In his preface to Homecoming (1972), a volume of criticism, Ngugi has stated his frame of reference for writing literature. He sees a strong relationship between creative literature and the social, economic, and political forces in African society. It is therefore no surprise that Petals of Blood is a strong indictment of certain aspects of political and social life in modern Kenya. Freedom has not brought the kind of better life for which people hoped and sacrificed. Kenyans have merely exchanged white rulers for black rulers; corruption has become a cancerous growth in the nation’s life. These are the major themes of Petals of Blood.
The imagery of the title suggests that the flower of freedom is stained with blood. The fire set by Munira is the novel’s central action. This futile, destructive act of violence is an expression of the powerlessness of the common man, whose hopes have been betrayed by his own people. In showing how the principal characters, who have once shared a common outlook, end at cross-purposes, Ngugi implicitly calls for a commitment to collective action.