A Grain of Wheat Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When the British colonizers come to Kenya, they strengthen their hold on the territory by building a great railroad. Waiyaki and other warrior leaders took up arms against this imposition, but they were defeated. Most Kenyans gradually learn to make accommodations with the new regime, though the seeds of revolution spread underground in “the Movement,” known to the British as Mau Mau.

Among the younger generation are Gikonyo, a well-known carpenter in the village of Thabai, and Mumbi, his wife and one of the most beautiful women in the area. They listen as one of their peers, Kihika, speaks before a large crowd and encourages guerrilla warfare against the British. Mugo also listens, but, unlike Gikonyo and Mumbi, he hates what Kihika says. Mugo thinks native Kenyans have no chance of successfully opposing the British, and he decides to do his job quietly and succeed in the new order of things. Karanja, who unsuccessfully sought the hand of Mumbi, feels even more strongly that the best policy is to accept the British as invincible.

Before long, Kihika disappears into the forest with many other young men who arm themselves. A year later, their most successful raid is the capture of the Mahee police post; this infuriates the British. They declare a state of emergency and imprison many of the young men of Thabai, including Gikonyo. Even Mugo is arrested for intervening when a woman is being beaten. Despite the efforts by the British to quell the Kenyan resistance, the violence continues, and District Officer Thomas Robson is assassinated.

Mugo is taken to Rira camp, where John Thompson is the warden. Though Mugo respects the British, in these circumstances he feels unjustly accused and refuses to cooperate. He begins to get a reputation among the other detainees as an inspiration to courage. Mugo does nothing to justify their hopes, but he does feel vague and grandiose religious impulses and begins to see himself as a possible messiah for his people. Finally, there is an uprising in which Mugo plays no part, and twenty-one prisoners are killed. This episode places a blot on Thompson’s career, the British believing...

(The entire section is 879 words.)