After a long hard struggle, In 1963 Kenya was finally on the verge of grasping their long awaited independence from the British. The novel, ‘A Grain of Wheat’, takes the reader back to the period between the fighting and the so-called ‘new world’. It is a true manifestation of emotional individuality of both the colonized and colonizer alike, where they reflect on what has been gained by their triumph, but more importantly what has been lost in their fight for sovereignty.
It is a poignant novel of love, betrayal and sacrifice, which in them selves are strong emotional qualities, and are only emphasized by the narrative. In this extract it becomes clear that Ngugi allows the reader to decide what the characters are feeling by contrasting different events and characters, sometimes even by distinguishing between past and present actions. Therefore it is suggested that through the contrasting narrative Ngugi wants the reader to make certain judgments upon his characters.
The first contrast that comes into light is the revelation of Kihika’s departure to fight in the forest and join the other freedom fighters. This is not surprising to the reader, since we see Kihika’s strong passion, for the cause, formed at a young age where even his ‘heart hardened towards’ the white people before he even saw them. However, what is unanticipated is the reaction of his father who does not seem to understand his son. Being the father of such a hero would certainly suggest that Mbugua would be proud and support Kihika.
Nevertheless Mbugua does not even join the fight and wonders ‘what has come into his head’, suggesting that he does not identify with his son. This shows a true contrast in the opinions of the African people towards the struggle for justice where even family members disagreed. Thus, through the narrative Ngugi may be questioning the validity of the so called ’emergency’, asking whether it was really worth it in light of all the pain and suffering. This idea is confirmed later with Karanja who will not go out to fight in the forest to die.
In the reflection of the past, we see the contrasting outlook of Wambuku and Nyeri towards Kihika leaving. Wambuku calls Kihika’s passion for politics and especially the way in which he is so fanatical about the movement a ‘demon’, again another contrasting opinion toward the emergency. This is reminiscent of when Wambuku asks Kihika ‘ don’t you ever stop talking about politics? ‘ when they are alone in the woods. Wambuku does not seem to understand the reason why he should fight, much like his father she is convinced that Kihika should stay with her.
Consequently Wambuku feels betrayed by Kihika, why should he do this to her? In contrast to this Nyeri seems to understand Kihika’s necessity to fight and consequently to depart, this is emphasized by the fact that she uses the words, ‘my warrior’ to describe him. Wambuku’s misunderstanding concerning the promise that Kihika made to her further highlights her feelings of betrayal since Kihika promised that he would be by her side, however spiritually and not physically.
Since one of the elements to the novel is betrayal, through the girls’ separate contrasting delusions Ngugi reveals the heartache that took place and the feelings of disloyalty. Furthermore, this is an illustration of a break up in a relationship caused by the demands of sacrifice that came along with the movement, where Ngugi emphasizes that there are wider events over which his characters have no control over. The narrative then moves on to the relationship between Mumbi and Gikonyo, which in the present are deeply troubled as a cause of Mumbi’s betrayal.
The narrative remains in the past where Mumbi also does not want Gikonyo to go and fight in the forest but in dissimilarity to Wambuku she ‘hated herself for this’. Furthermore, the use of the word ‘cowardice’ suggests that Wambuku’s actions make herself a coward, Therefore Mumbi forces herself not to act in this way but instead be the rock on which her husband can lean on. This aim is consequently revealed by the fact that it was ‘her love and tenderness that saved him’.
By presenting the narrative in this order, Ngugi makes us the readers to compare and contrast the different emotional qualities and make our own judgment upon the characters and where the characters are put into an emotional dilemma, should they give up the one they love for the greater and wider cause? Before this extract we see the relationship between Mumbi and Gikonyo filled with tension as he speaks through his teeth and would rather go over figures than talk to his wife.
This is strongly contrasted with the couple that is presented to the reader in this extract; where there is evidence to suggest that they depend on each other. Again this is another example of the devastating consequences of the fight for freedom, where love disappears and betrayal sets in. When Gikonyo is walking into the detention camp he has very high spirits believing that ‘it will all be over soon’ and that they will be able to sing the ‘new song and the birth of freedom’ However the shift in the narrative describes a entirely different man who is leaving the detention camp.
The narrative follows a man that has been set free and should be full of hope however this is juxtaposed by the fact that he is presented as a sad and pitiful man whose face no longer’ glowed with youth’ but who had a ‘permanent scowl’. The description of the ‘sickly crops’ and the drought contributes to this and reflects Gikonyo’s own state of mind. Therefore with the contrasting description of the feelings of optimism and the feelings of devastation Ngugi illustrates to us the shattering effect of the detention camp and how it could turn hope into fear among the detainees.
This is furthermore demonstrated by the fact that the detainees waited for a hero’s welcome with laurel reefs on their heads nevertheless Gikonyo walks home wearing a hat that he had picked up from the side of the road. This ironic scene is very emotional, especially since the only things that is keeping him going is the thought of the never changing Mumbi, It is a very poignant point in the novel as the reader knows that he will not be returning to his loving wife but a wife who has betrayed him.
The description of the events of history, illustrates the despair that the African men felt in the prison camps, and the reader is made to make a distinction between the fate of Jomo Kenyatta and Young Harry where it seems like ‘the same thing… [is happening], over and over again, through history’ this is consequently what is breaking the detainees spiritually and mentally and is the very thing that effects Gikonyo psychologically.
Young Harry was made to co operate with the British and they fear that everything that they have been fighting for will be lost, however this time more will have been lost. The emotive language emphasizes the detainee’s beliefs in Jomo, in this way the reader is made to understand the strong inner conflict that they feel when he is arrested, this is furthermore highlighted by the clear parallels between the past and the present, where defeat seems like the clear result.
With the story of Gatu’s life, we are again made to contrast the low morale of the detainees and especially Gikonyo. The work that the prisoners had to endure was oppressive since they had to work in queries. The narrative describes their work as being ‘abandoned in a desert’, however this is not referring to a literal desert but rather to a metaphorical one where Gikonyo’s despair is emphasized his fear of dying in the query and being buried by the sand.
This is contrasted by the description that Gatu makes of their homeland. He reminds them of a almost paradise like land, where there is beautiful valley that he describes as home where he lived in harmony. The picture of lying in the sun with fruit and the stream appeals to the detainees, as they are able to identify with it. Therefore Ngugi is trying to show to the reader that not all the detainees were of low spirits, especially with the satirical story of Gatu meeting the Queen of England.
This lively and energetic story brings the spirits of the detainees up, however it can be argued that this is mere entertainment since Gatu only acts in this way as he has an audience. This is contrasted by the fact that when he is alone ‘his face grows weary’. His story of self-sacrifice suggests that Gatu is talking from the heart since there is no humor and he ‘spoke in a voice clear, colorless and not raised’. We are again brought back to the question of sacrifice, according to Gatu Gikonyo must not focus on his own pain or loss but must focus on the cause and remain united.
Throughout the extract we see that there are breaks in relationships as a cause of the fight for independence, where betrayal and sacrifice seem to be the two primal factors in the character’s thoughts the contrast between the past and the present reflects the different emotional qualities of Ngugi’s characters. However the author does not directly demonstrate this through the narrative but allows the reader to make our own conclusion and to deduce our own opinions on the events. I believe that Ngugi is asking the reader to ask themselves one question, was the fight for freedom worth all the pain and the suffering?