Background to the Study
Tragedy as a literary genre has a rich history that cuts across centuries, generic forms, cultural and geographic boundaries. Over the years, this prolific genre and method of literary creation has been appropriated as a platform not only for commenting on and evaluating social and individual circumstances but also as a tool for engaging in a literary evaluation of socio-cultural and political realities.
However, the application of the aspects of tragedy in literary criticism has mostly been restricted to dramatic works of literature. For this reason, the cross-generic interplay between tragedy and other literary forms has been greatly affected. This apparent restriction of tragedy to only dramatic art has, as Gassner would put it, turned tragedy “into a value rather than a genre” (10). Gassner’s view is an indication of a desire to enhance the versatility of tragedy by inviting a multifaceted and a less conservative application of its aspects in accordance with changing social and literary circumstances.
Drawing our attention to the need for a utilitarian application of literary forms to facilitate socio-cultural and political investigation of contemporary experiences, Gassner further queries, “what is the use of devising finely ground definitions unless they can be serviceable to one’s own time?” (11). This rhetorical question suggests the need to question and investigate possible linkages that may exist between literary genres and approaches while disregarding generic absolutism.
Indeed, tragedy has been appropriated into the literary representation of the challenges and conflicts that exist in the 21st century. Of interest is the use of tragic elements in the crafting and representation of postcolonial contestation and expression. This perspective would be informed by the view that literary representation seeks to dramatise and contextualise the fates of characters in given socio-cultural and political locations and interactions.
Works of literature are understood to reflect those issues that essentially define the society. These issues determine the nature and texture of the discourse that a particular work of literature endeavours to represent. For this discourse to be availed to the reader, that work of literature should use a form that is concomitant with the intention of the narrative. Hinged on the unequal relations that manifest in postcolonial discourse, an exploration of literary forms, structures and other narrative choices becomes necessary and well placed in any attempt to engage the thematic essence of a literary work.
Given that wa Thiong’o’s fiction contextualises the historical and cultural conjectures of the interaction between the colonised African communities and the colonising West; between the powerful oppressive post-independence forces and the oppressed masses, such fiction would explicitly highlight the consequent individual and social conflicts that result from these unequal relations. These conflicts would be inescapable since the quest for self-definition and restoration would result in both individual and social struggles, best highlighted through a writer’s signification of the tragic conflicts and their outcomes.
Indeed, the changing social imperatives that are dependent on a community’s experiences dictate the change in the narrative form. This is primarily informed in the desire for a writer to use a narrative form that not only accommodates these social changes but also one that best represents and evaluates these experiences. In relation to the use of the tragic form in African literature, this fact has been best illustrated in the changes that are evident in the form and texture of the African novel. As Dan Izevbaye explains, the centrality of the tragic hero narrative in the African novel diminishes when a community’s fate is delineated from that of the heroic character (41).
This ideological shift in the representation of a community’s evaluation of social and individual circumstances would invite an exploration of the subsequent effects on the literary and narrative choices, specifically for this study in wa Thiong’o’s selected novels.
Statement of the Problem
The study investigates how wa Thiong’o uses elements of tragedy such as tragic characters, tragic plots and tragic motifs in the expression, representation and evaluation of social, political, historical, ideological and other conflicts that manifest in the selected texts. The study examines the use of these elements of tragedy not only as allegorical representations of these conflicts but also as significations of individual and societal contradictions and conditions. The study explores the literary import of the tragic form to further investigate how the writer’s choice of a narrative form enhances a literary representation of social and individual discourses in a postcolonial context.
Objectives of the Study
This study aims to:
- Identify the various elements of tragedy used in wa Thiong’o’s five novels.
- Evaluate the use of tragedy in the emplotment and representation of thematic concerns in wa Thiong’o’s five novels novels.
- Evaluate the use of the tragic form as an expression of wa Thiong’o’s vision for a postcolonial society.