38 pages 1 hour read

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

A Grain of Wheat

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1967

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Character Analysis


Mugo, the book’s central character, connects in some way to almost every other character. He betrayed Kihika, is violently beaten by John Thompson, hears the confessions of Gikonyo and Mumbi, intervenes in the savage beating of Kihika’s girlfriend, and forms a strange spiritual connection with the old woman whose deaf son was killed during the Emergency.

Although he is harboring the dark secret that he betrayed Kihika and tries to live a quiet life without any connection to the people of Thabai, he finds himself suddenly thrust into the limelight of the Uhuru celebrations and revered as a hero. His protests that he is no hero and wants no part of the celebration only increase the villager’s admiration of him. Mugo desire for isolation and his refusal to connect with those around him spurred his act of betrayal—unhappy to be dragged into the confrontation between Mau Mau rebels and the British occupiers through Kihika, he found the most expedient way to avoid involvement.

Mugo is best when performing personal, disconnected actions that nevertheless advance the common good. In the past, he protected Kihika’s girlfriend Wambuku from a cruel beating; when he returns from the detention camp, he befriends an old woman whose son was killed; and he steps forward during the Uhuru celebrations to confess betraying Kihika, thus saving Karanja.