“Aaa! You could never tell what these people would do. In spite of the fact that they were all white, they killed one another with poison, fire and big bombs that destroyed the land.”
This passage introduces the issues of ethnic unity and intra-racial conflict – themes that were important in the real Mau Mau uprising as well as in the novel. Ngotho tries to understand the reasons for the two world wars, but he does not grasp that Europeans tend to privilege their national identity over their 'whiteness.' To Ngotho, it is self-evident that Africans must unite against the white people that oppress them. However, Ngugi calls this belief into question over the course of the novel by highlighting the conflicts that arise within the Gikuyu tribe (as well as the prejudices the characters have against members of other tribes). Here, he illustrates that white people and black people alike have problems with intra-racial conflict that they must transcend if they wish to better society.
“Any man who had land was considered rich. If a man had plenty of money, many motor cars, but no land, he could never be counted as rich. A man who went with tattered clothes but had at least an acre of red earth was better off than the man with money.”
Early in the novel, Ngugi concisely explains the traditional Gikuyu view of wealth, in which land is more important than any other material good. These values play into the conflict between Ngotho and Mr. Howlands. Unlike many European colonists, Mr. Howlands shares the Gikuyu view that the land must be a person's top priority. He sees it as an almost transcendent possession. This affection leads him into a violent struggle for dominance against Ngotho during the 1952-60 Emergency. When Ngotho reflects on the importance of land in this passage, Ngugi foreshadows its role as a determining force in his life, and helps us understand why the loss of land caused a resentment that would eventually manifest so bloodily for Ngotho and his society.
"That’s why you at times hear Father say that he would rather work for a white man. A white man is a white man. But a black man trying to be a white man is bad and harsh."
Each character in Weep Not, Child has a different opinion on how different races should get along. Kamau takes a hard line; he sees ethnic identity as an immutable indicator of a person's identity and destiny. His opinion that black people should not try to emulate white people is consistent with his lack of interest in education and travel. These views make Kamau a foil to Njoroge, who learns as he grows up that it is impossible to generalize about what people of a given race should be like. Of course, most people in the novel feel more like Kamau than they do Njoroge; this explains the hatred of Jacobo. Therefore, Njoroge's optimism has a tragic air, in that the reader can sense it will not manifest into positive results.
“[Njoroge] always thought that schooling was the very best that a boy could have. It was the end of all living. And he wanted everyone to go to school.”
Education has a special importance in Gikuyu culture, and Njoroge in particular sees it as the best way for a person to improve his lot and contribute to society. It is worth noting that Njoroge views education itself as "the end of all living;" he believes that learning has value regardless of what a person does with the knowledge. It is an almost unerring faith in the efficacy of education. This differentiates him from characters like Nyokabi and Ngotho, who see education as a means to secure land and a higher social status. Njoroge's opinion that everyone should go to school is also unusual among the novel's characters. Although Boro, Kamau, and Kori all respect his desire for education and even contribute to his tuition, they each use other methods to pursue their goals. One of the novel's most tragic arcs is Njoroge's eventual realization that education has its limits, and cannot change a violent world.
“Njoroge did not want to be like his father working for a white man, or, worse, for an Indian.”
Njoroge is an unusual character in that he serves dual functions in the novel. First and foremost, he is a unique young man with his own thoughts, quirks, and dreams. However, he is also meant to represent for all Gikuyu youth in his transition from innocence to recognition during the Mau Mau uprising. At the beginning of the novel, Njoroge holds many traditional views about the way people of different races should relate to each other. This is evident in the above quote, which suggests Njoroge believes that people of different races should stay away from each other as much as possible. This attitude will change as he grows older and realizes that empathy can help a person relate to anyone – from Mwihaki, who is from a different family, to Stephen Howlands, whose upbringing has been completely different from Njoroge's own.
“Yes, that’s how your land was taken away. The Bible paved the way for the sword.”
Throughout Weep Not, Child, religious faith provides a source of strength to characters like Njoroge and Isaka. Of course, this entails a contradiction, considering that Christianity arrived with the British, who are the source of many of the problems these characters use faith to address. However, the religious characters skirt this issue by integrating their faith with traditional Gikuyu mythology and values. Kiarie is an example of a character who confronts Christianity directly as a form of cultural colonialism, all the more insidious because so many Gikuyu embrace it. Although Kiarie is the only character who rejects Christianity because of its association with the British, he foreshadows the moments later in the novel when Mwihaki and Njoroge will question their own faith. Further, his recognition of the paradox involved in African Christianity parallels the irony that Njoroge's great faith is largely what ensures a total, suicidal despair at the novel's end. Because he believed so fully, his disappointment was all the more brutal.
“Colour bar was everywhere. Rich Africans could also practise colour bar on the poorer Africans…”
Some readers may recognize the concept of 'colour bar' from South Africa's infamous history of apartheid. There, the Afrikaaner-dominated government also established rules – written and unwritten – that prevented Africans from ascending too high into society's ranks. However, 'colour bar' also plays into the existing divisions between tribes, and especially between rich and poor Africans. Here, the narrator suggests that despite the example set by successful Africans like Jacobo, the obstacles preventing poor Africans from bettering their lives are just as formidable as those preventing middle-class Africans from improving theirs. In other words, Ngugi explores in his novel not only the more overt obstacles like colonialism, but also those that a culture places upon itself. Some hatred and prejudices, he seems to suggest, happen naturally.
“… All white people stick together. But we black people are very divided. And because they stick together, they’ve imprisoned Jomo, the only hope we had. Now they’ll make us slaves. They took us to their wars and they killed all that was of value to us…”
Ngugi's frequent mentions of World War II offer reminders that Boro is not quite right in this quote - "white people" do not always "stick together." However, Boro's insight about black people being divided is essential to understanding the novel's depiction of the Mau Mau uprising. According to Ngugi, one of the reasons the uprising became so catastrophically violent was the disunity between the rebels. The Mau Mau were so quick to execute Africans they suspected of betrayal that they became as feared as the British were. Mr. Howlands explicitly delights in how the divisions between Africans have made it easier for the British to oppress them. Here, as in other places, Nguigi suggests that the divisions that keep people oppressed are not always unnaturally placed upon them from outside, but in fact sometimes come from within, suggesting an inherent human tendency towards prejudice.
“I was thinking that if Jesus knew, really knew, about this thing in our country, He could have stopped it.”
It is arguable that Mwihaki is more a symbol than a character in this novel. She represents purity and peace – everything that Njoroge aspires to. However, late in the novel, she begins to demonstrate a political consciousness of her own. Her loss of religious faith serves as a harbinger of Njoroge's own disillusionment. It represents a feeling that many Gikuyu must have had at the time. Since the discussion from which this quote is taken occurs so close to the time of Isaka's murder, Mwihaki's views serve as a kind of counterargument to the teacher's unshakeable faith in God. Though Njoroge initially balks at her sentiment here, events soon to transpire force him to even more fully repudiate God than she does.
“It’s strange. It’s strange how you do fear something because your heart is already prepared to fear because maybe you were brought up to fear that something, or simply because you found others fearing...”
Stephen Howlands becomes an unlikely source of hope and insight to Njoroge when they meet at a football match. The two boys gradually realize that they have more in common than they knew. They discover that their previous lack of interaction was due to shyness, not animosity. Here, Stephen ponders the way that fears and prejudices spread within a community. He suggests that few people intend to become prejudiced; most are conditioned to be that way by their family and their society. There is an air of tragedy in his assessment, however, since it assumes that an individual cannot counter the attitudes he is taught, but rather becomes victim to them. This tragic assessment is in many ways an echo of what Ngugi suggests throughout the novel - hatred and prejudice seem more inherent than unnatural.
Weep Not, Child Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Weep Not, Child is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Certain aspects of Gikuyu society, like polygamy, female circumcision and wife-beating, may be foreign and even uncomfortable for modern Western readers. But despite its uncritical portrayal of these realities, Weep Not, Child is thoughtful about...
Weep Not, Child is thoughtful about the role of women in a traditional society. Mwihaki's failure to continue to high school is not a reflection on women's abilities to succeed in general, but it does highlight the difficulties that bright,...