A Critical Comparative Reading of Nationalism in Pramoedya A. Toer and Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Sunardi D.


This article tries to explore how the conception, birth, and development of novel can become a tool to shed lights to our understanding of the conception, birth, and development of nationalism. The discussion departs from a powerful finding by Edward Said that prominent exiles he happened to know and befriend with had deliberately chosen to be novelists. According to Said, the choice to write novels was fueled by intense feeling of homelessness, which in turn took shape in dream of an imaginary homeland. Novel as a genre is in perpetual search for epic; and since that epic is elusive, what novel can offer is an imagined form. It is in this shared feeling, the same desire to imagine a perfect home, the constant fabrication of narratives of the epic past, the invention of quasi-sacred texts alongside with the heroes and enemies, the dynamics of including and excluding of people that novel and nationalism inform each other. As reader, we turn to postcolonial Kenyan Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat and Indonesian Toer’s This Earth of Mankind. By commenting on the main characters of these novels we make intellectual exploration into the idea of nationalism. The results are two tentative conclusions regarding the relationship between novel and nationalism, i.e. (1) the pretense of novel to be epic is comparable to the claim of nationalism as the historically overarching set of identity of modern society, and (2) the dynamics of the characters in novel is a metonymy of the dynamics of nationalism bildungsroman.


Identity; invention; nationalism; novel.

Full Text:



Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined communities: Reflec-tions on the origin and spread of nationalism. London and New York: Verso.

Cheah, P. (2003). Spectral nationality: Passages of freedom from Kant to postcolonial literatures of liberation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Foulcher, K. & Day. T. (Eds.). (2002). Clearing a space: Postcolonial readings of modern Indonesia literature. Leiden, NL: KITLV Press.

McKeon, M. (Ed.). (2000). Theory of the novel: A Historical approach. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.

Meyer, M.J. (2012). The Thawiphop phenomenon: reimagining nationalism in a contemporary Thai Novel and its stage and screen adaptations. In Liamputtong, P. (Ed.), Contemporary socio-cultural and political perspectives in Thailand. (125-139). The Netherlands: Springer Netherlands.

Ngugi, J. (1967). A grain of wheat. London, Nairobi, Ibadan: Heinemann.

Ogude, J. (1999). Ngugi’s novel and african history: Narrating the nation. London and Sterling, VA.

Renan, E. (1882). What is a nation ? Retrieved from Cicada of Clark University, MA on May 9, 2011.

Rushdie, S. (1992). Imaginary homelands: Essays and criticisms 1981-1991. New York: Penguins Books.

Said, E. (2000). Reflections on exile and other essays. Cambridge, MA: Convergences.

Toer, P.A. (1999). The mute’s soliloquy. New York: Hyperion East.

Toer, P.A. (1990). This Earth of Mankind, translated by Max Lane, New York: Penguins Books.

Vermeulen, P. (2014). “The novel and the nation: The case of David Grossman’s see under: Love”. Neophilologus. Vol. 96, Issue 1, 1-15.


The Journal is published by The Institute of Research & Community Outreach - Petra Christian University. It is available online supported by Directorate General of Higher Education - Ministry of National Education - Republic of Indonesia

©All right reserved 2016.K@ta, ISSN: 1411-2639, e-ISSN: 2302-6294

View My Stats