Comment on the title of the novel A Grain of Wheat.

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In John 12:24 of the New International Bible, Jesus is quoted as saying:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

In this biblical passage, Christ makes clear the importance of his death and its role in absolving all of the world of sin. He states that no matter how pure or good of a seed that any one person may be, that person has to die in order for their gifts to the earth be properly planted, just as a seed must perish and fall in order to create a new plant. The lesson in this biblical passage is one of ultimate personal sacrifice, passing on oneself to future generations through death and legacy.

This passage also relates closely within the novel that chooses the verse for its namesake. In relation to the Kenyan uprising, Kenya is at incredible odds against its British oppressors. It is proven that in scenarios such as these, something of blood sacrifices are necessary.The primary characters realize that in order to galvanize other passionate Kenyans to the revolutionary cause there must be war and death. In any revolutionary scenario, one must be willing to give their own life freely, willingly, and often painfully for a just and worthy cause, similar to how Christ died on the cross.

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The title A Grain of Wheat comes from the Bible verse John 12:24:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

This verse depicts the power of personal sacrifice, which is clearly tied to Thiong’o’s novel about Kenya’s struggle for independence under British rule. When evaluating the Bible verse through the lens of the Kenyan independence movement, one understands that simple moral support of the movement is not enough to bring change to the entire country.

Each person is a grain of wheat, and if each person lives their life in support of independence but is still unwilling to sacrifice their life for it, then change will not occur. Only when people are willing to sacrifice their lives will their movement take hold and multiply and spread to others, producing many seeds.

The audience believes that Mugo is a grain of wheat participating in the movement, but the reader learns that he betrayed another in order to collect a reward. His selfishness proves he cannot be a grain of wheat. The other characters who participate in the resistance are grains of wheat, willing to spill their blood so that future generations will have the opportunity to live on free soil.

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The novel A Grain of Wheat finds inspiration for its title from a biblical story told in the Gospel according to John about a lesson Jesus teaches his followers using a grain of wheat.

The lesson Jesus teaches his disciples is about the need for individual sacrifice in order to realize greater, communal growth. Jesus tells his followers that if a single grain of wheat should fall on the ground and die, its seed will grow and produce an abundance of grain.

The title A Grain of Wheat is appropriate for the novel, as it tells a story about the violent Kenyan independence movement. The novel focuses specifically on the experiences and sacrifices of two main characters, Kihika and Mugo, and how what they experience and sacrifice impacts the larger Kenyan society, allowing it to grow stronger. Additionally, the story makes numerous references to Christianity and Jesus Christ and draws parallels between the sacrifice of the characters and Jesus's final sacrifice on the cross.

In this story, Kihika and Mugo are like grains of wheat. They are rather insignificant in the big picture. However, their sacrifice and death in the violent fighting of the Kenyan independence movement allowed for large-scale peace and healing.

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The title A Grain of Wheat comes from the parable of the same name recorded in “The Gospel According to St. John.” The parable is told by Jesus to the disciples in the twelfth chapter of the gospel and says,

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24, KJV)

The story references religion in conjunction with the allusion in the title to make a statement about the cost and reality of the Kenyan independence movement. In the parable, Christ tells the apostles that a small grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die to sprout any new wheat. Similarly, in the novel, there are two principal characters, Kihika and Mugo, who die to bring about the healing and prosperity that Kenya needs after the struggle for independence.

Though, like a grain of wheat, Kihika and Mugo are insignificant people, their deaths change the future of the country. Kihika is a resistance fighter who stands up in the fight for independence—his death is a unifying tool that brings people together. Mugo, who is the one that betrays Kihika, also gives himself up, sacrificing his life and allowing people closure on the terrible tragedies that played out during the movement for independence. Kihika sums up how sacrifice brings life by comparing the fight for Keyna to Christ’s death for redemption from sins (religion is woven throughout the novel):

I die for you, you die for me, we become a sacrifice for one another. So I can say that you, Karanja, are Christ. I am Christ. Everybody who takes the Oath of Unity to change things in Kenya is Christ (pg. 93).

Kihika’s point illustrates how, like Christ’s sacrifice brought about the Church and Christianity, their sacrifice will bring about unity and a new Kenya. They, the people, are the grains of wheat that will bring new life after their deaths for Kenya.

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