Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

A Grain of Wheat

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A Grain of Wheat Themes, Motifs, Symbols

Communal Good vs. Individual Good

In a country torn by rebellion and strict government repercussions, the characters often have to make choices between actions for their own benefit or for the benefit of the society. Mugo is mostly concerned with himself and his own small, peaceful existence – when this is interrupted, first by Kihika and later by the members of the Movement who seek to honor him at the Uhuru celebration – he is puzzled and frightened. Karanja also acts for his own good, although what he believes is for his own benefit often includes his fantasies of a life with Mumbi as well. His desire to elevate his own position in society often puts him in conflict with his own people, as seen when he became a Chief in the homeguard and later, when the people of Thabai are quick to denounce him as a traitor. Kihika seems to have little regard for himself as an individual, throwing himself wholly into the service of the Movement. This is seen when he leaves his girlfriend to join the fighters and when he kills DO Robson in cold blood, despite the fact that this makes him a wanted man.

Harambee (working together for a common purpose)

With the birth of a new Kenya, the theme of “Harambee” can be seen. Harambee requires individuals to put away their personal feelings or struggles, as seen with Gikonyo coming to an acceptance of Mumbi’s infidelity. More telling is Gikonyo’s desire not only to finally leave the past in the past, but also to forge a new future with his wife. This is symbolic of the new government in Kenya, which must set aside differences to move forward. Although many of the British people are choosing to leave with the transfer of power, others have decided to stay. The new Kenyan government has invited the British residents to stay and be equal members of society under the new government. Even more, the native Kenyans who had betrayed their countrymen during the Emergency will also have to find a place in the new government – or move…

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