In some ways, grief is the primary driving force behind the action of Weep Not, Child. Boro is driven to join the Mau Mau to assuage his grief over his brother Mwangi's death in World War II. Ngotho's resentments are fueled by grief over losing his family's land to the British. Similarly, grief drives Njoroge's spiritual evolution. Nothing can undermine his faith in God until Ngotho dies, at which point Njoroge stops praying. Similarly, Jacobo's death prevents Njoroge from being with Mwihaki, because she must care for her mother. As the characters cope with the deaths of their loved ones, their overwhelming grief slowly dissolves into a sense of duty that allows them to transcend their misery. Although Njoroge is nearly driven to suicide by Mwihaki's rejection and his father's death, it is the necessity of caring for his mothers (which he would not have to do if Ngotho were alive) that ultimately saves him.
As Ngugi notes on several occasions, race is not the only obstacle that prevents the characters from pursuing their goals in life. They are arguably even more hampered by their social class. This applies to poor characters like Kamau, who must persist with the carpentry apprenticeship he dislikes in order to support his family. However, even upper-class characters find that their upbringing prevents them from being truly free. For example, Mwihaki's affection for Njoroge is hampered by her famiy's wealth, and the expectations that come from that. Similarly, Stephen Howlands must attend boarding school in England even though he feels more at home in Kenya, and does not want to leave. Njoroge has a great hope that education will help bridge the gap of social class, but circumstances cede his education before he can test that theory.
Ngotho and Mr. Howlands share a fierce dedication to the land. At the center of their relationship is the central problem of the colonial presence in Kenya, and hence to the novel's main conflicts. Each has his own deep connection to the land. Land is an important part of Gikuyu culture, an indicator of a family. Mr. Howlands seems to have embodied some of this sentiment, despite his racism. However, 'land' does not refer only to the physical space used for living and farming. By the end of the novel, it has acquired a multi-dimensional meaning. In addition to Mr. Howlands's shamba, the concept of land has come to include the people who live on it. (Indeed, Ngugi suggests that dispossessing a people of their land is not enough to separate them from it; the connection is too strong.) “When the time for Njoroge to leave [for secondary school] came near," Ngugi writes, "many people contributed money so that he could go. He was no longer the son of Ngotho but the son of the land” (115). Land, with all its profundity, is what the Africans lost to the British, and what they are fighting to regain.
One of the major questions that Weep Not, Child raises is whether love is a strong enough force to transcend suffering. The pure love between Njoroge and Mwihaki certainly proves resilient over the course of novel: “Her world and Njoroge’s world stood somewhere outside petty prejudices, hatreds and class differences," Ngugi writes (97). However, the novel's ending suggests that love may endure, but that it cannot change a person's circumstances. Although the two young people want to run away and live together in Uganda, they are ultimately bound by a stronger sense of duty to their parents and their country. Part of the story's tragedy is that individuality is helpless before greater forces beyond anyone's control.
Weep Not, Child is full of evidence that infighting between Africans was a major problem during the Mau Mau uprising. Ngugi suggests that some of it may have been justified; for instance, Jacobo is a truly villainous character, and we are meant to sympathize with Ngotho when he attacks him. However, Ngugi is very explicit about the fact that such infighting ultimately played into the hands of the British, driving wedges between Africans and making the conflict more violent than was necessary. The difference between the reputations of Jomo and Dedan Kimathi reveal how significant the ideological differences amongst Africans had become. When Njoroge and Stephen Howlands discuss the causes of prejudice, their insights offer a way for Africans to move beyond their differences and fight for the common good. The tragedy is that individual desires are often useless before larger social forces that in many ways hurt everyone.
Women's role in society
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 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, motivated young women face if they try to pursue an education. The narrator suggests that Mwihaki's sense of obligation to her family, and the restrictive convent atmosphere of her school, prevented her from doing as well as she might in other circumstances. Njoroge's mothers, Nyokabi and Njeri, are other examples of strong women, although they occupy more traditional roles in society than Mwihaki or Lucia do. Njeri in particular shows a strong intellect and courage when she is arrested, and Nyokabi takes great initiative in arranging for Njoroge to attend school. Together, the mothers show that women play just as important a role in improving society as men do - provided they live under a relatively tolerant patriarch like Ngotho.
Njoroge turns to many different sources of comfort as conditions deteriorate in his village: school, religion, and his love for Mwihaki are some examples. Yet the only force that stands between him and suicide at the end of the book is his sense of duty to his mothers, who will be alone and destitute if he dies. Mwihaki rejects him because she, too, must care for her mother. For Ngugi, family loyalty is the ultimate bond. One of the primary challenges his characters face is deciding how to best stay loyal to their family in a time of conflict and contradictions. Boro is a particularly complex example of this question. Ngotho orders him to stop fighting with the Mau Mau, but Boro feels he must continue in order to avenge his father's death, and to fight for a better future for his younger siblings. Whether to defend one's family by immediately providing or by fighting for their progeny (in terms of rebellion or, in Njoroge's case, education) is a question posed, but not answered, by the novel.
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...