Literature Review : All art is propaganda- a study of A Tragedy of lives, women in prison in Zimbabwe.

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compiled by florence Madzikatire

The ensuing article discusses the above assertion with reference to texts studied on the course. Firstly, the term propaganda is going to be defined followed by a brief outline on how it works. In this definition, other views of artists who support it are noted. After this, the term purists is also defined and a closer look is taken at these as well as their philosophy and arguments. This is followed by a discussion in favor of the view while evidence is drawn from A Tragedy of lives, and On the road again by Musengezi et al and Nyamubaya respectively as well as other secondary texts. In order to balance the discussion, a counter view of the assertion is also brought to light as the essay comes to a conclusion.

what is propaganda?


Propaganda is the spreading of ideas, information and or rumors for the purpose of influencing people(Glasser 1983). Such art encourages the perceiver, reader, viewer or audience to react favourably or unfavorably to a particular product, people information or ideas. In literature, propaganda uses techniques such as emotional diction, bandwagoning, testimonials, repetition, puns and visual imagery. However it should be noted that in as much as propaganda can be used for ill reasons such as brainwashing the masses, it can also be used for good such as to evoke a sense of consciousness by criticising and asking thought provoking questions.

who are purists?


Purists can be described as a group of people who pay attention to correctness of procedures. They are in favor of using art for its sake and nothing else. For instance, if the art is supposed to inform, it has to do just that. According to purists, the decision to love, hate, affiliate or disassociate one with the message should rest entirely on the receiver of the message. Any act or behavior which tries to persuade,, influence, and or coerce the reader, according to purists is morally wrong.


To begin with, one may out rightly agree to the assertion that all art is propaganda and ever must be .According to Ngugi(1983), a writer after all comes from a particular class, gender, race and nation . He is a product of an actual social process… therefore [he] tries to persuade his or her readers to make them not only view a certain reality but also from a certain angle of vision .It can be noted that the text A tragedy of lives is propagandist literature trying to drive home the idea that of the plight of women in prison in Zimbabwe. The fact that the interviewers and interviewees are both women evokes empathy and therefore may influence the reader to advocate for women’s rights.

A tragedy of lives.


Testimonials are also instrumental in the spreading propaganda. They make the reader understand as well as associate his or herself to the one that is giving the testimony(Stanely 2015). In A tragedy of lives, the unedited narrations of each individual can be said to serve the purpose of making each story subjective and credible. For instance, Maureen was banished and lived in rural by her husband who did not allow her to visit him in the towns. What is sad about the story is how he came and took all her produce in the farm and left her nothing. It should be noted that the first person ‘I’ in all the stories makes the reader identify with each prisoner thereby altering their perception of the prisoner.


Another aspect which makes A tragedy of lives viewed as a vehicle for propaganda is repetition. One notes that the repetition is seen in form of a trend.

Almost all the stories in the collection are tied together with a string of poverty. Every narrator in this collection committed crime in order to run away from or mitigate poverty. Elizabeth married young to escape povertyp68, Mercy’s family lived in abject poverty, so is Sheila and a dozen more. The repetition of this trend subtly makes the reader to view poverty as the real enemy. Other critiques suggest that this trend makes the reader dawn to the idea that there are some crimes of need and crimes of greed (Mawire 2015).

cover page of the original text, shot by
florence Madzikatire


In addition, emotional diction as well as an innocent tone which are vehicles of propagandistic tendencies are also employed and evident in the text. The narrators are made to tell their stories from birth to the present day. This holistic approach serves to make the reader understand. It makes him be persuaded that there are a lot of contributory factors. These factors pushes one to commit crime.

For example Rosemary is sexually abused as a child while her mother was in jail. This led to her psychological and physical scarring. Throughout the text, one can note these. Lack of education, poor background, abusive spouses and relatives, ignorance of the law and the need to defend one’s self and survive causes crime. Even after incarceration, the unforgiving society makes these women miserable. After reading the text, Maria, Chipo, Violet and others to the reader may be just victims instead of villains.

Another characteristic of propaganda is a focused gaze on an issue. The text A tragedy of lives is based on women in prison in Zimbabwe. While excluding men in prison who supposedly are facing the same challenges as those of these women. According to some scholars, this focused gaze or point of view has the potential to make certain issues issues while it obscures other issues. As a result, the focus and empathy of the reader is drawn as they empathies with women. However, another reader may be driven to feel the exact for men although they are excluded.

to some, womanhood itself is a form of imprisonment.

Talk of Freedom Nyamubaya’s work.


On the road again by Freedom Nyamubaya is another text which can be viewed as propaganda as the poet raises a number of issues in her poetry through imagery, similes and juxtapositioning. Nyamubaya raises issues of neo-colonialism, the bareness of independence as well as the place and the position of a woman during the struggle for liberation. In the poem ‘Daughter of the soil’, she brings to light that women also participated in the war not only as cooks and informants but also in the battle. The line ‘a sister of the motherland who sought freedom and justice for her people’ shows that women too participated and had freedom and justice in mind and at heart.


Furthermore, the poem ‘A mysterious marriage’ is a tool which succeeds in making the reader question the independence of 1980. The poet likens the marriage that of a woman and a man with the relationship between freedom and independence.
‘you can’t be a husband without a wife’
The line shoes how independence is barren without freedom. This view is supported by Gomo (2010) who states that unempowered choice is not freedom. This drives home the idea that for it to be called independence, it should have qualities of freedom.


However, it can be argued that all art is not propaganda.

Other writes or artists use art for its sake without any intention to coerce, influence, persuade or make the reader perceive something from a certain point of view. A sociologist called Clifford Morgan proved that in as much as one can be influenced by his or her affiliations to convince others to take his side, he or she is able to produce work of art that is independent, although to a lesser extent.


In a nutshell, one may conclude that all art is propaganda and ever must be. This is due to the idea that the society one is in has a great effect on how he thinks and perceives certain aspects of life(Haralambos 1983). The reader also is not passive in this case. He or she decides to make the writer influence him or not.


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