A Grain of Wheat

A Grain of Wheat Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What do people expect from Uhuru, and what does it actually bring them?

    Uhuru is the independence from Britain, and it is highly anticipated. The villagers of Thabai have very high expectations, hoping to take back their country from the white man in all things political, economic, and social. They want to have control over their land, their families, their narratives, their churches, their culture, and their ideas of self. They want Kenya, the motherland, to truly be the land of the black man. However, Uhuru will not bring the people everything they want. The legacies of colonialism are pervasive, and the seeds of destruction sown will manifest themselves in decades of strife and turmoil. The community will find it hard to unite since colonial officials and their concomitant of capitalism exacerbated divisions between members. Wambui and Warui are right to be worried: Uhuru is not a panacea.

  2. 2

    Why is General R. an important character in the novel?

    General R. may not initially seem like a particularly significant character, but there is more to him than initially observed. First of all, he is a good example of a morally upright, dedicated soldier of the Movement. Second, he is not boastful or prideful: he seems only to want to serve Kenya. He may then be a model for the community after Uhuru. However, he is not free from guilt, and the violence in which he engaged, particularly that against Reverend Jackson and his own father, render him a somewhat more complicated figure. He sublimates his violent actions and cannot be the voice that the people actually need him to be; it is Mugo whose confession can liberate the people and provide them with a true example of authenticity.

  3. 3

    What is the significance of the MP in the novel?

    Again, the MP may not seem like a particularly important character and only shows up physically in one scene. Nevertheless, he is a potent example of the sort of "loyalist" African of whom the Kenyan people were weary, and to whom the Mau Mau actively dedicated some of their terror tactics. The MP does not care for the people, as evinced by his paternalistic attitude, his outright lie to Gikonyo regarding Burton's land, and his blithe dismissal of attending Uhuru events. He cares only for his power, which was facilitated by the system of colonialism that so oppressed his Kenyan brothers and sisters. Unfortunately for Kenya, men like the MP are not uncommon and represent one of the reasons why the post-colonial country will have a difficult time attaining unity.

  4. 4

    Why is Karanja central to the narrative?

    Karanja, along with Thompson, is one of the antagonists of the novel. He is cruel to Gikonyo and even to his friend Kihika, he seduces Mumbi, and, most damning, betrays his people by becoming one of the homeguard and eventually Chief during the Emergency. He relishes this power and his proximity to the whiteman (Thompson as a symbol for colonial power overall), not caring that his people starve, are beaten, engage in hard labor, and are treated like beasts of burden. However, Karanja, like the MP, acts as a model of what not to do in order to have Uhuru be successful. Making the mistake that the whiteman can ever be a true ally leads one to Karanja's fate: loneliness, exile, and thoughts of suicide.

  5. 5

    What does Mugo's confession mean for him and for the village/Movement?

    Mugo spends much of the novel worrying about himself. He is the epitome of selfishness, carefully guarding his secret and even thinking that he can be a savior of the people after Uhuru. However, after Mumbi confesses to him her own deeply personal and painful story, he realizes that he must unburden himself for both his own sake and for the community as well. It is not easy, and as soon as he utters the truth in his speech he feels the sense of freedom replaced by one of heaviness and fear of dying. This does not take away from the heroism of his action, though, for he saves an innocent man from death and shows the community how honesty, openness, and atonement for one's sins can be redemptive and healing.