Weep Not, Child

Weep Not, Child Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-5


Chapter 4

At school, Njoroge enjoys learning to read from his funny and energetic teacher, Isaka. At home, he tries to teach Kamau what he is learning, but Kamau seems to resent the offer.

One day, Mwihaki catches up with Njoroge after school, and asks why he never walks home with her anymore. He deflects the question, and they talk about their parents. Both of them fear their parents, even though they are good children. They both share a sense that their parents are sometimes wrong. Njoroge recalls a time that an Indian boy tried to befriend him by giving him a piece of candy, and his mother made him throw it on the ground. When they pass Mr. Howlands's house, Njoroge mentions that his father works there, and they both speak around the fact that whites own land that once belonged to the blacks. Mwihaki mentions her father's belief that the natives were robbed because they were uneducated. Because she is a year ahead of Njoroge in school, she promises to teach him English once she learns it, but he is uncomfortable with learning from her.

The following year, Njoroge skips a grade and is promoted to Standard I – the same grade Mwihaki is in. Njoroge continues to urge Kamau to quit his apprenticeship and attend school, but Kamau insists that learning a trade is the only option for someone who owns no land. However, Njoroge and his father Ngotho continue to believe that education is the most important pursuit, although Ngotho thinks that “education [is] good only because it would lead to the recovery of lost lands” (40). Njoroge begins to sense that he is destined for something big.

Chapter 5

Njoroge and Kamau stand on a ‘hill’ of rubbish outside Ngotho’s house. From the ‘hill,’ they can see the lights of the big city Nairobi. They discuss Boro, who has left to find work there. Njoroge hopes that Boro will return, but Kamau explains that “Boro is not of this place” – he is too resentful of the village elders, who failed to fight off the white people (44).

Kamau confesses he would like to quit his apprenticeship and leave for Nairobi like Boro did. This means he could not participate in a strike that some of the local men are planning, but he believes strikes are for old men anyway. Njoroge begins to talk to his brother about Mwihaki, but changes his mind and asks about a mysterious character named Jomo instead. Kamau says that Boro used to call Jomo “the black Moses,” but does not offer much concrete information about him (46). That night, Njoroge prays that he will learn enough to both help his family and become smarter than Mwihaki.

Three years later, Njoroge and Mwihaki are in Standard IV, and beginning to learn English. They initially have trouble with grammar, which makes the teacher, Lucia (who is also Mwihaki’s sister), very angry. However, they slowly progress, and begin to grasp the language. One day, a European woman visits the class, and Lucia is enraged when the students greet her with "good morning, Sir" instead of with the more appropriate "good afternoon, Madam" (49). Later, Njoroge realizes that the woman was Mr. Howlands’s daughter, the missionary.

Time passes, and Kamau prepares for his circumcision ceremony, a rite of manhood amongst the Gikyu. Njoroge fears that once Kamau is a man, he will leave for the city and the family will disintegrate.

As time goes by, Njoroge immerses himself in books, especially the Bible. He develops his own kind of religious faith, which combines Christian teachings with traditional Gikuyu values. He comes to believe that Africans are God’s chosen people, and compares their struggles to those of the Israelites in the Old Testament. He wonders whether Jomo, "the black Moses," might in fact lead the Africans to freedom.


Although Weep Not, Child is considered one of Ngugi’s less experimental texts, there are nevertheless moments of formal innovation in these chapters that foreshadow the stylistic experimentation of his later work. For instance, the exchanges between teachers and students are formatted like a schoolchild’s exercise book, with the dialogue not narrated, but scripted. This form emphasizes the repetition that comes with learning a new language, and also helps the reader empathize with Njoroge and Mwihaki – like them, we are reading an exercise book.

Further, the freewheeling narrative style becomes even looser, and the narrator reveals a general disinterest in psychological realism. Years pass in these chapters with barely a comment, reinforcing the narrator's omniscience. He chooses what to share, answering only the questions he deems appropriate towards his purpose. Though he does take on the perspectives of many different characters, he frequently brushes over psychological complexities, such as Njoroge's resentments over Mwihaki. The relationship is complex, involving sexuality, class, and gender, but the narrator never delves into the contradictions of it. His purpose instead is to depict an entire culture through these characters, and not to justify or over-explain the psychologies involved.

Ngugi continues to explore the importance of education, one of his the work's primary themes. All of the characters (with the possible exception of Kamau) agree that education is necessary for young people, but they disagree about why. Njoroge seems to believe that learning has intrinsic value, and he derives great pleasure from reading and thinking critically about events around him. His ultimate hope is that his education will help him transcend his culture, and become a savior of sorts. Ngotho, on the other hand, only values education as a pragmatic means for black people to take back their land. Even Jacobo, who has compromised with the white colonizers for his own benefit, recognizes that education is the tool towards empowerment.

The author also makes a point in these chapters of highlighting the ways that Njoroge’s story is representative of his generation’s experiences as a whole. “Education for him, as for many boys of his generation, held the key to the future,” Ngugi writes. “As he could not find companionship with Jacobo’s children (except Mwihaki), for these belonged to the middle class that was rising and beginning to be conscious of itself as such, he turned to reading” (51). Here, Ngugi points out how the broad changes in Gikuyu society shape the man that Njoroge’s hopes to become.

Of course, by putting such an emphasis on the empowerment afforded by education, Ngugi introduces a tragic sense to the novel. Especially because many readers would be well aware of the bloodshed and complexities of the Mau Mau Uprising, the idea that education will save the black natives is set up to disappoint. Even for a reader who does not know much of Kenyan history, it is easy to predict that these lofty goals for learning are unlikely to manifest in such a grounded work, at least not to the extent that Njoroge and his father hope. One arc worth tracing through the novel is the recognition that while education is paramount, it is also subservient to much more complicated and intense social forces.

Of course, one of the most present of these social forces is colonialism. In Chapter 5, Ngugi focuses on the relationship between Christianity and Gikuyu culture, a murky and complex effect of colonialism. Ngugi’s general opinions about British colonialism are fairly straightforward: he believes that the British robbed and exploited the Gikuyu people, and need to leave Kenya immediately. However, the book’s depiction of Christianity is complicated by the fact that many Gikuyu characters embrace it, and approve of its values. In fact, there is quite a bit of overlap between Christian and Gikuyu myth; for example, their creation stories are very similar.

Likewise, Christianity reinforces the values of hard work, ambition, and equality, all virtues that Njoroge has already been taught by his parents. As the narrator explains, “the tribal stories told him by his mother had strengthened [the] belief in the virtue of toil and perseverance” that he also gleaned from the Bible (52). In the novel, religious faith and experience vary dramatically for each character, and Ngugi suggests that each individual must come to his own understanding of what values are important to him.