Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Kenya. East African nation that became independent from the British Empire in 1963. While the novel embraces the whole nation of Kenya, from its “one horizon” touching the Indian Ocean to its “other,” touching the shores of the great Lake Victoria, it focuses on central Kenya’s Gikuyu (also known as Kikuyu) people, from whom British settlers took large tracts of the country’s best land for their own use. Indeed, land was central to the colonial conflict—to both the settler farmers and the agricultural Gikuyu. As a result, place in this novel is the object of struggle but also symbolic of the various betrayals that occur in the course of that struggle.


Rung’ei (roong-AY). Fictional town in which most of the novel’s action takes place that is modeled on Limuru, an important settlement twenty miles northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Rung’ei stands on the edge of the so-called White Highlands, where European settlement was most dense. The Mombasa-Uganda railway line runs through the town, on its way from the coast to the interior. The railroad itself is at once an item of fascination for the villagers and an unavoidable symbol of the colonial presence. During Kenya’s independence day celebrations, a highly symbolic footrace—essentially a contest to win the heart of the new nation—takes place on Rung’ei’s main sports field.


Thabai (thah-BI). Gikuyu village near Rung’ei...

(The entire section is 615 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Dramé, Kandioura. The Novel as Transformation Myth: A Study of the Novels of Mongo Beti and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Foreign and Comparative Studies African Series 43. Syracuse, N.Y.: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1990. Situates the novel as the second in Ngugi’s Mau Mau trilogy. Discusses use of Ngugi’s popular myths and his use of the novel to present a fictionalized history of Kenya and of the transformation of the people’s consciousness of their responsibilities as citizens.

Harrow, Kenneth. “Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat: Season of Irony.” Research in African Literatures 16, no. 2 (1985): 243-263. Describes the novel as the highest achievement in East African literature and notes that its irony is the final expression of the anarchy that has followed independence. Shows how the author utilizes techniques in a specifically non-European manner.

Jabbi, Bu-Buakei. “The Structure of Symbolism in A Grain of Wheat.” Research in African Literatures 16, no. 2 (1985): 210-242. Acknowledges the influence of D. H. Lawrence and Joseph Conrad on Ngugi’s novel and shows how he brings together various symbols almost as if they were voices in a chorus. Discusses African ritual as a dynamic influence in Ngugi’s symbol system.

Mugesera, Leon. “Guilt and Redemption in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat.” Présence Africaine: Cultural Review of the Negro World 125 (1983): 214-232. Argues that guilt and betrayal, followed by redemption, is the theme not only of this novel but of all of postindependence African literature. Ngugi typically uses the situations of marriage to weave variations on this theme. Sees this as Ngugi’s most successful novel.

Sicherman, Carol M. “Ngugi wa Thiong’o and the Writing of Kenyan History.” Research in African Literatures 20, no. 3 (1989): 347-370. Points out that in the second edition of the novel the author made certain revisions that show his increasing condemnation of the neocolonialism he sees among his fellow Kenyans, and his clear decision to use fiction to show citizens their history as a movement away from enslavement.