Download A Grain of Wheat Study Guide

Subscribe Now


Mugo, an orphan raised by his aunt, self-identifies as an outsider. He accidentally becomes caught up in Mau Mau despite his opposition to taking a political stance. Mugo’s intervention in an episode of police brutality toward a pregnant woman lands him in jail, but it also generates a myth around his heroism. He is a rival of the zealous revolutionary Kihika, whom he later betrays; the news leads to his execution by movement members.

Karanja betrays the movement by collaborating with the British. He is a library who helps Mrs. Dickinson conduct her affair with John Thompson. As a member of the British-affiliated home guards, he later becomes Thabai’s cruel and tyrannical village chief. He disappears after independence is achieved.

Mumbi, Kihika’s sister, is a beautiful woman who marries Gikonyo. While he is incarcerated, she has an affair with Karanja and later has his son.

Gikonyo, a carpenter who later succeeds as a merchant, is Mumbi’s husband. He is imprisoned for six years for his movement participation. His political disillusion turns into personal despair when he learns of Mumbi’s infidelity.

Kihika was raised hearing Warui tell of the British rulers’ injustices but also attended Christian school. During the state of emergency, he joins the revolutionaries in the forest. After capturing a police station, he assassinates the British district officer, Thomas Robson.

John Thompson is the British administrative secretary whose incompetence has led to numerous Africans’ deaths. He opposes not independence. A civil servant since World War II, he is negligent, apathetic, and looks forward to retirement back home.

Wambui and Warui, an elderly couple who are long-term supporters of independence, are later disappointed at what they perceived as its limited effects. They plot to kill Karanja because of their suspicions of his treachery.

General R (which stands for Russia) and Lieutenant Koina are prominent Mau Mau members. They later kill Mugo.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Mugo (MEW -goh), a farmer, reared by his drunken aunt. He has always felt himself to be an outsider. Naturally self-protective because he is alone in the world, he fears those involved in the revolutionary movement (Mau Mau) that seeks to overthrow the British rulers. He is especially envious of one of his peers, Kihika, who speaks in favor of independence. He also yearns to sacrifice himself for a larger purpose. When he intervenes to stop a pregnant woman from being beaten by a British policeman, he is imprisoned. His silence makes him appear mysterious, and rumors abound regarding his heroic defiance in jail. The...

(The entire section is 856 words.)