THIONG'O'S REDEPLOYMENT OF BIBLICAL
SIGNIFIERS IN A GRAIN OF WHEAT AND
I WILL MARRY WHEN I WANT
Peter Wamulungwe Mwikisa
A Grain of Wheat (1967) is the third and most accomplished, after Weep Not Child (1964) and The River Between (1965), of the novels which Ngugi wrote before he dropped the Christian “James” and adopted the Gikuyu “Ngugi Wa Thiong'o” by which appellation he is now generally known. Ngugi has not given an account of his experience of the road to Damascus, so it is not possible to speak in precise terms of the significance and the kind of the conversion implied by, his change of names. Nevertheless, even a cursory glance at his work shows that his oeuvre lends itself easily to a division between, the early works on one side of that event, and the later works such as Petals of Blood (1977), I Will Marry When I Want (1982), and Matigari (1989), on the other side. The two texts—A Grain of Wheat and I Will Marry When I Want—are obvious choices to ponder Ngugi's ideological deployment of biblical images and themes because they lie on opposing sides of the decade-long watershed between the publication of A Grain of Wheat (1967) and Petals of Blood (1977). During this period Ngugi changed not only his attitude towards Christianity and the Bible, but also his views on the strategies and tactics of combatting the global power of Western imperialism.
I am, therefore, inclined to see the change in names as metonymic of what N. Lazarus describes as a “fundamental revaluation on Ngugi's part of formal and artistic priorities and political tactics” (Lazarus 1990: 212). In other words, the change reflects a multidimensional effort on the part of Ngugi to deal with the crisis of consciousness which, according to Lazarus, assailed African writers in the period immediately following independence, namely, how to identify with the masses, for whom they presumed to speak. The change signals Ngugi's search for a less intellectualised register (Lazarus 1990: 23). If, therefore, I focus on Ngugi's allusions to biblical images and themes, it is not because I do not see the larger picture. I do