In both Ngugi’s “Devil on the Cross” and Naguib’s “Miramar” we see a distinctive use of polyphony to convey both the political stances and social viewpoints of the authors. Although, the use of this literary technique differs between the two novels, the authors both have the same intention of persuading the reader to agree with their personal stand-point.
Ngugi’s use of this literary narrative technique consists of describing the argument that he is attempting to put across to the reader, from the perspective of all of the characters to portray it in a light that leaves no room for reasonable doubt, where upon in “Miramar” Naguib manipulation of the narrative is more subtle at commenting upon the social class divides and barriers in the Egyptian society of the era in which it was written.
To consider now, how this use of polyphony affects the readers of “Miramar” the aim of Naguib must first be questioned. Upon interpretation the character Zohra can be seen as a crucial part of the novel despite not having a section to narrate her side of the story. The reason for this could be that Naguib wanted to use Zohra as a symbol for his notion of an ideal, modern Egyptian. Being a religious Egyptian himself, there are evident influences of his native culture, in the representation of this ideal Egyptian, Zohra.
However, this concept of Zohra being a semiotic for Egypt is not the only point to consider whilst interpreting the narrative structure’s impact; rather, it is the interaction between Zohra and the different narrators in the novel, that is crucial to analyse . This is especially important, as the different narrators are all from different backgrounds and can be clearly discerned as representations of the different Egyptian social classes. The intention of Naguib could most definitely be, to help the reader understand the varying lives of people from the different social classes in Egypt and the problems that arise because of these divides.
An interpretation as to the reason why Zohra doesn’t have her own section to narrate could be because of the fact that, as stated previously, she is the symbol of Egypt, and quite simply she represents the struggle Egypt faces when fairly telling its own story. Instead of being given the chance to speak freely the novel is only told by people who have been influenced by the “Wafd” or “the revolution” or even the colonists, and therefore they are tainted, and no longer considered pure of mind.
There is an unmistakable feeling of Naguib’s resentment towards the way “times have changed. This bitterness is especially impressed upon the reader regarding the new beliefs that people should be separated into social class groups and is present throughout the narrative of each character. Especially in Amer Wagdi’s narration, as the reader can almost imagine Naguib speaking in place of Amer when describing that they are foolish “obstacles” that separates Zohra from her love, Sarhan, because although “times have changed,” “young men haven’t changed”. In a similar style to Naguib, Ngugi also uses a female character to symbolise his country.
In “Devil on the Cross” Wariinga is clearly intended to be interpreted by Ngugi as a symbol of Kenya and Ngugi has also, like Naguib, used the narrative to help enhance the symbolic interpretation of the interaction between Wariinga and the characters around her. However, Ngugi’s use of autobiographical narrative is highly differentiated from Naguib’s in the sense that Ngugi merges the narrative voice unnoticeably into the tone of the character in which he is focusing on. Ngugi does this especially in the “Matatu” chapter of the novel.
This is a highly symbolic scene, used to portray the perspectives of each character, and these perspectives are particularly important as each character is an exemplary representation of the different social classes and backgrounds in Kenya. As this autobiographical narrative is used, it makes the reader empathise more and become more emotionally attached to the characters because they can relate personally, where as attempting to relate to the masses of people that these characters are representation would depersonalise the interaction Ngugi is trying to achieve between the reader and the story.
Wangari, a character who is easily recognised as a symbol for the “Old Kenya” and the “Old Haraambe” is a clear example of this shift into an autobiographical narrative as her thoughts are written to the reader, revealing a greater insight into there character than is otherwise normal, this is particularly important as her saga tells the story of the Kenya before the colonists. It is through her history that the audience is able to discern the passionate feelings Ngugi holds of resentment towards the capitalist society that Kenya has become.
Focusing more on this conviction of scorn held by Ngugi, the “Matatu” is also a vastly important chapter of “Devil on the Cross” because of its use of Socratic dialogue. Likewise to Naguib, Ngugi uses a character of his plot as a medium to express his feelings towards what his country has evolved to. Considering now Wangari, the poor, woman who, “wore no shoes” and “fought for [the] country’s independence” is definitely the mouthpiece for Ngugi as he himself has fought and is still fighting, even with this novel, for the independence of Kenya.
Moreover, the juxtaposition of this Socratic dialogue is even more effective as it is placed in direct opposition to the materialistic, and greedy views of Mwaura, the foreign minded matatu driver who measures “Independence not [by the] tales about the past but the sound of money in one’s pocket”; a parallel with this character can clearly be drawn between him and one of the people in “Western suits,” who “took the devil off the cross. ” Contrastingly, unlike Devil on the Cross, Miramar’s revolutionists, are not fighting the same cause, and are in fact met with the same praise as Wangari was by the rest of the Kenyan’s in the matatu.
The revolutions of Miramar are, although quite central to the plot, often talked about but yet never given a voice of their own. These revolutionists goal in Miramar isn’t as simple as encouraging the revolution, however, they are in fact symbolic of the greater problems in Egypt, because the characters never verbally oppose the revolution (the problems in Egypt since the colonial occupation) as they are afraid of the outcome, however, in their hearts they know it will never work.
Another crucial point in assessing the novel is the way in which Naguib manipulates the narrative is through the language used by each character helps to shift the tone of the narrative. It is crucial in understanding the feelings Naguib has towards this social class. For example, minor sentences showed in the free indirect discourse in the opening of Hosny Allam’s account helps to create a good impression to the reader of what this character’s temperament will be.
The “progeny of whores” who “push you noses in the mud” described right in the opening paragraph is more than enough to nderstand that Hosny Allam is a bitter character. To interpret this further, the reader can also question accordingly, the social class in which Hosny Allam the “gentleman of property” represents and uses the portrayal of his character to interpret the feelings held by Naguib towards this social class. As Naguib has deliberately used mainly pejorative vocabulary in the syntax of Hosny’s it is clear that he wants the readers to dislike this character and therefore have negative feelings towards people of his class.
In conclusion, after a close analysis of the literary techniques coinciding with the narrative structures and styles used by both Naguib and Ngugi, it is more than plausible to say that these two novels are both highly critical and greatly detailed in not only their poetic language used but the significant features of their intricately structured narrative and they more than achieve their aims of informing the world of their political stance against corruption.
Courtney from Study Moose
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