheless intensifying a commitment to social justice. Though some have called Soyinka’s account narcissistic, it might more appropriately be called profoundly humanistic—the individual’s agony symbolizing that of all men in the valley of despair. Ngugi’s, on the other hand, is a controlled, reflective, ideological statement, the author seeing himself as only one in a historical line of political scapegoats. It is a product of study that yielded, not pain and acrimony, but enlightenment, confidence, and determination. If it was not a more profound experience than Soyinka’s, it was more stabilizing, at least in the short term.

Detained is actually part of a changed perspective that seems to have begun a few months before imprisonment with Ngugi’s involvement in the writing and production of the play I Will Marry When I Want. In Detained he calls it “the most exciting [time] in my life and the true beginning of my...

(The entire section is 622 words.)