The River Between Questions and Answers
by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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What does The River Between say about the place of women in Gikuyu society?

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The women in Gikuyu society are portrayed as having very little agency, especially when they are young. The decisions about their bodies (like potential circumcision or pregnancy) are controlled by men and do not include women's personal preferences or identities. The mother character also tells a story about when women ran the society. Whether it is apocryphal or not, the story makes clear that their bodies got in their way (the women being pregnant making them weak) and that they now feel disregarded. This suggests that the understanding of women's capacity to reproduce is seen as a burden, even to women.

Narratively, the women are frequently pawns in conflicts between men. Even when Muthoni does make a decision that goes against Joshua, it ends in pain and death. Nyambura falling in love with Waiyaki and her personal feelings are similarly only a plot point for Waiyaki's relationship with his community. Nyambura does not have her own struggle or journey and is a "flat" character,...

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