A study of masculinity, memory and trauma in Niq Mhlongo’s Way Back Home.
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In this dissertation I explore the representations of ‘struggle’ masculinity and the trauma of black masculinity in Niq Mhlongo’s Way Back Home (2013). My primary focus in this regard is Kimathi, the novel’s protagonist. I begin with situating the novel in the current literary landscape as a posttransitional novel (Frenkel and MacKenzie 2010). I rely on readings on the phenomenology of gender by Raewyn Connell (1995 and 2005) to illustrate how Kimathi subscribes to a harmful form of hegemonic masculinity. Marrying Connell’s concept with Pumla Dineo Gqola’s (2007 and 2009) commentaries on the performance of ‘spectacular’ masculinities in South Africa, I argue that Kimathi is interpellated by the radicalised ideals of the anti-apartheid struggle. Reading Judith Butler (2002) in conjunction with Frantz Fanon (1986), I examine the intersections of race, gender and history to discuss how the ‘woundedness’ of Kimathi’s postcolonial male identity is masked by an exaggerated performance of masculinity. In relation to his performance I consider how greed and corruption are presented as masculine qualities in the novel, and how the satirisation of male greed is intended as a criticism of South Africa’s ruling elite. I explore how the novel invokes the uncanny, and foregrounds Kimathi’s repression of crimes he committed against the character Senami. I argue that Senami, as a ghost and an uncanny figure in the present of the text, signifies a return of the repressed. Through her journey, the novel advocates for the import and ethics of remembering the past. The return of the repressed also has a broader socio-political significance, as it resonates with issues in the post-apartheid social text. Consequently, I offer an intertextual analysis of how Way Back Home speaks to the silences in memory left by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which contribute to the unresolved trauma felt by many South Africans. Finally, I discuss the polysemy and ambivalence of ‘home’ in the novel, as both a place of belonging and a place of origin, but also as a repository of history. I apply Homi Bhabha’s (1992) theory on the “unhomely” to explore Kimathi’s psychic disorientation as an exile-at-home. I argue that the loss of home (material and spiritual) constitutes a trauma of displacement for Kimathi and Senami. I consider what the return home involves for these characters, and whether this return suggests the possibility of closure, both for them and for South Africa as a nation. As a concluding point, I observe how the novel invokes Njabulo Ndebele’s (2010) assertion that we have “yet to return home” to justice and the ideals of democracy, implied in the novel’s preference for retributive, rather than restorative, justice.