Ngugi wa Thiong'o

A Meeting In The Dark

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A Meeting In The Dark Summary

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“A Meeting in the Dark”, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a short story set in Kenya, the author’s home country. Specifically, the story takes place in the Kikuyu community. The story centers around John, a young man who has attained what is referred to as a “white man’s education.” As a result of this education, John is respected and looked up to by those in his community because he represents a “true African son.” He has achieved this status by successfully completing every available level of education—and he plans on leaving the country to study more.

His educationhas also instilled in John an optimistic view of his future. There is one setback, however, represented by his lover, Wamuhu. Just before he leave the country to pursue higher education, Wamuhu becomes pregnant. John is deeply distraught by this, because he feels as though he cannot leave if he is to be a father. He keeps his concerns to himself, though his mother, Susana, can tell from looking at his face that something is bothering him. She and John have always been close, whereas John relationship with his father’s is an emotionally distant one.

John is certain that because of the pregnancy, he will have to marry Wamuhu and cancel his plans for his education and for his future. To complicate his feelings, he worries about what his father will think, since Wamuhu is considered the daughter of an unbeliever. John’s solution to his troubles is to keep news of Wamuhu’s pregnancy quiet, at least until he has left the country. However, since John was keen to share the news of his educational opportunities abrouad with his community, Wamuhu knows that he’s leaving soon.

John starts to have nightmares, so he goes to visit his lover. At her family’s house, he is welcomed with the warmth he expects from members of the community, but finds Wamuhu is not at home. John hurries from the house, and bumps into her in the doorway. He walks with Wamuhu away from the house so that they can converse in private. He tries his best to convince her that she should not tell her parents that she’s pregnant, but she rebuffs him at every turn. Since she will not remain silent about it, John tries next to get her to say that it’s another man’s baby—but again, she refuses, insulted by the suggestion. Wamuhu tells John her mother is already suspicious of her condition anyway, since she is breathing more heavily as she sleeps.

John starts to feel desperate as the situation slips further out of his control. All of his plans for his education and his future are crumbling in the face of Wamuhu’s pregnancy. John loses control and grabs Wamuhu by the neck, squeezing as tight as he can. Wamuhu struggles and gasps for air as he strangles her, and only after she collapses, dead, does he come to his senses and realize that he’s murdered Wamuhu—and their unborn child. The final line of the story is: “…he had created then killed.”

In this story, as in many of Ngugi’s works, the theme of British rule in Kenya is a significant undercurrent, driving character decisions and the desire for change. For John, who has embraced British rule and culture, Wamuhu is not only a hindrance to his educational endeavors, but also to his identity. She’s the daughter of an “unbeliever;” in other words, she’s a non-Christian. At the same time, John feels stifled by his position in the community. This creates a lot of tension in his relationship with Wamuhu, independent of the pregnancy. She represents the spirit of the village, a position John envies for the freedom he imagines it provides. At the same time, he knows his father would view his connection to her as beneath him. John’s murder of Wamuhu in the dark is about more than the pregnancy—it is also about his loss of control over the trajectory of his life, his fear of losing his tribal culture, and the rift between the British and Kenyan traditions and expectations.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o has received numerous literary awards, including: the 1973 Lotus Prize for Literature, the 2001 Nonino International Prize for Literature, the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, the 2014 Nicolas Guillen Lifetime Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, and the 2016 Park Kyong-ni Prize. In 2009, he was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. In addition to these prestigious awards, Ngugi has received several honorary degrees: a doctorate in Literature from the University of Dar es Salaam in 2013, a doctorate from the University of Bayreuth in 2014, and a doctorate from Yale University in 2017. He’s written seven novels, two short story collections, four plays, five essays, four memoires, five nonfiction works, and three works of children’s literature.