A Grain of Wheat

A Grain of Wheat Literary Elements


Novel; Historical Fiction

Setting and Context

Kenya, 1963 and flashbacks to the late 1950s

Narrator and Point of View

Multiple narrators: first person omniscient, and third person omniscient.

Tone and Mood

Varies. At times hopeful, breathless, excited, and celebratory. At times disillusioned, apprehensive, and unsettled.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonists: Mugo; Mumbi Antagonists: Karanja; DO Thompson

Major Conflict

Whether Mugo will admit he betrayed Kihika, and what that will mean for the community; whether Uhuru will bring about positive change.


Mugo's confession at the Uhuru ceremony.


-"Was the dog's threat a prelude to disaster, thought Karanja?" (153); this foreshadows the drama of Uhuru and Karanja's veritable exile
-"Everybody waited for something to happen" (199) at Uhuru; soon Mugo would confess his great secret
-"The wind and the rain were so strong that some trees were uprooted whole, while others broke by the stems, or lost their branches" (200) on the night of Uhuru foreshadows the difficulties of the next day and of Kenya's post-colonial struggles in general
-On the eve of Uhuru, "...we all vaguely expected that something extraordinary would happen. It was not exactly a happy feeling; it was more a disturbing sense of doom" (212)


-"Let us talk about the child" (242) is Gikonyo's way of saying that he and Mumbi ought to reconsider their whole relationship and pledge themselves to each other again.


-There are many allusions to WWII, such as "...tanks last seen on the road during Churchill's war with Hitler" (4)
-Harry Thuku is seen encouraging people to ask Pharaoh to let his people go (12)
-Mumbi compares herself to Esther from the Bible (75)


See Imagery section.


A grain of wheat must fall to the earth and die before it can bring about new life. This is the message of the novel's title.



Metonymy and Synecdoche



-"Let the sun find you already there and it'll not be a match for you" (2)
-"The world had conspired against him, first to deprive him of his father and mother, and then to make him dependent on an aging harridan" (7)