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SHORT ANALYSIS OF DEVIL ON THE CROSS BY NGUGI WATHIONG'O


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Ngugi’s combative spirit against neo-colonial agents and their masters continues in Devil
on the Cross, a novel he wrote in detention in Kimathi Maximum Security prison in
Kenya. Like Petals of Blood, the story takes place mainly in Ilmorog and partly in
Nairobi. It is no wonder, then, that the major trope in Devil on the Cross could be neocolonial
dependency, with the Devil on the Cross as the structuring symbol. This is best
illustrated in Wariinga’s nightmare in which the white colonialist Devil is crucified by
the masses (apparently, a reference to political independence) only to be resuscitated by
the local comprador.
Devil on the Cross shows the class struggle between the poor and the rich, the exploited
and the exploiters. The novel begins with the story of Wariinga, a lady who had suffered
a series of misfortunes, maltreatment and deprivation at the hands of some irresponsible
men in the society. She was used, abused and abandoned by the rich old man of Ngorika whose child she was carrying. She had attempted suicide on the railway track but was saved by the timely intervention of Munti. After having her baby, she was able to
complete her secretarial studies and found herself a job in Champion Construction
Company. She later lost this job because she did not welcome boss Kihara’s attentions.
Her undergraduate friend, John Kinwana, jilted her after accusing her of being Kihara‘s
mistress; and she was thrown out of her one-room apartment for her inability to pay the
rent which the landlord had increased, and the landlord secured the services of three
thugs who threw her things out.

 On the matatu bus, we see Muturi, Wariinga and Wa Mukiraai with the invitation cards
for the feast to choose the seven cleverest thieves and robbers in Ilmorog. Mukiraai is in
favour of the competition, and he is of the opinion that the feast is not organized by Satan but by the organization of modern theft and robbery in Ilmorog to commemorate a visit by foreign guests from an association of the thieves and robbers of the Western world, particularly from America, England, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and Japan. The
creation of a Devil’s feast where national robbers and thieves with their foreign allies
gather in order to reveal their tactics, strategies and motives provides Ngugi with the
space for enacting or deconstructing, through the grotesque and the obscene, the banality
of power, in a neo-colonial African society.

During the feast we are confronted with the boastful thieves and robbers in the cave as
the co-operation of the Kenyan bourgeoisie is seen as fruitful by the international
representatives; the leader of the foreign delegation from the international organization of
thieves and robbers headquartered in New York thanks the local thieves and robbers for
the good work they have done performing, yet thieves who steal out of hunger are not
allowed to compete.

 An example is Ndaaya Wa Kahuria in order to stop these noisy competitors who are
watchdogs of imperialism that Wangari decides to invite the police, while Muturi who
believes in the ability of the workers to arrest the thieves goes ahead to mobilize them.
But the police who ought to arrest the thieves turn round to arrest Wangari, who should
have been treated as an informant.

The ability of the workers, students and other members of the exploited class to mobilize
themselves is very encouraging. The clarion call and song of the masses in their
revolutionary movement to overthrow capitalism and the rule of its agents are resonating:
Come one and all,
And behold the wonderful sight
of us chasing away Devil
And all his disciples:
Come one and all (Devil on the Cross, 201).
The resistance put up by the people, their massive struggle against the forces of law,
shows that the masses can determine their fate.
 The realization of Wariinga’s life ambition to train as an automobile engineer goes a long
way to show how the underprivileged in the society have worked hard to improve their
condition, in spite of the brutal attempts by the powers that be to reduce them to
nothingness. After Wariinga had worked strenuously to become an engineer, the forces
of “economic strangulation” strike. Boss Kihara, in partnership with a group of
foreigners from the USA , Germany and Japan , buys the garage and the surrounding
piece of land for the construction of a tourist hotel. The shooting and killing of the
devil’s accomplices, including the rich old man of Ngorika (whose son, Gatuiria,
Wariinga has fallen in love with) show the determination of the masses to liberate
themselves.

Devil on the Cross exposes the plight of the masses and the workers in the present-day
political set-up in Africa in consonance with the belief of Ngugi that African writers
should address themselves “to the crisis or conflict between the emergent African
bourgeoisie and the African masses.”26 According to Edward Shills, ideologies arise in
conditions of crisis and in sectors of society where the prevailing situation has become
unacceptable, he states “… an ideology arises because there are strongly felt needs which are not satisfied by the prevailing outlook, for an explanation of important experience, for the firm guidance of conduct and for a fundamental legitimating of the value and dignity of the persons who feel these needs.

 Ngugi’s ideological commitment to the masses of Kenya ( Africa ) must therefore be seen
as a result of loss of confidence in the ability of the elite to build a successful society
along the lines of capitalist ideology.
There are odds against the people in this novel as the devil appears deeply entrenched.
Even during Wariinga’s nightmare, we observe that the devil is not allowed to suffer and
die on the cross. He is soon released by the rich men in dark suits. Opposition is
stifled,and the dissenting voice is silenced. It is this state of affairs that has forced
suffering people like Wariinga to seek redress and take sides with the masses. By the
time Wariinga joins the workers at the cave, she is mentally prepared to identify with the
workers, and it is at this stage that she gets a gun from Muturi which she later uses to kill the rich old man of Ngorika.

Ngugi has through this novel shown that the sophisticated structures that have sprung up
in the cities of Kenya – Ilmorog, Mombasa , Nairobi , Nakuru, Kisumu – do not have
their corresponding enhancement in the standard of living of the general population.
Rather, what we observe is the emergence of a new class structure the nouveau riche, an
infinitesimal corrupt minority, having allied itself with the ex-colonialists to form a
formidable barrier to the people’s share of the national resources. The battle is therefore
between these “grabbers,” who strive to consolidate their hold and the deprived, who also
strives to thwart them.

 The novel shows the class to which each character belongs; Muturi, Wariinga, Wangari,
and Gaturiria represent the peasants and workers, while Gitutu Wa Gataaguru, Kihaahu
and Muirevi represent the bourgeoisie. Hence, there is an intense struggle between the
victims of exploitation and the exploiter class.
Ngugi uses the symbols of the Matatu and the cave to represent two things. The Matatu
represents the world of the underprivileged where freedom of speech is not guaranteed.
Thus, the Matatu represents the lower class striving after freedom as seen in the
characters of Wangari, Maturi, Gatuiria and Wariinga. The cave, on the other hand,
represents the devil’s domain dominated exclusively by men of profit and women of
leisure. Ngugi’s vision in this novel, as in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976) which he
wrote with Micere Mugo, Petals of Blood (1971), I will Marry when I Want (1982) which he wrote with Ngugi Wamiri, Matigari (1986) and all his critical works, rests on a
”completely socialized economy collectively owned and controlled by the people.”28 But
the realization of this dream is dependant on unity, a factor Ngugi explains as “… until
democratic-minded Kenyans, workers, peasants, students, progressive intellectuals and
others unite…things will get worse, no matter who sits on the throne of power.












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