Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s classic A Grain of Wheat displays unmistakable debts to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, yet markers of this particular Conradian connection have been largely ignored by critics, who have mostly concentrated on the connections with Under Western Eyes. In this essay, I argue that this odd intertextual oversight can and should be rectified, with a view to refocusing discussion of A Grain of Wheat on the questions of literary form posed by Heart of Darkness. These formal questions, located at the nexus of voice, “addressivity,” and community, in turn, connect to crucial issues of the place of literary production in the postcolonial polity. In particular, they point to the significant change in Ngũgĩ’s cultural politics and aesthetic practice in the mid-1970s, as he became increasingly involved in popular community theater. The reading offered in this article, by shifting the focus of intertextuality to the more complex connections with Heart of Darkness, loosens A Grain of Wheat’s bond, somewhat, with metropolitan literature and foregrounds the novel’s integration into Ngũgĩ’s project of autochton (and popular cultural) postcolonial emancipation. Because of the central, indeed, archetypical place of A Grain of Wheat in the African literary tradition and even in received understandings of the process of independence in East Africa, this recalibration of readings of the novel takes on a broader significance than merely that of studies of postcolonial intertextuality.


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pp. 160-175
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