Decolonizing the Mind Summary & Study Guide

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Decolonizing the Mind

  • 38-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 4 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a PhD in philosophy
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Decolonizing the Mind Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 38-page guide for “Decolonizing the Mind” by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 4 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Language as a Tool of Oppression and Colonial Alienation and Imperialism in Africa.

Plot Summary

Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature , a nonfiction work by award-winning Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, was originally published in 1986. In the Introduction, titled “Towards the Universal Language of Struggle,” Ngũgĩ writes: “This book, is a summary of some of the issues in which I have been passionately involved for the last twenty years of my practice in fiction, theatre, criticism and in teaching literature” (1). Decolonising the Mind is a series of texts based on Ngũgĩ’s lectures that touch on the key themes which have preoccupied the author between the 1960s and the 1980s—theatre, language, politics, literature, and the history of the colonization of the African continent. These themes are explicitly taken up and given a framework by Ngũgĩ in the introduction to the text, a framework that he says is constituted by two opposing forces: “I shall look at the African realities as they are affected by the great struggle between the two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other” (2).

In Chapter 1, “The Language of African Literature,” Ngũgĩ deals with this relationship by returning to the colonial history by which English was substituted for indigenous Kenyan language, and particularly with respect to literature as the title of the chapter suggests. For Ngũgĩ, the detrimental impact of colonization and imperialism extend all the way down to the very language that is used by certain authors. This is the case, says Ngũgĩ, because of the inherent nature of language which carries within itself a whole world of references and values that are specific to the culture from which it originates. And it is for this reason that Ngũgĩ will argue for the revival of literature written in indigenous African languages since the literature of Europe is inseparable from the racist images and stereotypes that perpetuate the false ideology of European superiority over the African continent as a whole.

In Chapter 2, “The Language of African Theatre,” Ngũgĩ shows how the colonial history seen in the previous chapter had a direct effect on the role that theatre played in Kenya in the 1970s and 80s. In particular, Ngũgĩ touches on his time spent organizing a theatre production with his local community and his eventual imprisonment for those actions. Ngũgĩ’s personal history gives the reader a clear example of the political potential for revolutionary change that exists in something as innocent as theatre and literature.

In Chapter 3, “The Language of African Fiction,” Ngũgĩ reflects on the relationship between the writer and Kenyan society that is now defined by the postcolonial era. Ngũgĩ argues that it is artists and writers who possess the ability to transform the images that African peoples come to identify with by producing works of art and literature in their native tongue.

In Chapter 4, “The Quest for Relevance,” Ngũgĩ brings these preceding analyses to bear on his own experiences as a professor in Kenya. Ngũgĩ deals with the institutional debate regarding his departments attempt to center the curriculum around African languages and those works of literature that place a focus on the lived experience of African peoples.

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