Abjection in Dambudzo Marechera's The House of Hunger

  • Christopher Wayne University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg
  • Bridget Grogan University of Johannesburg
Keywords: abjection, African literature, corporeality, postcolonialism, psychoanalysis


In a description of nationalist poems about “a golden age of black heroes; of myths and legends and sprites” (Marechera 74), the narrator of The House of Hunger (1978) observes that these themes are the “exposed veins dripping through the body of the poems.” In this article we extend this observation to argue that, metaphorically on display in Marechera’s novella itself, are the “exposed veins dripping through the body of the [text]” (74). The novella’s themes include colonialism, social destitution, violence, state-sanctioned oppression, identity struggles, poverty, dislocation, disillusionment and anger, all of which are appropriately imaged in Marechera’s visceral metaphor of the pain and violence implicit in the literary text. More specifically, corporeal imagery emphasises the unnamed narrator’s troubled existence, suffusing The House of Hunger in a manner that elicits disgust and horror, thus encouraging the reader’s affective response to the representation of the colonial condition. This article illuminates Marechera’s seeming obsession with corporeality by providing a postcolonial and psychoanalytic reading, focussing in particular on Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection. Although critics have objected to reading African texts through the lens of psychoanalysis, the article sets out to address this concern, noting the importance of theorists like Frantz Fanon and Joshua D. Esty in justifying psychoanalytic readings of African literature, and drawing resonant parallels between Kristevan theory and Marechera’s perspective on the colonial condition of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) in the 1970s.

Author Biographies

Christopher Wayne, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg

Christopher Wayne is a master’s candidate at the University of Johannesburg and a Global Excellence Scholarship recipient. His research area is marginal identities and abjection.

Bridget Grogan, University of Johannesburg

Bridget Grogan is a senior lecturer and NRF rated researcher in the Department of English at the University of Johannesburg. She is currently researching corporeality and metaphors of the body in Southern African writing.


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