WEEP NOT CHILD
By Ngugi wa Thiong'o
was written by Ngugi wa Thiong'o while studying at at Leeds University in England in 1962. was the second novel Ngugi wrote, although it was published before his first, . It follows the tragic story of , a young boy who seeks an education during the 1952-1960 Emergency in Kenya. This tumultuous time period saw the emergence of Kenyan revolutionary groups against the British colonists.
|Ngugi wa Thiong'o|
The second wife of Ngotho, a plantation hand and the patriarch of the novel's main family. Nyokabi cares deeply for her children, and strives to maintain peace in the family.
Njoroge is the novel's primary protagonist, and Ngotho's youngest son. He is the first in his family to attend school, and he aspires to use his education to make Kenya a better place. Ngugi describes him as “a dreamer, a visionary who consoled himself faced by the difficulties of the moment by a look at a better day to come” (130). The challenges to his optimism in large part constitute the novel's primary arc.
Njoroge’s slightly older half-brother, and the son of Njeri. He is apprenticed as a carpenter, and thus cannot join Njoroge at school. Because he goes directly into a career, he is forced to mature more quickly than Njoroge does. As his father ages and his brothers join the Mau Mau, Kamau becomes his family's main support.
A wealthy chief and pyrethrum farmer – indeed, the first African to be allowed to grow the crop. He owns the land that Ngotho and his family live on, and he works against the Mau Mau uprising as it starts to intensify. He is also Mwihaki's father.
A British tea farmer who moved to Kenya to escape a troubled past. He owns the land that once belonged to Ngotho's father, a source of tension between the men despite the fact that Mr. Howlands is Ngotho's employer. As time passes, he is appointed district officer, and viciously fights the rebellion.
Jacobo’s son, who at the beginning of the novel is planning to to study abroad in England.
A humorous African who works in Kipanga. He likes to tell raunchy stories about his exploits fighting in World War II.
The patriarch of Njoroge's family, and a World War I veteran. He is married to Njeri and Nyokabi, and is the father of Boro, Kori, Kamau, and Njoroge, as well as another son, Mwangi, who died in World War II. He works on Mr. Howlands's plantation, and longs for the white people to leave Kenya so he can have his family's land back.
Ngotho's brave and intelligent first wife, and the mother of Kamau.
One of Ngotho’s elder sons, who fought in World War II. He drinks frequently and seems to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is particularly troubled by the death of his brother Mwangi in the war. He eventually finds a sense of purpose through fighting in the Mau Mau rebellion, where he becomes the leader of a guerrilla group.
Jacobo's daughter, and one of the wealthiest girls in the village. She is close friends with Njoroge, and eventually becomes his love interest. Their shifting attitudes on the country's prospects in large part constitutes the novel's primary arc.
Jacobo's temperamental adult daughter, who teaches at the elementary school.
Jacobo's wife, described as fat and stern.
The village carpenter, who apprentices Kamau. Although he is initially characterized as stingy and mean, Nganga later shows his generosity by giving Ngotho's family a place to live after they are evicted from Jacobo's land.
One of Ngotho’s elder sons, who died while serving in World War II alongside his brother Boro. His death is a primary motivation in the resentment that fuels Boro.
Ngotho and Njeri’s adult son. He works at the Green Hotel tea shop in Kipanga.
Mugo wa Kibiro
A seer who predicted that white men would come and take people’s land, long before the British came to Kenya. However, he also predicted that they would one day leave, a prediction which gives Ngotho hope.
The Gikuyu name for the Creator.
Mr Howlands’s moody wife, who “mattered [to her husband] only in so far as she made it possible for him to work ... more efficiently without a worry about home” (30).
First introduced as a jovial teacher at Njoroge’s school, with a reputation for drinking and womanizing, Isaka later appears as a Christian revivalist after the rebellion begins.
Though he never appears directly in the novel, Jomo Kenyatta's reputation as the Gikuyu leader of the KAU makes him a hero to the village and Njoroge in particular. Kenyatta is a real historical figure who would become the first Prime Minister of Kenya after it achieved independence.
One of Boro's politically active friends from the city, who joins him in many events amongst the Gikuyu.
A boy in the village who brings the village news about the rebellion.
The leader of the African Freedom Army, and an important figure in the uprising. Though never directly featured in the novel, his reputation strikes fear in the hearts of the villagers and Njoroge. He is another real historical figure, and remains very controversial for his use of violence. Eventually, there developed a schism between Kimathi's Mau Mau and Jomo Kenyatta's more moderate followers in the KAU.
One of Njoroge’s friends at school.
Mr. Howlands's youngest son (and the only one alive during the period of the novel). He is shy and thoughtful, and Mr. Howlands has doubts about whether he is suitable to inherit the plantation. He and Njoroge have an important conversation late in the novel.
In some ways, grief is the primary driving force behind the action of . is driven to join the Mau Mau to assuage his grief over his brother 's death in World War II. 's resentments are fueled by grief over losing his family's land to the British. Similarly, grief drives 's spiritual evolution. Nothing can undermine his faith in God until Ngotho dies, at which point Njoroge stops praying. Similarly, 's death prevents Njoroge from being with , because she must care for her mother. As the characters cope with the deaths of their loved ones, their overwhelming grief slowly dissolves into a sense of duty that allows them to transcend their misery. Although Njoroge is nearly driven to suicide by Mwihaki's rejection and his father's death, it is the necessity of caring for his mothers (which he would not have to do if Ngotho were alive) that ultimately saves him.
As Ngugi notes on several occasions, race is not the only obstacle that prevents the characters from pursuing their goals in life. They are arguably even more hampered by their social class. This applies to poor characters like , who must persist with the carpentry apprenticeship he dislikes in order to support his family. However, even upper-class characters find that their upbringing prevents them from being truly free. For example, Mwihaki's affection for Njoroge is hampered by her famiy's wealth, and the expectations that come from that. Similarly, must attend boarding school in England even though he feels more at home in Kenya, and does not want to leave. Njoroge has a great hope that education will help bridge the gap of social class, but circumstances cede his education before he can test that theory.
Ngotho and share a fierce dedication to the land. At the center of their relationship is the central problem of the colonial presence in Kenya, and hence to the novel's main conflicts. Each has his own deep connection to the land. Land is an important part of Gikuyu culture, an indicator of a family. Mr. Howlands seems to have embodied some of this sentiment, despite his racism. However, 'land' does not refer only to the physical space used for living and farming. By the end of the novel, it has acquired a multi-dimensional meaning. In addition to Mr. Howlands's , the concept of land has come to include the people who live on it. (Indeed, Ngugi suggests that dispossessing a people of their land is not enough to separate them from it; the connection is too strong.) “When the time for Njoroge to leave [for secondary school] came near," Ngugi writes, "many people contributed money so that he could go. He was no longer the son of Ngotho but the son of the land” (115). Land, with all its profundity, is what the Africans lost to the British, and what they are fighting to regain.
One of the major questions that raises is whether love is a strong enough force to transcend suffering. The pure love between Njoroge and Mwihaki certainly proves resilient over the course of novel: “Her world and Njoroge’s world stood somewhere outside petty prejudices, hatreds and class differences," Ngugi writes (97). However, the novel's ending suggests that love may endure, but that it cannot change a person's circumstances. Although the two young people want to run away and live together in Uganda, they are ultimately bound by a stronger sense of duty to their parents and their country. Part of the story's tragedy is that individuality is helpless before greater forces beyond anyone's control.
is full of evidence that infighting between Africans was a major problem during the Mau Mau uprising. Ngugi suggests that some of it may have been justified; for instance, Jacobo is a truly villainous character, and we are meant to sympathize with Ngotho when he attacks him. However, Ngugi is very explicit about the fact that such infighting ultimately played into the hands of the British, driving wedges between Africans and making the conflict more violent than was necessary. The difference between the reputations of and reveal how significant the ideological differences amongst Africans had become. When Njoroge and Stephen Howlands discuss the causes of prejudice, their insights offer a way for Africans to move beyond their differences and fight for the common good. The tragedy is that individual desires are often useless before larger social forces that in many ways hurt everyone.
Women's role in society
Certain aspects of Gikuyu society, like polygamy, female circumcision and wife-beating, may be foreign and even uncomfortable for modern Western readers. But despite its uncritical portrayal of these realities, is thoughtful about the role of women in a traditional society. Mwihaki's failure to continue to high school is not a reflection on women's abilities to succeed in general, but it does highlight the difficulties that bright, motivated young women face if they try to pursue an education. The narrator suggests that Mwihaki's sense of obligation to her family, and the restrictive convent atmosphere of her school, prevented her from doing as well as she might in other circumstances. Njoroge's mothers, and , are other examples of strong women, although they occupy more traditional roles in society than Mwihaki or do. Njeri in particular shows a strong intellect and courage when she is arrested, and Nyokabi takes great initiative in arranging for Njoroge to attend school. Together, the mothers show that women play just as important a role in improving society as men do - provided they live under a relatively tolerant patriarch like Ngotho.
Njoroge turns to many different sources of comfort as conditions deteriorate in his village: school, religion, and his love for Mwihaki are some examples. Yet the only force that stands between him and suicide at the end of the book is his sense of duty to his mothers, who will be alone and destitute if he dies. Mwihaki rejects him because she, too, must care for her mother. For Ngugi, family loyalty is the ultimate bond. One of the primary challenges his characters face is deciding how to best stay loyal to their family in a time of conflict and contradictions. Boro is a particularly complex example of this question. Ngotho orders him to stop fighting with the Mau Mau, but Boro feels he must continue in order to avenge his father's death, and to fight for a better future for his younger siblings. Whether to defend one's family by immediately providing or by fighting for their progeny (in terms of rebellion or, in Njoroge's case, education) is a question posed, but not answered, by the novel.