From Alterity To Agency: Pathways Of Subversion And Resistance In Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Personal Essays

  • Geoffrey University of Nairobi
  • H. University of Nairobi
  • Jennifer Muchiri
Keywords: Alterity, Cosmopolitanism, Essayistic Persona, Personal Essay, Postcolonialism, Resistance, Stylistics


In this paper, we have evaluated the contribution of aesthetic and rhetorical devices to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s artistic mission of sabotaging the political, social, cultural and economic hegemony of empire. We have focused on his deployment of anecdotes, extended metaphors, essayistic allusions, argumentative structure, persuasive juxtaposition, concession structure and irony as aesthetic categories to undermine the domineering imperial codes. Our guiding theoretical lights have been postcolonialism, stylistics and the theory of the personal essay. The postcolonial approach adopted here is in the mould of Gayatri Spivak and Kwame Anthony Appiah; the stylistics perspective is illuminated by Rodger Webster, Peter Barry, Paul Simpson, Eriko Bollobas, Michael Kirkhood Halliday and Chris Holcomb; while the theory of the personal essay is framed by Michel de Montaigne, Phillip Lopate, Theodor Adorno, Holman Clarence Hugh, John D. Ramage and Bensel-Meyers and others. This investigation is pitched in the premise that Ngugi writes subversively from the subordinated margins of ‘alterity’ against the hierarchical power of colonial and imperial empire. In this study, we selected personal essays from the following collections: Writers in Politics: Essays; Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms; Decolonising the Mind: Politics of Language in African Literature; Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture and Politics; Penpoints, Gunpoints and Dreams: The Performance of Literature and Power in Postcolonial Africa; Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance (first published as Remembering Africa); and Secure the Base: Making Africa Visible in the Globe.

Author Biographies

Geoffrey, University of Nairobi

Mumia G. Osaaji is currently a Lecturer, teaching Literature at the University of Nairobi.
He finished his Doctorate (2021) in Literature from the same institution, having written
on Postcoloniality and Literariness in the personal essays of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and
Chinua Achebe. He holds a Master of Arts in Literature and a Bachelor of Arts from the
University of Nairobi. He is the author of Stylistic Tension in Omondi Mac’Oloo’s Prose
and the lead researcher and writer of Hon. Dr. Phoebe Asiyo’s Biography - It is
Possible: An African Woman Speaks. Osaaji is widely published: he has over seventeen
well-researched articles and chapters in internationally recognised refereed and peer
reviewed journals and books. He is involved in writing teaching modules for Online
Learning. He is the editorial advisor for the African Journal of Project Planning and
Management, published by the Department of Extra-Mural Studies at the University of
Nairobi. He has edited various publications for the Government of Kenya, the University
of Nairobi, Civil Society Organisations and International Development Agencies. Osaaji
also teaches Human Rights Advocacy and Human Rights Monitoring at the Centre for
Human Rights and Peace, University of Nairobi. He is an experienced specialist in
conducting Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) assessments, activist research,
development/social impact research, as well as baseline surveys: he has carried out
such assignments with various international, regional and local organisations
implementing humanitarian, relief, development and human rights projects in the larger
Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa region (especially Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland,
Uganda, Sudan and South Sudan). Osaaji is an accomplished trainer on institutional
management, gender inclusivity, protection of human rights, governance, electoral
systems, and policy engagement on public health. He has gained considerable
experience as a rapporteur, having served various national, regional and international
clients. Finally, he contributes to national debate on topical issues through occasional
columns in leading print media and live interviews on electronic media.

H., University of Nairobi

Dr. Masumi Odari holds a PhD in literature from the University of Nairobi. She is the former Chair of the Literature Department in the same University. She is an Advocate of the High Court in Kenya. Her research interest are social justice and literature. Currently, she is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Jennifer Muchiri

Jennifer Muchiri teaches in the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi. She has a BA, MA and PhD in Literature from the University of Nairobi. She has research interests in women’s writing, African literature, and life writing.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1998-1279