The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Events begin in an African village. Nyobi laments to Thoni that her younger son has chosen to live in the distant big city, ignoring his obligations at home. Remi’s extended absence imposes even more pain upon his wife, who longs to bear a child. The leader of the village comes to Nyobi to explain his intention to travel to the city and persuade Remi to return. Remi is their best hope for acquiring national political advantage. He believes that Remi’s decision to leave resulted from Christian training, which undermined his loyalty to the traditional ways. To buttress his appeal, he seeks the blessing of Remi’s mother. Nyobi acquiesces hesitantly; in spite of her yearning for her son’s return, she is uncomfortable about the elders’ motives and pagan beliefs. She worries that she may have been manipulated and begs the pastor for advice. He agrees that the village Christians also need Remi’s presence. He, in turn, decides to seek out Remi and urge him to come home.

Act 2 is set in the city, where Remi is involved with a white South African woman, who is seeking to purge herself of the racism of her country by embracing a black lover. City life is already beginning to pall on Remi, for both personal and political reasons. He expresses his disenchantment in a political debate with his friend Omange, arguing that tribalism undermines the ideal of a united nation. Subsequent, more personal conversation reveals that Remi’s departure was based not only on his shame because he urged his village to vote for a regime that turned out to be corruptly self-serving but also on a more intimate motivation. When Thoni was widowed by the death of Remi’s brother, Remi accepted his traditional family obligation and was married to her. This marriage was not, however, a mere formal convenience for Remi. He was passionately in love with Thoni but had been too shy to express his feelings. While he...

(The entire section is 779 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Many modern African plays borrow from the traditional forms of public ritual. They deliberately include dance, mime, and music as part of an almost operatic performance. The Black Hermit is more conventional in the European sense. It sets a realistic social context, within which pertinent political issues can be debated. There are no contrivances or innovative theatrical devices to present the plot. This limitation derives partly from the fact that Ngugi wa Thiong’o is attempting a drama of ideas, in the manner of George Bernard Shaw. It also derives from Ngugi’s intention that the play be capable of being staged under very restricted conditions. School assembly rooms and village cultural centers offer few provisions for unusual or complex methods of staging.

The most important theatrical aspect of The Black Hermit derives from its structure. The play establishes two very different worlds: the village and the city. The village maintains a cohesion of traditional behavior. Pagan and Christian beliefs battle each other, but even that conflict does not alter the security and implicit harmony of the daily routine. In contrast, the scenes set in the city reflect a rootless, unprincipled existence: self-serving and grasping, without dignity or moral purpose.

This difference is exemplified in the diction in which the political and personal levels of plot are expressed. Ngugi deliberately differentiates the language spoken within...

(The entire section is 403 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bjorkman, lngrid. Mother Sings for Me: People’s Theatre in Kenya. London: Zed Books, 1989.

Cook, David, and Michael Okenimkpe. Ngugi wa Thiong’o: An Exploration of His Writings. 2d ed. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1997.

Graham-White, Anthony. The Drama of Black Africa. New York: S. French, 1975.

Jones, Eldred D., ed. African Literature Today: An Annual Review. New York: Africana, 1973.

Moore, Gerald. Twelve African Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

Robson, Clifford B. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. New York: Twayne, 1979.

Roscoe, Adrian A. Uhuru’s Fire: African Literature East to South. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.