Weep Not Child Summary

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Weep Not Child

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Weep Not Child Summary

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Weep Not Child, Ngugi wa Thiong’o 1964 novel, centers around the interactions between British colonists in Kenya and the native people. This book takes place during the Mau Mau Uprising, an eight-year struggle in British-controlled colonial Kenya. During this 1950s uprising, the British killed somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000 African rebels. The success of the British Empire can be attributed to their “divide and rule” practice, a political tactic first utilized by the ancient Greeks. This practice makes it difficult or impossible for smaller groups of people to band together and revolt—and that is exactly what happened during the Mau Mau Uprising. Ngugi’s works, including Weep Not Child, are piercingly critical of British rule.

This book begins with Njoroge, whose mother wants him to go to be the first in their family to attend school. They live on Jacobo’s land—Jacobo being an African who deals with the white settlers in order to to make his fortune. Among those settlers is Mr. Howlands, who owns much of the land in the area. Njoroge has two brothers, Kamau and Boro. Kamau is apprenticed to a carpenter. Boro was forced to fight in World War II and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Njoroge’s father, Ngotho, farms on Mr. Howlands’ lands. He is a man who prizes the land and its care above money.

When local African workers strike for better pay, Ngotho fears losing his job if he participates. Yet, he attends a strike meeting despite both of his wives’ disapproval. At the meeting, Jacobo tries to end the strike before it can begin, prompting Ngotho to attack him. A riot begins. Two people are killed during the riot and Jacobo promises to exact revenge. Ngotho loses his job and must move his family; Njoroge’s brothers fund his education so that he can go to school.

Njoroge transfers school because of his father’s loss of employment and is separated from his friend Mwihaki, Jacobo’s daughter. She and Njoroge were once classmates and close friends, but she now attends a boarding school for girls. Njoroge is embarrassed about his father’s attack against Jacobo, and so he is grateful for the distance between Mwihaki and himself.

Meanwhile, in the Mau Mau Uprising, one of the leaders—Jomo Kenyatta—is about to stand trial. While many of the native Kenyans think he will be their savior from British rule, he loses at trial and faces imprisonment. On the Kenyan side, there are more protests. The British colonists take actions to further suppress and oppress them.

The uprising touches Njoroge’s family when Jacobo accuses Ngotho of leading the Mau Mau. Jacobo hopes that the whole family will be imprisoned. The situation for the Kenyans is, overall, getting worse. British forces drag people believed to be involved with the Mau Mau out of their homes and execute them.

While the situation in the country is deteriorating, Njoroge is succeeding in school. He passes a rigorous high school entrance exam, and his village, proud of his scholastic success, collects money to fund his tuition. He and Mwihaki encounter one another again and this time, Njoroge does not find their fathers’ differences to be a hurdle in their friendship.

However, Njoroge’s life is not free from the Mau Mau Uprising for long. One day, Jacobo is found murdered. Njoroge is pulled out of school by Mr. Howlands and questioned, and both he and his father Ngotho are beaten nearly to death before being released. The reader soon discovers that Njoroge’s brothers killed Jacobo, and that Boro is a Mau Mau leader. Their father dies from his injuries and Njoroge learns that his father was only protecting Kamau and Boro, despite the fact that they lost respect for him after he lost his job. When Kamau is imprisoned, Njoroge must provide for both of his mothers. He is forced to abandon both school and his faith.

Njoroge has fallen in love with Mwihaki, and professes his love to her, asking her to leave with him. She refuses because she feels compelled to remain in Kenya and with her mother now that Jacobo is dead. Njoroge attempts to hang himself. He is stopped by his mothers but descends into hopelessness and shame.

In addition to the theme of families torn apart by British rule, Njoroge’s fate shows how systemic oppression affects the individual. As a child, Njoroge has a hopeful future. His father is successful and he excels at school. Then, his family and those around him become involved—willingly or not—in the Mau Mau Uprising. The harsh actions of the British army and those who benefit from their rule tear apart Njoroge’s family and strip him of his faith in God and will to live.