The Trial of Dedan Kimathi

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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Comment on the significance of time in the play The Trial of Dedan Kimathi.

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The significance of time in the play The Trial of Dedan Kimathi is that its manipulation forms the basis of the action that unfolds on stage. In presenting a terrorist as a hero, Ngugi is rewriting the past in order to keep alive the spirit of anticolonial struggle in the present.

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The action of The Trial of Dedan Kimathi involves a systematic manipulation of the past—critics would say distortion—by the playwright Ngugi wa Thiong'o. In portraying a terrorist as a freedom fighter and hero to the Kenyan masses, the author goes back in time to give a very different perspective to the one that has prevailed since Kimathi's execution in 1957.

His account of Kimathi's trial deliberately rewrites history in order to depict him in a heroic light. The overriding purpose here is to resurrect the spiritual leader of the Mau Mau's historical reputation as a way of keeping the flame of revolution alive in the souls of the Kenyan people.

Ngugi was deeply critical of successive governments in post-independence Kenya, seeing them as hopelessly corrupt, oppressive, and completely out of touch with the Kenyan people.

By manipulating time and historical memory, as he does so skillfully in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, this most politically engaged of playwrights hopes to remedy the defects of contemporary Kenya by bringing the romanticized past fully into the present.

Once this has been achieved, Ngugi further hopes that the Kenyan masses will have an inspiring myth with which to challenge the current political system and realize, at long last, the progressive potential of post-colonial Kenya.

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