This essay examines the production of the sign ‘woman’ in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s early novel The River Between.' The analysis of signs and of signifying systems in the novel is only viable if one examines the movements of history that have facilitated and necessitated the production of signs. Equally, it is important to examine the subject-formation of the historical person, (James) Ngugi, who acts as an agent of particular discursive practices, motivated by specific ideological interests. The River Between provides insight into a pivotal moment in Kenyan history — that of the Kenyan circumcision debate.2 This historical moment is interesting for three reasons. Firstly, it highlights the contest between conflicting power bases (traditionalism, education, Christian revivalism, Gikuyu nationalism) in colonial Kenya. Secondly, the debate is particularly revealing of the Gikuyu woman’s production as a subject under conflicting discourses and her marginalisation from political debate (since she becomes the site of contest in the debate). Thirdly, Ngugi’s re-presentation of the debate in The River Between points to his own ideological unease in relation to the discourses that inform his novel.



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