Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495
Weep Not, Child was the second novel Ngugi wrote and his first novel to be published. Set in Kenya in the turbulent 1950’s, the novel tells the story of a family and how it is affected by the open antagonisms between natives and colonists. When the novel opens, the family is poor but happy and harmonious; the course of the novel traces the disintegration of the family. The protagonist, Njoroge, is a young boy who wants more than anything to receive an education and is thrilled to attend a missionary school. His father, Ngotho, is a tenant farmer on land owned by Jacobo, a wealthy African farmer. Ngotho works for the British Mr. Howlands on a tea plantation that is Ngotho’s ancestral land. He waits patiently for the time when the gods will fulfill the prophecy and deliver his people from their oppression. His older son, Boro, has returned from military service in World War II, bitter, disillusioned, and having learned of the white man’s violence.
Boro loathes his father’s passivity. In an effort to appease Boro, Ngotho becomes involved with a strike and leads an attack on Jacobo, who attempts to quell the strikers. Consequently, Ngotho loses his job. Boro becomes a guerrilla leader and political activist who ultimately kills both Howlands and Jacobo. Although Boro is arrested and sentenced to be hanged, Ngotho confesses to killing Jacobo and is tortured and killed. Njoroge, who is now about nineteen, is arrested, though innocent, as his father’s accomplice. He too is tortured. He is also denied the thing he wants most for himself: further schooling. The novel ends with Njoroge’s plan to hang himself, but as he stands under a tree with the rope in his hands, his mother comes looking for him and takes him home.
This novel shows the effects of the Mau-Mau Uprising on ordinary villagers. The main characters of the novel represent the social forces in conflict with each other during the state of emergency in Kenya. The British planter Howlands, in his role as a district officer, is brutal in his repression of the Mau-Mau Uprising. Jacobo is a ruthless collaborator with the colonial government. Boro represents the young generation of Kenyans who do not share the patience and passivity of the older generation (represented by his father), but who rather wish to overthrow the colonial government, using whatever violence is necessary. Ngotho stands for the plight of the landless, disfranchised Gikuyu peasants. Njoroge is representative of the many innocent villagers whose lives are devastated by events over which they have little control. Njoroge has naïve fantasies about himself as a savior in the crisis, remembering David and Goliath. The colonial government is ruthlessly brutal and responsible for the breakup of Ngotho’s family and the larger society of which it is a microcosm. The Mau-Mau Uprising is motivated by pure destructiveness and therefore also accountable for some of the suffering of the Gikuyu.
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