Themes and Meanings

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Politically, Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a radical socialist who dreams of a utopian society for the workers. Such a society would be moral in its economic and political principles, repudiate colonialism in all of its entrenched forms, and establish a genuine sense of national identity among the fragmented ethnicities of its citizens. The Black Hermit takes up the issues of modern Africa in both direct and oblique ways.

First, there is an open attack on the kind of government that took power at independence. Ngugi’s accusations are twofold: that the government is corrupt and that the corruption derives from tribalism. This tribalism divides the country into subsections, each determined to pursue selfish competitive policies that will afford access to governmental power. The reason for Remi’s repudiation of tribalism is exposed by the village leaders, who do not condemn the unjust system but seek instead to enjoy the luxuries power can provide. Remi is Ngugi’s mouthpiece when he condemns the evils of tribal separatism in the new African states.

Other issues are raised less explicitly. For all Jane’s intense commitment, a romantic relationship between a white woman and a black man can occur only within the displaced and artificial environment of the city with its European conventions, divorced as they are from the indigenous African reality. In general, the attractive options offered by the city are shown to be ultimately destructive and untenable. Underlying everything is what has been called “the culture conflict,” the idea that all educated Africans are driven into a personal and social duality. Thoni’s death makes Remi question the attitudes that his education has embedded. Education destroys the certainties of the historical inheritance but does not replace them with an integrated code of values that would allow Africans to live in the modern world while yet respecting their traditions. Rather, it creates bastard semi-Europeans, alienated from Africa. One element of this conflict is the battle over religion. Remi refuses, as would Ngugi, to see Christianity (in the guise of the pastor) as a means of settling the moral dilemmas of the contemporary African state. The play concludes on a note of personal tragedy, which suggests that Ngugi is unable to resolve, even for himself, the broader political issues raised by the events depicted. These political issues are explored in many of his essays.

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