The use of metaphor and allegory in Petals of Blood serves to illuminate the struggles of characters within the context of the colonial struggle. The epigraph that opens Part One: Walking… is taken from Revelations 6:1-8, in which the narrator witnesses the breaking of the seals and the emergence of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that
sat thereon had a bow: and there was given unto him a crown:
and he came forth conquering, and to conquer…
And another horse came forth, a red horse: and to him that
sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth, that they should
slay one another: and was there given unto him a great sword…
And I saw, and behold, a black horse; and he that sat thereon
had a balance in his hand…
And I saw, and behold, a pale horse: and he that sat
upon him, his name was Death…
And there was given unto them authority over the fourth part of
earth, to kill with sword and with famine, and with death.
Revelations 6:1-8 (abridged)
While more mainstream interpretations vary, to me, Ngugi’s use of these verses inspire us to draw from it an immediate relation between the arrival of the Horsemen to the world, and the arrival of the West to Africa. The riders are often named as Conquest, War, Famine (in the sense of food supplies being controlled), and Death. I’m still not clear about Ngugi’s intention – my own interpretation is preliminary, at best – but given the conversations we’ve engaged in during class about the role of Christianity in Petals of Blood and the African novel on a wider scale, I’ll be interested in thinking things through a little bit more.
This is by no means the only example of metaphor or allegory in Petals of Blood. We can perhaps take the social context of Ilmorog itself as an allegorical reference to the post-colonial changes in Kenya, in that it is representative of the wider social movements taking place. Ngugi, in the later chapters, is making a very clear message about the place of capitalism and post-colonial structures. The relation of the “Mother Africa” literary trope to themes of prostitution appear in Petals of Blood; when Wanja sets up a brothel, it is because it is the only option she feels she has left. Ngugi is implying, perhaps, that this is reminiscent of the way Africa was first divided among the Western powers, and later how Africa was forced to “sell itself” and its products to the highest bidder.
There are many more examples of how Ngugi uses metaphor and allegory in Petals of Blood – I find it interesting that the title itself, having already been changed from Ballad of a Barmaid, appears repeatedly throughout the novel with a number of different meanings. Allegorically, the book aims to reflect the perceived post-colonial Kenyan state by using events, places, and characters that mirror the reality of the actual post-colonial Kenya – Ngugi’s critique of capitalism and Western power made scaldingly clear.