How does the character of Mumbi symbolize Africa's struggle for identity in A Grain of Wheat?

Mumbi is a strong character written as the beautiful, feminine ideal of an African woman. She ends up being victimized and having her identity stripped away from her by Karanja. Even though she symbolizes Africa in its beauty and power, she also represents the idea that Africa is not just something to be possessed—but rather something to be conquered.

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In A Grain of Wheat , Mumbi is a pivotal character in the plot and metaphorical nature of the novel. Mumbi is described as strong and very beautiful. She is both a naturally beautiful, effeminate character—and one of great defiance. When her husband, Gikonyo, is sent to a prison camp...

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In A Grain of Wheat, Mumbi is a pivotal character in the plot and metaphorical nature of the novel. Mumbi is described as strong and very beautiful. She is both a naturally beautiful, effeminate character—and one of great defiance. When her husband, Gikonyo, is sent to a prison camp for Kenyans, she is objectified and sexually abused by Karanja, who works for the British colonialists.

Through this relationship, there is a symbol of control and domination. Despite the fact that Mumbi is married to her Kenyan husband, she is essentially conquered by Karanja. The idea of the possession of Africa is the true symbol that Mumbi represents. Africa as an idea and a place—in and of itself—is rejected for what conquerors want Africa to be.

Though Mumbi represents Africa's beauty, strength, and the defiant power of the continent, she also represents the thing that every other power wants to conquer. Mumbi's identity becomes as tragic as it is beautiful—much like the history of Africa.

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One way that Mumbi can be seen as symbolic of Africa's struggle for identity is through her changing relationships. As Mumbi's identity is defined by her relations with two men, so is Africa's identity defined by its relationship with two different ways of life.

The first way of life that defines Africa consists of the traditional tribal lifestyles and customs that grew up through countless eons. True, there were internal rivalries and revolts, as when the men overturned the ruling power of women in Thabai, yet these were internal to the traditional order: actions and enmities were known and recognized.

The second way of life that defines Africa is that which was forced upon it by the intrusive "whiteman," whose skin had been so scalded that the "black outside had peeled off" and who brought the message of a god who "let himself be nailed to a tree." Behind the "laughing face" of the white man came a "long line of other red strangers" carrying swords. These were all foreign elements of an unknown order, yet they flourished and grew as the fruit of colonialism.

For Mumbi, her marriage to Gikonyo defined her identity in her beloved traditional order: she was happy with Gikonyo and went where he went. During Gikonyo's imprisonment, Mumbi was defined by the alliance with Karanja that was forced upon her: he brought a new order and identity that flourished around her as the son she had by Karanja grew.

Mumbi's identity is defined a third time by her second relationship with her husband when Gikonyo returns to her after six years of imprisonment. Her traditional order and identity returned with Gikonyo, but changed and distorted. In the same way, independence from the British brought a return of tribal identity and traditional order to Africa, but it was changed, distorted and corrupted.

Yet, as Mumbi and Gikonyo had hope of prospering in their renewed relationship despite the changes, so Africa had hope of prospering in its restored traditional identity and freedom despite the corruption redefining it.

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Mumbi is symbolic of Africa in A Grain of Wheat largely because she is an innocent bystander in all of the transgressions.

As Kihika's sister, one would think she would hold a place of high regard within her village and within the Kenyan struggle for independence. However, she becomes a mere pawn and victim in the local power struggle. While her husband, Ginkoyo, is imprisoned in the British concentration camp, she is raped by Karanja, a British collaborator, and the individual rumored to be the traitor who revealed her brother's identity leading directly to his hanging.

Mumbi is left almost without an identity through these struggles, although none of it is her fault or even the result of her actions. Much like Africa itself, she is left ravaged and forced to carve her own identity in a new and confusion world.

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