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A Grain of Wheat (1967) A Grain of Wheat is a complex novel.

The novel is formed of multiple narrative lines and, far from being linear in structure, is composed of a large number of flashbacks, that is, shifts in time frames. In A Grain of Wheat, different characters are presented in similar circumstances at similar times but in different spaces, and each character experiences the similar situation from a different perspective and in a different way. In this sense, A Grain of Wheat is a novel with multiple centres, that is, Ngugi's protagonists feature in story lines which at times run parallel with each other, at times coincide and cross each other, and which at times fuse together. The ultimate fusion of the narrative lines comes at the end of the novel when the reader learns of the ultimate destinies of the protagonists, such as Mugo, Gikonyo, Karanja and Mumbi. The complex structure of the novel enables Ngugi to present attitudes towards the Mau Mau struggle against British colonialism in an ambivalent way. Varying Gikuyu perceptions of the struggle are presented - the sacrifice of Mau Mau oath-takers, many of whom are detained, some of whom betray their oaths of allegiance and their fellow freedom fighters and are disgraced, as well as Gikuyu men like Karanja who sided with the British authorities, becoming local administrators in their own right. In short, Ngugi seems to infer that there was little true solidarity among the Mau Mau freedom fighters and that their resistance to British domination was haphazard and poorly organised. Perhaps this reflects Ngugi's indecision with regard to his own attitude towards the Mau Mau rebellion which occurred during his youth. Although Ngugi's attitude towards Mau Mau might have been ambivalent, his belief that the survival of Gikuyu culture depends on the eradication of colonial and Western cultural manifestations is manifest. The plot A Grain of Wheat is made up of one main plot and two intertwining subplots which are presented in the form of flashbacks. 1 - The central action of A Grain of Wheat takes place in December 1963 in the village of Thabai, near Rung'ai Market, in rural Kenya during preparations for the approaching celebration of Uhuru, that is, Independence. [Kenya gained its independence from Britain on 12th December 1963.]

Kihika, a local Mau Mau freedom fighter from Thabai, leads a group of Mau Mau forest fighters in an attack on Mahee Police Post in the Rift Valley and captures it. Later, Kihika shot District Officer Robson. Kihika is subsequently hunted down and hung by the British. There is a generalised feeling that Kihika had been betrayed by someone in the area. Mugo had given shelter to Kihika before he shot District Officer Robson and is regarded as a hero of the struggle by the community. Warui (a village elder), Wambui (one of the women from the river), and Gikonyo (the husband of Mumbi, Kihika's sister), visit Mugo to invite him to speak at the Uhuru celebrations to be held in a field near Rung'ei. Mugo declines the invitation. However, at the Uhuru celebrations, General R. asks for the person who betrayed Kihika to come forward and confess in public. Mugo himself comes forward and confesses that he was the person who betrayed Kihika. [text: 192-193] 2 - However, it is not Mugo the Mau Mau freedom fighter but Mumbi, Kihika's sister who is the pivotal character in the novel. Mumbi "was said to be one of the most beautiful women on all the eight ridges" (14) and, owing to her looks, she was compared to Wangu Makeri, the last of the great Gikuyu queens. Mumbi is Kihika's sister, Gikonyo's wife, has a child by Karanja and is Mugo's closest confidante. Apart from the narrative line which ends with Mugo's confession, trial by the village elders and supposed death, the second most important narrative line is the competition between Gikonyo and Karanja for Mumbi's love. Gikonyo becomes Mumbi's husband, but while Gikonyo is in detention, Karanja, who is the local Chief by this time working under the jurisdiction of the British, helps Mumbi find a secondary school place for Mumbi's brother Kariuki. When Karanja tells Mumbi that Gikonyo is to be set free, Mumbi allows Karanja to make love to her. When Gikonyo arrives home from prison, he discovers that Mumbi is expecting Karanja's child.

By the end of the novel, Karanja, who had betrayed his oath and many Mau Mau members from his village, goes off to a life in exile at Githima. For his part, while still convalescing in Timoro hospital, Gikonyo reconciles himself to the fact that Mumbi has given birth to Karanja's child and begins to reestablish his marriage with Mumbi. 3 - The other major narrative line deals with the experiences of Mau Mau members held in various detention camps. Gikonyo is detained for six years in seven detention camps, among them Yala and Wamumu Camps. Gikonyo is set free because he betrays his Party's (Mau Mau) oath, the first to do so in the Yala Camp. Mugo is detained in Rira Camp where he leads a hunger strike by fellow detainees in a revolt against John Thompson, the camp commandant, for which he pays with a public whipping. Mugo becomes the hero of the other prisoners. The narration of experiences in detention camps is presented in the form of flashbacks. In general, it is the impact of the detentions on rural village life which Ngugi stresses - villages which were once full of young men and characterised by a vibrant social life become sombre and lifeless. For example, Old Thabai village was completely destroyed after the attack on Mahee Police Post. Both Mumbi and her mother's huts were burned down and Mumbi was forced to build a new hut. Ngugi, then, depicts the effects of British colonialism on rural village life and the sacrifices made by the Gikuyu peasant communities - both the men and the women - as they struggled for their freedom and independence. This is part of the discursive significance of A Grain of Wheat. At root, Ngugi reveals that during the Mau Mau struggle heroism was mixed with betrayal and sacrifice with opportunism amongst the freedom fighters who left their rural villages to join the fighters in the forest. At the end, after all the sacrifice, there are no real winners. Mugo cannot escape confessing his guilt and offering himself up for sacrifice.

The tragedy is that Mugo's death is a dead end - it makes no difference to the survivors, one way or the other. The only glimpse of a worthwhile Uhuru that Ngugi leaves us with is in the reconciliation of Gikonyo with Mumbi and her son.