In recent years, many of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s critics have attended to the narrative style of the author’s novel, Petals of Blood. In Postcolonialism in the Wake of the Nairobi Revolution, Apollo Obonyo Amoko argues that Ngugi’s style in this novel is full of narrative interruptions—speakers jostling one another in order to tell their stories. Critics tend to agree that the novel asks the reader to perform untangling work to straighten out this fragmented narrative style. Patrick Williams, in Ngugi wa Thiong’o, points out that the characters in this novel all seem isolated, carrying unresolved histories, but that they are all interconnected, and this understanding of their solidarity and connection leads to a clear vision for the future.
My paper will take these conversations about narrative as an opportunity to analyze the ways in which Petals of Blood represents various personal and public traumas. The paper will draw on Cathy Caruth’s arguments in Unclaimed Experience, in which she says that a fragmented literary style is a productive means of representing and understanding trauma. Though, of course, using this western theory can be problematic, as Hamish Dalley has pointed out in his book The Postcolonial Historical Novel. There are significant complications to using trauma theory, a western theory developed out of the particular historical moment of the Holocaust, and imposing this western theory onto African literature. This paper will grapple with the problems of using trauma theory, demonstrating how it is indeed helpful to use Caruth’s theory as a lens through which we can better understand Ngugi’s project in Petals of Blood.