What is a theme of the novel The River Between?

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Thiong'o develops multiple themes in the novel The River Between; arguably the most prevalent theme is the difficulty of balancing personal convictions with those of the community.

This theme is conveyed through the conflicts between the tribes and the beliefs each tribe and character hold dear. Through the characters'...

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Thiong'o develops multiple themes in the novel The River Between; arguably the most prevalent theme is the difficulty of balancing personal convictions with those of the community.

This theme is conveyed through the conflicts between the tribes and the beliefs each tribe and character hold dear. Through the characters' thoughts and actions, the reader sees the difficulty they each face in balancing their individual beliefs and convictions with those of the tribe or community.

For example, Joshua is a staunch Christian who believes in Christianity and spreading the faith. He is met with somewhat favorable responses from some of the tribe, such as the Chege, but is opposed by others. As readers, we see multiple examples throughout the novel in which characters and tribes try to hold on to the traditional beliefs of their tribe while others embrace new more personal beliefs.

This conflict culminates when Muthoni chooses to disobey the wishes of her father and go through with the traditional circumcision process instead of choosing newer Christian beliefs. Because of her desire to be a part of the tribe, she has the circumcision and dies from complications of the procedure.

The examples of internal conflict woven into the plot line give rise to the theme of the difficulty of balancing individual beliefs with those of the community.

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It is arguable that in all of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's writing, a theme is the preservation of one's own culture, and The River Between is no exception. In this great novel, Waiyaki is attempting to educate his people in Western ways while simultaneously preserving their age-old cultural traditions.

After falling in love with Nyambura, the daughter of a man who has converted to Christianity, he ends up being put on trial for betraying his people's traditions for the Christian way of life.

After being handed to the Kiama, a group dedicated to the preservation of cultural traditions, it is assumed that Waiyaki will be put to death due to his attempts to adopt the best aspects of both traditionalism and Western ways of thinking.

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One of the themes in The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o is the importance of education. In the book, Waiyaki does what he can to educate his community. He tries to do so while preserving his people's traditions. Despite Waiyaki’s people not embracing education, it is used in the novel to bring tribes together. Moreover, Chege has a discussion with Waiyaki about the importance of education. Waiyaki learns about the different trees that have medicinal value from Chege. In addition, he learns from his father about their heritage and culture. The things that Waiyaki learns from his father help him in the future as they prepare him to be a leader. Moreover, people in Waiyaki's community respect those who have a good education.

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Thiong'o authored The River Between in 1965. Like most of his writings, this novel deals with the clash between the native people of Kenya and the struggles of colonialism. Commitment to one's culture and community is a common theme in most of this author's work. 

The main theme throughout is the loss of culture due to outside forces and invasion as Christian missionaries attempt to impose a new way of life on indigenous tribes. The rights of the indigenous culture to maintain a way of life socially, religiously, educationally and economically when invaded by others who attempt to impose a new way of life on them is dealt with throughout the novel. 

Another theme that coincides with the commitment to culture and possible loss of that culture by force is that of action. In the novel, the main character Waiyaki realizes that to maintain the culture even as it is changing due to colonial influences, the people must take action to preserve and protect it. 

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One of the themes is the conflict caused by imperialism and the clash of tribal and Christian cultures. 

As more and more countries began carving out pieces of Africa for themselves, the conflict of cultures became greater.  The book describes the effect of the attempts to spread Christianity, the impact of White culture on the Africans, and the conflicting values of the traditional ways with modern ones.

Chege tells his son Waiyaki that he must go to learn the ways of the white man, but tells him, “do not follow their vices” (p. 20).  He feels that the white man is not going to go away, and they need to know his strengths. 

When the white man came and fixed himself in Siriana, I warned all the people.  But they laughed at me.  Maybe I was hasty. (p. 20)

The clash of cultures affects different characters certain ways, but the botched circumcisions show that the old ways come into conflict with the new.  The people are seeing the threat to their way of life, because the younger ones do not appreciate the old methods and traditions.

 

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