Use of Symbolism in Depiction of Humanism in Meja Mwangi’s Novels

Martha Flavian Ombati

Use of Symbolism in Depiction of Humanism in Meja Mwangi’s Novels

Keywords : Symbolism, Humanism, Meja Mwangi, Novels


African societies, emphasis is placed on oneness, sharing, hospitality and dignity that have continued to sustain humane interactions and co-existence. However, owing to social changes caused by modernity and globalization, social structures have changed hence influencing African Humanism. Therefore, this study analysed popular fiction to point out how authors use symbolism to portray African humanism focusing on Meja Mwangi’s novels, Kill Me Quick (1973), Going Down River Road (1976) and The Cockroach Dance (1979). These novels constitute Mwangi’s urban trilogy. The discussion was also reinforced using secondary data on humanism, specifically African humanism. The study was qualitative in approach, employing analytical research design in the collation and analysis of data. The gathered data was analysed through content analysis. The study population comprised Kenyan popular fiction, with a special focus on the 46 novels by Meja Mwangi. Purposive sampling technique was employed with the inclusion criterion being Mwangi’s novels that address the humanistic issues being investigated. The sampled texts were Mwangi’s three urban-based novels mentioned above. The data was collected from both primary and secondary sources through close textual close reading. Data analysis was conducted using a Marxist theoretical framework. Data collected was categorised along with the study’s units of analysis, namely Mwangi’s thematic concerns on humanism, characterisation, and narrative techniques. This study established that, in his trilogy, Meja Mwangi has vividly articulated the representation of humanism by employing symbolism, irony, contrast, epistolary technique and vivid description. The manipulation of such devices has enabled Mwangi to unravel the weakening of the ‘value-laden African humanism’ in post-independent Kenya and Africa at large. These devices have been discussed in-depth to show how their employment in the trilogy helps communicate the issue of capitalism and its influence on societal stratification, exploitation, oppression and alienation. The knowledge generated in the study is expected to help improve the quality of people’s lives in a social environment, by realizing the essence of African humanism in fostering healthy relationships with the self and others in society.


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