A Grain of Wheat

A Grain of Wheat Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-13


Chapter 9

When Mugo was arrested he ended up at Rira, which was in a remote and dry part of Kenya. Thompson had also been stationed there after his success at Yala. He was known for a strategy of being kinder to the prisoners and thus getting them to talk, but he was shocked it did not seem to work here with the silent, staring prisoners. Mugo at least said his name but nothing else, and Thompson grew frustrated. He began to torture Mugo in fury but never got a cry out of him. This led to the other prisoners admiring Mugo’s courage.

One day the detainees decided to go on a hunger strike, pushing Thompson to the edge of madness. Someone threw a stone at one of the warders and the men were locked up and beaten for extended periods of time; eleven died.

Mugo walks to Gikonyo’s home, thinking of his past. He is prepared to tell everyone he will save them, he will speak and lead the people. When he arrives only Mumbi is there and he wants to leave, but her presence is hard to resist and he agrees to tea. He wants to leave but stays when she tells him she dreams–dreams that are real; dreams of sacrifice. She asks if he remembers Wambuku, whom he rescued from the trench. It was said she was pregnant when she was beaten because after Kihika left she slept with everyone she could. Mumbi also mentions Njeri, who fought with Kihika and died in battle not long after he did.

Mugo tries to leave but Mumbi says she never talks about this with anyone. He feels weak before her. She says she wants to talk about her husband and he says he knows about Karanja.

She continues to talk, speaking of how she and Wangari each had a hut and they were burnt while Gikonyo was in detention, which was devastating to them both. Afterwards, African trading centers were closed and people had to move to different villages. Mumbi and other women worked like men on rebuilding huts, but could not finish by the deadline of the white men. Karanja often came and offered them food. She remembered that he had asked her to marry him not long after she’d accepted Gikonyo. Not long after this Kihika was hanged and Thabai had to pay for this. Karanja joined the homeguards and she could not believe it. A trench was built to surround the village and everyone was a veritable prisoner. They had no food and the children cried out. One day they sang, remembering Wambuku, who died.

Mugo listens to this scene and Mumbi continues. She speaks of Thabai as a warning, a place where people were dying. She said Karanja came and offered her food once but she refused it, and then he came again and she accepted it so they would not die. He said he did not betray Kihika and she believed him. In this time twenty-one women and men died. She did not want more help from Karanja, especially when he became Chief. She despised him, and he told her that he worked with the Whiteman so they would not have everything. This confused her.

Life was hard and boring, but she was happy her other brother was safe. One day Karanja called her to him and said Gikonyo was coming home. She was thrilled and let Karanja make love to her, but immediately regretted it.

Mumbi’s story is draining to Mugo and he asks what he ought to do. Just then, General R. and Koina enter. Mugo learns that the boasting Githua never did the things he said he did, and feels let down. General R. tells Mumbi that he learned Kihika was going to meet an important contact and fell into a trap that night. He believes Karanja is guilty and the man’s behavior at Githima confirms it. Koina shudders and says Githima has ghosts.

General R. tells Mugo that he wants him to give his speech at Uhuru and then announce Kihika’s betrayer will be condemned. Mugo is stunned and trembling, and says he came to say that he cannot lead the people. He leaves.

Chapter 10

General R. believes it is just that Karanja will die on Independence Day. He is not a talkative man unless he is excited, and even though he is sort of an adventurer, he does not talk about politics or himself very much. He was a fierce supporter of Kihika in the forest.

Karanja wants to go ask Thompson if he is really leaving Kenya. He thinks of how Thompson saved him from shame with the dog, and remembers how he had been asked to step down from Chief after the Emergency was lifted because he arrested a man and had him beaten for not paying a tax, which apparently was not okay anymore. He had to pay a fine and apologize, and drifted to Githima where he got a job after confessing his oath.

Mwuara stops by and asks him if it is true Thompson is leaving; he has heard the rumors. He compliments Karanja and suggestively says he must have been with Mrs. Thompson. He asks what he is doing for Uhuru and if he will hear Mugo speak. Karanja asks who Mugo is, and wonders if he would see Mumbi there.

Karanja sees Thompson and asks if he is going to Britain. Thompson seems confused by the question but confirms this and brusquely walks away. Karanja feels struck by this news. Mwuara mocks him, unable to contain his triumph that he humbled Karanja.

Chapter 11

There is a farewell party held for the Thompsons. At first it revolves around the visiting dignitaries of the Director and Deputy Director, but once they leave it becomes more relaxed. People are much more open to considering Thompson a martyr for Rira.

Dr. Lynd talks to Roger Mason, Mrs. Dickinson’s boyfriend. Her prattling bores him. She sees Thompson and rushes over to him to tell him she was scared because she saw her old houseboy who killed her dog.

Men cluster around Margery and want to dance with her. She stands by her husband’s side, though, and feels closer to him now that they are leaving. He tells her Africa cannot do without Europe as they drive home.

Chapter 12

When Gikonyo comes home, he feels like quarrelling. He is rude to Mumbi and pushes the child. The child cries and Mumbi is irate. Gikonyo calls Mumbi a whore. Wangari comes in and criticizes her son harshly.

Gikonyo knows that “a river runs along the line of least resistance” (164), and that his anger at Mumbi actually comes from his anger at the MP. He just learned the MP was the new owner of Burton’s land and did not tell him. Gikonyo had gone to complain to Warui.

Warui is generally content with his life but is sad because he lost his wife a year before. His three sons, who all fought for Britain in WWII, are his main disappointments in life.

Gikonyo tells Warui Mugo does not want to speak at the Uhuru ceremony and confides his frustration with the MP. They decide to go see Mugo.

Mugo is currently full of apprehension and fear due to Mumbi’s story, which opened up some emotions in him. He moves close to the trench to look at it and remembers the time he stepped in to prevent Wambuku from being beaten more by the guards.

He suddenly decides he must get away from the trench and starts to head toward his hut. He remembers one time Warui talked to him about the old woman, who said she’d seen her dead son.

Mumbi’s story and General R.’s voice fill his head and he wonders if he is going mad.

Gikonyo and Warui arrive at the hut and ask him to reconsider. He will not, but becomes a hero to the village for his refusal to lead.

Gikonyo is angry with everyone in his life, and when he goes home his mother tells him Mumbi has left to live with her parents. She criticizes him and tells him he needs to read his heart and know himself better.

Chapter 13

It was raining the day they saw him at the Thabai market. He seemed to have a heavy heart and they thought he was strange. People whispered about him and spread stories. Wambui believes Mugo is Kihika born again and knows he must lead the Independence Day celebrations. She decides to send Mumbi to him.

Mumbi, now at home, has difficulty with her parents because they think she should not have left her husband. She is concerned about Karanja having to die for her brother, and does not want more blood shed. She sends a note telling him not to come tomorrow. She does feel a thrill, though, when she contemplates her role to play with Mugo.

She heads to his hut and when she arrives she sees that he is afraid of her. He is handsome and lonely, she thinks. Even though she begs him to come tomorrow, he refuses. He speaks of the terrible things he saw at the detention camp, and she tells him he must speak of this to the living.

Suddenly his tone changes and he bursts out that he strangled her brother. Confused, she says he was hanged. She tries to leave but he blocks her way and struggles against him. Madness fills his eyes but she stops struggling and asks what is wrong.

Mugo remembers Thomas Robson, the DO nicknamed “Tom, the Terror.” People suggested he was mad; he seemed to be everywhere. He was cruelty and death personified. One day, though, as he was driving along the road a lone man fired two shots into him and he died. Officially, he was killed by “Mau Mau thugs” (182).

Mugo was in his shamba; it was still the time of Emergency. He reveled in his land and his hut, the latter, which was “an extension of himself, his hopes and dreams” (182). That night the village was filled with shouts and shots, and then became quiet. A knocking sounded at his door. Mugo cautiously let the man in, who seemed desperate and nervous. It was Kihika, and he confessed to killing the DO.

Mugo was frightened that he would be caught harboring a terrorist. Kihika began to talk about sacrifice and violence and the fear of death as if Mugo were not there. Mugo began to think he was mad and tried to keep him talking. Kihika spoke of the need for a strong organization and a man to organize an underground movement in the village. He asked if Mugo would do it, and Mugo weakly said he had not taken the oath. Kihika persisted and said he would meet him in a week in Kihenie Forest.

Kihika left, and Mugo thought police and homeguards would come find him. He felt bitter that Kihika dragged him into this, and was filled with anger. He was not ready for death.

On Friday, the day he was to meet Kihika, he was still unsure of his plan. As he walked through the village he saw a poster with Kihika on it, and the realization that he was a wanted man and Mugo could become rich turning him in solidified his plan.

He asked to see DO Thompson and was mocked by two policemen. He was grateful when Thompson came out and rescued him. He told him he knew where Kihika was, and was filled with pride, moral purity, and joy. However, Thompson spit in his face and told him many had come in saying they knew where Kihika was. Mugo better be right or they would hang him. Mugo felt the room spin and wondered what he’d done.


Guilt is one of the most pervasive themes in the text. Mugo is obviously a character whose guilt is quite manifest and justifiable due to the magnitude of his betrayal, but other characters feel guilty as well: Mumbi feels guilty for what she did with Karanja, Koina feels guilty about what he did to Dr. Lynd, Gikonyo feels a degree of guilt for renouncing the oath, and Margery feels guilty for not standing by her husband until it was time for them to return to Britain. Other characters have committed actions for which they should feel guilty, such as Karanja betraying his people by becoming a homeguard and then Chief and Thompson treating the Kenyans terribly during the hunger strike, but there are only faint glimmers of said guilt at this point. Thus, redemption is inextricably linked with guilt: which characters are redeemed? Who deserves it and who does not?

Guilt in A Grain of Wheat does not only affect the individual but the society as well. That guilt stemming from a betrayal necessitates punishment, forgiveness, and redemption. Unsurprisingly, Ngugi weaves in allusions to Christianity as a way to address these themes–Kihika is a Christ figure, Mugo his Judas. He also utilizes, as critic Léon Mugesera notes, the Freudian psychological system of the id, ego, and superego. First, there is Mugo, who due to a lonely and abusive childhood has retreated into an isolated and protected world of his own making, lives fully in his id until Kihika comes in and disrupts his tenuous tranquility. His ego chooses the cowardly action of betraying Kihika, but this offers him no peace. He is stuck in the ironic position of being a betrayer lauded by the people for having done noble and courageous deeds. When he confesses, though, his world regains its equilibrium; furthermore, “Mugo’s courageous act redeems his soul but not his body because he is to be killed. However, his confession has a positive impact on the other characters, showing them the right way to follow even if they do not die for their guilt.”

As for Karanja, his bitterness at having been rejected by Mumbi years before festers and eventually manifests itself in the betrayal of his own people by renouncing the Mau Mau oath and then serving in the homeguard and as Chief. He betrays on a macro and micro scale, for he tries to seduce Mumbi while Gikonyo is away. Unlike Mugo, however, Karanja’s id will not be sublimated by his superego. His fate at Uhuru is sealed; he must be an exile to Githima and cannot yet achieve redemption.

Similarly, throughout most of the novel Gikonyo’s id is his dominant psychological facet. He is obsessive, jealous, angry, and punitive. However, Mugo’s confession will be a catalyst for him and he will attempt to communicate honestly with Mumbi and restore their relationship. Redemption is happening, and his equilibrium is regained.

Mugesera also looks at the minor characters in the text in through this same lens. Margery Thompson was dominated by her id for most the novel, but then seemed to balance herself and return to her husband’s side. General R. and Koina’s possibilities for redemption–the former for his desire to kill his father and his bloodlust for Kihika’s killer, and the latter’s attack on Dr. Lynd–are as yet unknown.

Overall, Mugersera writes that Ngugi’s message is “when everybody is guilty, we ought to forgive one another and henceforth build a new, strong society” and that there are dangers in the present due to elements of the past manifesting themselves–“It is now clear that the lost land has been stolen by whitened Africans who have betrayed the basic aims of the freedom movement. Thus, to describe that past that persists in the present is, for Ngugi, a subtle way of inviting his society to correct its mistakes by redistributing the land regained.”