From A Grain of Wheat

by Sofia

I finished it last night. I really like the parallel between the two men’s loves for Mumbi and their relationship with white, colonial power. Ngũgĩ is able to communicate his own complex judgement on the issue through Mumbi’s actions at the end.

I also like the nuance Ngũgĩ introduces into the text: the characters are labelled by each other as traitors and freedom fighters, but Ngũgĩ shows us this distinction is never hard and fast.

He had gone to see Kihika hang from a tree. He had searched his heart for one has pity or sorrow for a lost friend. Instead, he found only disgust; the body was hideous; the dry lips over which a few flies played, were ugly. What is freedom? Karanja had asked himself. Was death like that freedom? Was going to detention freedom?  Was any separation from Mumbi freedom? Soon after this, he confessed the oath and joined the homeguards to save his own life. (230)

The ambiguity and anti-climactic nature of the end is powerful, because it’s more truthful. When the Wars of Independence were finally won from Spain in Latin America, initially almost nothing changed for most people. It would have been insulting to declare otherwise in either of these cases. A Grain of Wheat makes it easy to understand why decades later, countries that have won their glorious independence can still be deeply broken. A system built on gashes and wounds takes a lot of time and transformation before it can grow strong.

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