Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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In Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's "Wedding at the Cross," why does Miriamu give up Westernized privilege without suffering, while Wariuki longs for this life?

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In Ngugi wa Thiong'o's short story “Wedding at the Cross,” Miriamu easily gives up her status and wealth to marry Wariuki. She is seeking life, excitement, and love, and she finds those with him. Wariuki, however, after being humiliated by Miriamu's father, begins seeking the wealth and status she left behind, and in the end, he finds it and loses his wife.

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Ngugi wa Thiong'o's short story “Wedding at the Cross” presents a paradox of sorts. Miriamu, who was raised in a wealthy family according to staid and solemn Western standards of Christianity and conduct, longs for something else. For her, that something else, that life of color and interest and excitement, is symbolized by Wariuki, the milk clerk and entertainer who seems to gush with pent-up vivacity. Miriamu grows to love Wariuki, and that is why she is willing to give up all she has, all the privilege, all the money, everything, for a hardscrabble life of love.

Wariuki, that fun-loving man who performs bicycle tricks and dances with abandon in his patched trousers, falls in love with Miriamu as well. He even braves a meeting with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Jones, and their friends, the elite of the community. Poor Wariuki is completely humiliated, for Douglas Jones is patronizing, and despite his smooth words, in his eyes is “cold steel cut deep and clean.” Wariuki knows that Jones despises him and thinks him no proper match for his civilized daughter. He flees, and Miriamu follows him. The two elope, but Wariuki has been changed.

The change doesn't show at first. The first years of marriage are happy for Miriamu and Wariuki. They find joy in each other and in their songs and dances. But Wariuki cannot forget the humiliation his father-in-law had poured upon him when he “tried to diminish his manhood and self-worth in front of Miriamu and her mother.” This humiliation drives Wariuki to seek something different in life. He longs for wealth and status so that he can never been humiliated like that again, and through hard work and by seizing opportunities when they arise, Wariuki becomes Dodge W. Livingstone, Jr., wealthy timber merchant.

Miriamu plays the role of obedient wife. She dresses the part. She takes her place in society. But all the while, she grieves for her lost Wariuki and for the happy life they once had when they were poor and happy to be so. She finds some solace working amongst the laborers and worshiping with them, even though her husband objects that this is degrading for a woman of her status.

As the story draws to its close, Wariuki, now Livingstone, finally gets revenge on the father-in-law who humiliated him so long ago. He does no violence. He doesn't speak any harsh words. It is enough that Douglas Jones falls on his knees before him. The now reconciled father-in-law and son-in-law make a plan. Livingstone and Miriamu will finally have the church wedding they had missed by eloping. For Livingstone, this is the last step on his ladder of success and status. For Miriamu, this is the utmost of folly. In the end, Miriamu cannot go through with the ceremony. She cannot marry Dodge W. Livingstone, Jr., because she was once married to Wariuki, and he is dead.

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Miriamu is content without the privileges of a wealthy, Westernized life because she connects to a deeper level of fulfillment and consciousness within herself. Miriamu is a character who grew up not knowing the character of Kenya all around her - she just knew the puritanical lifestyle of her parents and Christian values that repressed her. Potentially the reason that as she ages she prefers going out into the field to work or spending time with a local group of musicians and workers is because that is when she truly feels alive, vibrant, and comfortable. Colonization inserts an oppressor's identity and culture forcibly onto a people, and the comfortable lifestyle Miriamu grew up with was a product of that same oppression. Miriamu as a character understands this, and so she does not mind losing wealth because what she gains is more meaningful to her: a true identity and happiness.

On the other hand, when Wariuki was a poor young man his ego was gravely humiliated by Miriamu's father. Wariuki never forgot being insulted for being poor, and he made it his life's mission to prove to Miriamu's father that he could actually amount to a rich man. Wariuki's internal conflict concerns his ego, which is ironic because he winds up becoming the type of man he once hated.

Wariuki's journey from a happy, vibrant man to a joyless, money-hungry, and Christianity-obsessed person is the product of the harms of colonization—he has lost touch with an identity outside of materialism, and because of this he is a joke. Miriamu does not re-marry him—humiliating and disappointing him—indicating that her rejection of the effects of colonization brought her fulfillment while his embrace of the effects of colonization—such as changing his name and wearing westernized clothing—caused him to become a joke.

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I think that there are some basic reasons why the characterizations of both lovers take different directions.  The first reason is the political one.  Ngugi depicts the impact of colonization and its prejudices as castrating to Wariuki.  The dehumanizing impact of Colonialism is in how it reduces Wariuki to nothing more than being sub- human.  This dehumanization and the castration he experienced is what drives him to embrace a life that could compete with "those people."  Colonialism creates a pathology of self- hate within him, compelling to no longer be Wariuki, but rather become Dodge W.  Livingstone, Jr.  He becomes fascinated with the privilege and wealth that remains in the domain of Colonialism in order to exact vengeance for the dehumainzation and belittling castration that he was forced to experience at its hands.  The fact that he never knew it only enhances his attraction to it.

In that fateful meeting with Mr. Jones, he realizes that he is in the presence of something that is beyond his normal capacities.  He treats it with respect and a sense of professionalism.  However, the closing to that meeting is what lingers in his mind, a reflection of Colonialism's perception of indigenous people:  "He was a hunted animal." 

Miriamu seeks only to find a sense of true understanding of self.  She is initially attracted to Wariuki not because of seeking to reject her Colonial- embracing upbringing.  Rather, she wants to find her own voice in a world where it has been conditioned not to exist.  This "independent spirit" had been a critical part of her own identity which enabled her to be attracted to Wariuki.  She rejects colonialism because of her associations with it.  Repression, silencing of voice, and the necessary conditions in which existing for social perceptions dominate are the reasons she ends up rejecting it. Such a rejection becomes reason she leaves with him, enduring disowning from her parents.  Consider that in the final scene, she openly says that she "fell in love with Wariuki."  Her rejection of it was rooted in the need to find her own voice which resided in her love for Wariuki.

In the end, Ngugi makes clear that one of the most catastrophic conditions of Colonization is how it has the tendency to fill the individual with a condition of pathological self- hate.  In part, this is a psychological reality.  Miriamu possesses a clear sense of psychological identity and grounding, allowing her to reject the fraudulence of Colonialism.  Wariuki lacks this, embracing what he hates so much that he becomes that which he detests.

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