How does A Grain Of Wheat address freedom and the Kenyan struggle for Independence?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, a native of Kenya, wrote A Grain of Wheat in 1967 as a reaction to his experiences with British occupation of Kenya and the Mau-Mau Movement.

The novel's themes revolve around Kenyan Independence and the fight against occupying British forces. The central character, Mugo, becomes convinced that the British are too powerful and that resistance will lead to many deaths in his village; after he is contacted by a famed resistance fighter, Mugo betrays him to keep the British from destroying his people entirely. Despite this, he is hailed as a hero for surviving internment in a concentration camp.

Mugo's treachery comes from his pragmatism; he sees the British as unstoppable and so views resistance as unnecessary and intentionally suicidal. His view is not shared by his friends and family; freedom to them is something that is worth fighting for, and Kenya does eventually gain its independence. However, Mugo's actions have stained his reputation and that of other collaborators; before he confesses, Mugo's silence causes suspicion and strife in the village. To their minds, collaboration with the British even to spare others is the same as giving up. The Mau-Mau Movement fought using guerrilla tactics, and their attacks and the British response often left many innocents dead. Mugo believes that cooperation will limit the deaths, but to that end he allows a hero of the people to be killed, and that action is far more potent in their minds than his logical reasoning.

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