Weep Not, Child

Weep Not, Child Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What role do traditional Gikuyu stories play in the novel?

    Until relatively recently, Gikuyu literary culture relied almost exclusively on oral storytelling. As Ngotho's storytelling session early in the novel demonstrates, the country's history has transformed into a type of myth; the characters see the coming of the British (and their eventual departure) as part of history's grand cycle, as immutable and inevitable as the Creation story is. Stylistically, it is interesting to note the ways that traditional qualities of Gikuyu storytelling – such as magical incidents and the trickster figure – affect how the characters interpret current events. The most prominent example of this is the story about Dedan Kimathi transforming into a white man and then into an airplane. A people used to fantastical stories would be inclined to understood their 'great' figures in this way. But perhaps the most important example is the way that Njoroge inflates his potential importance, dreaming not only of reaching success but of saving his world.

  2. 2

    Explain the novel's title.

    Weep Not, Child draws its title from a moment late in the story, when Njoroge and Stephen Howlands discuss whether there is any hope left for Kenya's future. Njoroge argues that there is, and the narrator comments that "hope of a better day was the only comfort he could give to a weeping child" (121). The title is also an allusion to the Walt Whitman poem "On the Beach at Night," in which the speaker begs a child not to cry over the tumultuous storm, since it will soon pass. More broadly, the novel's title refers to the hope that sustains its characters through the violence and suffering of the Mau Mau revolt. Like the child on the beach, Njoroge in particular attempts to see not the tumult but the potential calm soon to come. Although he eventually places this hope under scrutiny, Ngugi explores how love and family loyalty attempt to endure in even the cruelest conditions.

  3. 3

    Throughout the novel, Ngugi sometimes shifts to the perspective of the British characters. Do you think this choice balances the novel’s political commentary? Why or why not?

    Weep Not, Child offers political insights from a variety of different characters. Often, the protagonists have very different opinions about what is best for Kenya – consider, for example, the disagreements between Boro and Ngotho. Although Ngugi undoubtedly focuses on the Kenyan (and more specifically, Gikuyu) perspective on the Emergency, he also gives relatively lengthy consideration to the experiences of British characters like Mr. Howlands and his son, Stephen. Although Mr. Howlands commits atrocities for which Ngugi holds him responsible, Ngugi also traces the white man's transition from a peaceful farmer to a violent district officer. Overall, this decision does not negate his political message, but instead makes it a more humanist one. He encourages readers to empathize with all characters regardless of their political leanings, suggesting that our problems are greater than politics; instead, they come from larger, less polemic places in the world and in ourselves.

  4. 4

    Compare and contrast Njoroge and Kamau’s experiences of adolescence. How are these experiences different from those of the older brothers?

    Njoroge leads a relatively sheltered adolescence. However, his exposure to formal education gives him excellent observational and critical thinking skills, which arguably makes his the best perspective for the grand historical shifts that Kenya experiences during the novel. Kamau, on the other hand, is forced to grow up quickly when he takes his apprenticeship. Soon enough, his family relies on his income. However, both boys retain an innocence and a distance from the uprising that their older brothers, Kori and Boro, do not. They also feel strong ties to their siblings and parents; for them, growing up means learning to make sacrifices for the greater good of the family. For their older brothers, growing up means learning to prioritize the cause over the family.

  5. 5

    Why is Jacobo so successful? What does his success say about Kenyan society before the uprising?

    Jacobo became wealthy by being the first (and only) African farmer allowed to grow pyrethrum, a lucrative flower used to make medicines and pesticides. Ngugi briefly mentions that he earned this position through the help of Mr. Howlands. This mention suggests that some degree of collaboration with the British was necessary if Kenyans wished to advance in colonial society. (This reading is reinforced by the curriculum at Njoroge's high school, which is more informed by European culture than by Kenyan culture.) Therefore, Jacobo has had to compromise with the British in order to achieve success. The novel suggests that the successful black men have had to choose the colonists over their own native Kenyans. This is part of what makes him so despicable to those involved in the uprising.

  6. 6

    Njoroge has deep faith that conditions in Kenya will improve, whereas Mwihaki becomes more pessimistic. Which of their worldviews makes more sense to you? Why?

    Obviously, this is a personal question, but one that can be explored from both perspectives. Njoroge's optimism helps him to maintain an adolescent normalcy despite the carnage around him. It allows him to stay innocent, to stay committed to his childish fancies of grandeur. Therefore, being optimistic in a situation like Njoroge's has practical as well as spiritual value. However, Ngugi seems to validate Mwihaki's point of view by the end of the novel, when Njoroge is finally overwhelmed by the atrocities around him, and tries to commit suicide. Notably, the two characters seem to reverse positions – by the end of the novel, Njoroge is hopeless, whereas Mwihaki feels duty-bound to stay in the country and do her best to repair it. Though Ngugi ultimately suggests the world will defeat optimism like Njoroge's, he also seems to prize it as worthwhile.

  7. 7

    Discuss the relationship between Mr. Howlands and Ngotho.

    Throughout the novel, Ngugi uses parallelism to highlight the similarities between Ngotho and his employer, Mr. Howlands. Both men face similar problems in running their families; both have a deep respect for the land; and both have similar views on justice and revenge. Because of these similarities, Mr. Howlands has difficulty pursuing Ngotho long after he has become a violent anti-rebellion crusader. They even die on the same day. Through this surprising pairing, Ngugi emphasizes that men on both sides of the conflict were driven by the same basic human motivations. The deterioration of their relationship over the years – from grudging respect to virulent hatred – also reflects the moral deterioration fighters on both sides of the uprising experienced as it became more violent.

  8. 8

    Analyze the ending of Weep Not, Child. Does the book convey a message of hope? Why or why not?

    The ending of Weep Not, Child is deeply ambivalent about whether the characters are justified in hoping for a better future for Kenya. On the one hand, the uprising has robbed Njoroge of his loved ones, his future, and his religious faith. His suicide attempt is the ultimate gesture of hopelessness - and considering his persistent optimism throughout much of the novel, the attempt suggests that the conditions in Kenya during this period had eroded even the most resilient spirit. However, Njoroge's final decision to carry on, to try and support his mothers, suggests that even if the Gikuyu people have been irreversibly traumatized, their sense of community and family loyalty will carry them into the future. They might not be happy or comfortable, but they will persevere.

  9. 9

    How does Njoroge's relationship with Mwihaki change over time? How does their relationship relate to the book's broader political plot?

    Njoroge and Mwihaki are close even before the book begins. Their childhood friendship persists despite their different social backgrounds. At times, they consider themselves to be siblings, but by the end of the novel, their love becomes romantic. Their relationship's purity and goodness demonstrates that real love can endure despite extremely difficult circumstances – and thus, it shows how the devastated Gikuyu people might find a way out of their country's state of violence and disorder. The fact that the political violence indirectly prevents them from being together also illustrates the heavy cost of the rebellion for average people who had nothing to do with it. Overall, the relationship between the characters both celebrates the human spirit, and condemns the social factors that often inhibit that spirit.

  10. 10

    Analyze Boro. What motivates him? Is he a sympathetic character? What makes you think so?

    Most of Ngotho's children are driven by a sense of duty to provide for their family. Kori pursues this through his job at the tea shop, Kamau through carpentry, and Njoroge through education. Boro, on the other hand, lost such a drive when his brother Mwangi died during their time serving in World War II. Although Ngugi is not as explicit about Boro's past as he is about those of Ngotho and Njoroge, he does convey the sense that Boro was swept into the war against his will, and has been permanently damaged by it. During the novel, his only motivation is to avenge Mwangi's death by fighting the British and their African supporters (like Jacobo). This motivation often forces him to prioritize the cause of rebellion over the immediate needs of his own family. His focus on vengeance certainly contrasts with the purity of characters like Njoroge and Mwihaki, but Ngugi provides enough context for us to empathize. As he does with many characters, Ngugi explores how social conditions can often dampen and limit an individual's potential, make him into something he does not want to be. Therefore, the novel both criticizes and empathizes with Boro.