Munira, the protagonist, carries the main thread of the narrative. Born to a wealthy family, his father a prominent landlord and his brother “a big man in an oil company,” Munira is obsessed with doing good. It is this motivation that brings him to the village of Ilmorog to start a school. He is described by Inspector Godfrey as “the odd man, the black sheep of an otherwise white family.” Munira is a complex character, and in his creation Ngugi has attempted to introduce a man of epic proportions, dramatizing many of the contradictions of Africa itself. He is a genuinely religious man, but his fervor spills over into fanaticism, leading to tragedy.
The other characters are not so fully developed. Abdulla, the shopkeeper and bar owner, is a former Mau-Mau resistance fighter, a forgotten hero. It appears that Ngugi sought to evoke a sense of pathos in the distance between Abdulla’s heroic past and his drab present, but the characterization is too sketchy, and it is impossible to take Abdulla seriously.
Karega is a stubborn young man. Munira takes to him right away and to some extent educates and awakens Karega’s potential for action. When Munira learns that his sister Mukami (now dead) and Karega were lovers, he is alienated from Karega, but he still wants to save him from Wanja.
Wanja is introduced as she lies in a state of delirium in the hospital, as a result of the fire which burned down her house. Her background is...
(The entire section is 555 words.)
Godfrey Munira (mew-NEE-rah), the headmaster of a school in the town of Ilmorog, Kenya. An ordinary-looking African in his forties, the deeply religious Munira emerges as something of a saint as the story of his twelve years in Ilmorog unfolds. Even though he came from a wealthy, landowning family, he devotes his life to teaching peasant children. He describes the corruption that has dashed the dreams of those who fought for Kenya’s independence. Like many a saint, though, Munira goes too far in his unbridled desire to correct injustice: When he burns a house used as a brothel, three men die, and he is charged with murder. Although Munira represents the conscience of modern Kenya and takes on symbolic overtones in his character, he still emerges as a believable, admirable, and humble man.
Wanja (WAHN-jah), a beautiful young woman with magnificent hair, a full body, and rhythmic movements. She returns from the city, where she had been a prostitute, to her native Ilmorog, where she might recapture her innocence. Soon becoming a part of Munira’s circle, she wants to marry Munira, but he rejects her. The break with Munira leads her once more into prostitution, and it is her brothel that Munira burns. While ostensibly joining the nation’s corrupters by catering to their sexual needs, in truth she remains faithful to Munira and to the high cause he represents.
Abdulla (ahb-DEW-lah), a shop and bar owner in...
(The entire section is 658 words.)