Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

“Even when not reading it, I can hear the music. The choice and arrangements of the words, the cadence, I can’t pick any one thing that makes it so beautiful and long-lived in my memory. I realize that even written words can carry the music I loved in stories; it is a descriptive statement. It does not carry an illustration. It is a picture in itself and yet more than a picture and a description. It is music. Written words can also sing”(Thiong’o 65).

Thinong’o, Ngugi Wa. Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir. New York: Anchor, 2011. Print.

In this scene, Ngugi is describing “a drawing of a man, an ax on the ground, his face grimacing with pain as he holds his left knee in both hands, drops of blood trickling down”(64). Ngugi is also describing the words in the caption below the drawing is describing what he sees based on his senses: what he hears and sees. “One day, I start hearing music in the words,” he is metaphorically hearing the music and describing the music and the words together. In my own writing, I would like to try and take something concrete, like a descriptive statement, and show its beauty through my senses. For example, what does this cup of coffee smell like, taste like, and sound like in the context of my overall piece?

What is a poetic device and can it be used in prose?
Key terms to define:
1. Metaphor
2. Simile
3. Personification
4. Alliteration

Ngugi also transitions nicely throughout Dreams in a Time of War. At times, my writing can seem “dream-like” because it is fragmented in terms of structure. Ngugi is using his memory and imagination in this memoir but the structure is not fragmented (like memories and imagination can be). For example page 96-97 he transitions from one chapter to the next nicely. Ngugi is told by his father to leave and to stop playing with the other children. His father wanted him and his brother to follow his mother. “We did not have a chance to say farewell to the other children and tell them that we had been banished from their company and from the place that up to then had defined our lives. But before leaving home, I was able to dash into my mother’s hut to retrieve my school material, among which was my beloved torn copy of stories from the Old Testament”(96). The next chapter begins with, “The expulsion was, if not from paradise, from the only place I had known”(97). Here, he is using a concrete object, the Old Testament, to transition with a metaphoric image of “paradise.” He is comparing the idea of his expulsion of home to the expulsion of paradise and because he previously gave a concrete image of the Old Testament the transition reads clearly.

Questions for an In-class Discussion:
Where does Ngugi Thinong’o use poetic devices in his memoir? How does his use of poetic devices serve the image in the text?
How does the author use concrete descriptions and metaphors as a transition between scenes?

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