In Petals of Blood Thiong’o employs a constantly shifting perspective. The novel is interspersed with numerous long monologues by multiple characters. In these speeches, the reader often learns about some aspect of that character’s past that speaks to larger issues or themes within the novel. As a reader, I found these monologues helpful anchors within the complex narrative structure of the novel. As I reflected on why these speeches stood out to me so much, I realized it was because they provide a dramatic affect that speaks directly to the reader. For me, this creates a sense of realism that helps to draw me in to Thiong’o’s fictional world. Additionally, I started thinking about what purpose these monologues serve in regard to informing the public about colonialism and the struggles of the people of Ilmorog. In class on Thursday, we looked at Fanon’s case studies from Chapter 5 and discussed the possibility of these case studies as serving both a humanizing and individualizing function, one that reveals to the reader the impacts of the colonial struggle on a more individual level. Could it be that monologues also serve the same function in Petals of Blood? If so, what are some of the issues that such individualization brings to light in Thiong’o’s work? One example I would like to look at is Wanja’s speech on 129-34.
Wanja’s speech: The exploitation of Kenyan women in Nairobi
In this monologue Wanja tells the story of being conned into accompanying a wealthy European on a search for a Kenyan woman who has supposedly gone missing. They arrive at a mansion and the man attempts to sexually assault Wanja. Wanja recalls the threatening dog at the man’s house, and how both the man, the dog and herself seem to multiply before her eyes as the man attempts to overtake her in the bedroom. Wanja recalls: “I was frightened and felt weak at the knees. I looked about me and I saw we were many many with many many dogs in endless space. I sat on a bed, or rather several of me sat on several beds in a dream. The man came over, or several men came over, and sat beside us on many beds” (133). In this quote we see how the individual comes to stand in for the collective. Wanja’s experience of a “several” or multiple self comes to represent the experiences of many women who have been sexually assaulted and exploited by white men in Nairobi. This idea is intensified by the premise that has brought Wanja to the house in the first place- the fact that the woman who went missing was the victim of an abusive German man. The multiplication of the man functions to reveal the prevalence of European men preying on Kenyan woman in the capital, and the dogs construct Nairobi as a menacing or threatening place for women. After Wanja escapes from the man and is picked up by a black male friend who is driving down the road, her friend inquires as to whether or not Wanja would recognize the house or the man. Wanja relates, “Then he looked at one place and said: It is no use. This is what happens when you turn tourism into a national religion and build it shrines of worship all over the country” (134). These lines are important, because in the way that they explicitly link the idea of women’s exploitation in Kenya with capitalistic forces such as the international tourism market, they serve as both a protestation of such exploitation and a defense of women’s rights.