The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind Summary and Study Guide

William Kamkwamba

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

  • 31-page comprehensive study guide.
  • Features 14 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis.
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The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 31-page guide for “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” by William Kamkwamba includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 14 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Magic vs. Science and Corruption.

Plot Summary

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a biography of William Kamkwamba, an engineer and inventor from Malwai, a small, poor country in southeast Africa. The biography details William’s efforts, as a self-taught teenager, to construct a windmill and harness that wind power to bring electricity to his impoverished region which had been plagued with drought and famine. The story begins with a prologue, in which William, having built the windmill, is gearing up for a test run amidst a crowd of locals. The windmill works, lighting up a blub, much to the crowd’s amazement.

The narrative then backtracks to the late 1990s, as William describes his childhood in a small village called Masitala. He lives there with his siblings and parents, who are subsistence farmers, growing maize and other crops in a way of life that dates back thousands of years. William’s society is governed by strong beliefs in magic and curses, as well as traditional Christian beliefs. William is imaginative and curious about the world, though more skeptical of magic than those around him, establishing a divide being tradition and modernity, science and superstition, themes that run throughout the book. He recounts stories of his parents meeting and memorable moments from his childhood, such as standing up to bullies and getting a dog, Khamba.

William’s Uncle John dies, and his farming business passes along to his son, Jeremiah, who squanders the profits on alcohol and parties. William turns thirteen and becomes interested in taking apart and repairing radios. His home and larger community have no steady source of electricity and rely on batteries. William finds engineering more appealing than farming, but must help his parents in the field. The corrupt Malawian government offers little support to farming families like Williams, even as famine and drought begin to spread across Malawi. People begin cutting out meals and selling their animals to make ends meet. William’s father requires that everyone stick to one meal a day and the family begins a side business selling cakes. At a food distribution depot, William sees how desperate people have become, fighting and cheating one another. As William grows hungrier, his schoolwork suffers. Ultimately, he receives grades that qualify him only for the lowest ranked school, which he attends until his family can no longer pay tuition.

The famine continues. Hundreds of people die across Malawi, and William’s dog, Khmaba, dies as well. A cholera epidemic decimates the population. William’s father makes a fruitful deal on his tobacco harvest, and the family begins to eat more, as the famine lessens and the community improves. William is unable to return to school because of unpaid fees, and so takes to visiting the library, where he sits for hours studying the collection of textbooks, with a particular interest in science books. From these books, he discovers the building blocks of electricity, including the use of windmills to generate power. William realizes that he could build his own windmill, which would bring electricity to his house and also function as a pump for their well. He raids local dumps for materials. After the harvest brings an influx of cash, William is able to use some of that money to buy more materials, with the last of his materials covered by Gilbert, a friend and son of a local chief.

William builds the windmill with the help of his friends, then builds a tower to house it. Neighbors mock the boys’ efforts, saying it will never work. The moment from the prologue arrives: William’s windmill successfully lights up a blub. William discovers a way to connect to the windmill’s electricity to the family home, eventually sending light to every room in the house through a series of wires, cogs, and switches. He forms a small business, allowing community members to pay for electricity to charge their phones. William’s father tells his son how proud he is. William continues to study at the library and devise new experiments and ways to improve his electrical system. The crop yield is poor, and the village, fearing impending famine, superstitiously blames William’s windmill for blowing rain clouds away. HIV and AIDS spreads in Malawi and William becomes involved with a AIDS awareness group, eventually founding a science club for young children.

Government officials come to tour the local elementary school. Dr. Mchazime, a man involved with education in Malawi, seeks out William after seeing the windmill. He invites William to give a speech at a conference on innovation. He also arranges for William to attend a local boarding school. William, though self-conscious of his humble roots and shaky English, delivers his speech and receives a standing ovation. Several influential entrepreneurs and innovators supply William with funding for further research and living expenses, which William uses not just for experiments but to equip his village with new roofs and wells. William tours the United States, visiting New York City and wind farms in California. They are just like his own windmill, only on a larger scale. After a series of international conferences, William returns home to repair his windmill, weathered and slightly eaten by termites. He prepares to enter a prestigious high school for African innovators, where he and his classmates discuss how to create “a new kind of Africa…a home of innovation rather than charity (270).”

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