In The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, how does William Kamkwamba explore the conflict between magic and science?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Kamkwamba, the author, writes about the way in which his childhood belief in magic, passed down to him by his father, gives way to a belief in science when his family is faced with starvation and privation. He writes about the sway magic held over him as a boy growing up in Malawi before he turned to science. He says, "Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world" (page 3). His father teaches him to believe in magic and explains the way in which magic operates "as a third and powerful force" that intervenes in the world because gods and men have too many troubles (page 6). His father explains to him that while magic is invisible, it is still all around him. When William is little, he believes in many forms of magic, such as magic lions who are sent at night to kill debtors (page 13).

William begins to turn to science in part to help himself and his family. For example, William and his friend Geoffrey begin taking apart old radios so they can repair them. Radios are critical because "the radio is the only connection to the world outside the village" (page 68). The boys become very interested in finding out the mechanics that make things run, but they don't consider what they are doing to be science. When the village starts starving, William realizes that magic can be of no help to them. After finding some discarded science books, he begins to construct a windmill. He writes of the forest where he once thought magic ruled: "now I was back there to cut down trees to build a ladder to science and creation—something greater and more real than any magic in the land" (page 199). Hunger and his family's need for electricity cause him to discard his traditional belief in magic in favor of embracing science. The conflict between magic and science is the conflict between traditional and modern belief, and necessity causes William to embrace a belief in science to help his family and his village. 

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