The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555

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.

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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 gradually presented; she is described as a very beautiful young woman, her head crowned “with a mass of shiny black hair.” She disappears from Ilmorog and later returns in a white Peugeot loaded with merchandise, the envy of the village; at first, the source of her newfound affluence is not known. In depicting her transition from rural innocence to urban decadence, Ngugi suggests the impact of industrialization on a rural community.

Inspector Godfrey is something of a caricature. A self-made man, he is a firm believer in the “sanctity of private property.” He sees himself as the protector of the new Kenya, and he is unable to understand the radicalism of men such as Karega and Munira. Men such as Karega, he believes, ought to be shipped out of Kenya. While he is disturbed that a man such as Munira, the son of a wealthy family, should espouse radical social views, he acknowledges the need for the high moral standards that Munira demands—a vital need in a would-be capitalist democracy. He is all the more shocked, then, when he learns that Munira has committed murder in the “name of moral purity.”

Chui, Munira’s former classmate, was in their high school days regarded as the man most likely to succeed. In the figure of Chui, Ngugi embodies the British traditions of pre-independence Kenya. In school, Chui was the quintessential athlete, always neatly dressed, quoting Shakespeare. When the seeds of unrest stirred Kenya, however, Chui was one of the first to join Munira and lead a strike; both were expelled. In independent Kenya, Munira continued to be critical of the establishment, but Chui became increasingly supportive of the status quo, enjoying the good life in the new Ilmorog Golf Club, feeling “his huge stomach with one hand, glass of champagne in the other.”

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 658

Godfrey Munira

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...

(The entire section contains 1213 words.)

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