Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 181

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.

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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.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1682

Alienation of the Land
Petals of Blood is an overtly political novel, and the author's intention is to present readers with a portrait of the economic, social, and other ills of post-independence Kenya. As he makes clear in his writings, Ngugi does not think that his role as a writer is to change society, because only people can change society. However, as he says in a 1979 interview in African Report, he thinks writers can point out where things are wrong and also that "fiction should embody the aspirations and hopes of the majority—of the peasants and workers.’’ Clearly the main concern in Petals of Blood is to draw attention to the plight to the dispossessed peoples of Ilmorog, and by extension, of Kenya. The novel shows that after decades of colonial rule, many of the poorer segments of Kenyan society have been alienated from the land, the source of life for centuries. Even after independence, this separation continues. Karega's mother, Miriamu, is forced to work as a laborer on Munira's father's land. The villagers are helpless in the face of a drought that threatens their life. The landscape of Ilmorog changes forever when the Trans-Africa Highway is built, dividing the village into two. With the transformation of Ilmorog to an industrial center, peasants are forced to pawn their land to obtain bank loans, which they cannot pay, and their ancestral homelands are seized by financiers. The land of the people becomes just another commodity in the hands of economic rulers as Ilmorog is transformed
from a bucolic rural village to a polluted industrial development.

Critique of Capitalism
Related to the theme of the people's alienation from their land is Ngugi's critique of capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of producing wealth are privately owned. The novel denounces such a system that has created unequal classes of rich and poor by dramatizing its effects on the people of Ilmorog. The capitalists in the novel—including Kimeria, Chui, Mzigo—are seen as ruthless men who are unconcerned with the misery that their greed creates. They seek to suppress the workers' union and refuse to raise their wages. They drive expensive cars and want for nothing, while the villagers travel on foot to seek help in the face of famine. They take from the people of Ilmorog the recipe of their traditional alcoholic brew, Theng'eta, and make millions from it, forcing the townspeople to work in the factory under poor conditions. The novel also presents these entrepreneurs as working in collusion with Western corporations that continue to exploit the labor of the uneducated...

(The entire section contains 1863 words.)

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