Boundary-Breaking Love and The Modern Nation-State: Ngũgĩwa Thiong’o’s The River Between and Weep Not, Child

Felicia Annin


The work of Kenyan writer, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, is striking for the dominance of the intimate relationships it displays. From the first novels in the early 1960s to the novels published in the past few years, romantic love seems to play a very significant role in Ngũgĩ’s understanding of the degraded society around him and his vision of a future better society. This is the case for his short fiction and plays also. Politically, Ngũgĩ identifies himself as a Marxist, anticolonialist/imperialist, anti-capitalist writer, for whom there is no contradiction between an aesthetic and political project. The paper explores the role of the romantic love relationship in Ngũgĩ’s first two novels: Weep Not, Child and The River Between. It considers the specifics of the relationships presented across these two novels and the significance of these relationships. Key ideas include love as breaking boundaries of ethnicity, religion and class in the creation of a modern nation, in which traditional cultural values are still held dear by Ngũgĩ. The paper juxtaposes Ngũgĩ’s attempt to conceptualize intimate relationship in the two novels to that of Sommer’s study of the Latin-American romances of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century. The findings indicate that Ngũgĩ’s romantic reconciliation championed in the two novels as compared to Sommer’s “erotics and politics” seemed unattainable. The implication reveals that the Latin American romances brought about unity and reconciliation in building the nation while Ngũgĩ’s romances seem to divide the Kenyan nation rather than bridging the gap created by education and Christianity. This paper concludes that romantic love fails as a unifier while the love of mother emerges as a saviour.


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Doris Sommer, “erotics and politics”, Latin-American romance, Modern nation-state

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