38 pages 1 hour read

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

A Grain of Wheat

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1967

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Important Quotes

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“It changed names, leaders came and went, but the Movement remained, opening new visions, gathering greater and greater strength, till on the eve of Uhuru, its influence stretched from one horizon touching the sea to the other resting on the great Lake.”

(Chapter 2, Page 10)

The chapter that explores the history of resistance to British colonizers describes the way the Movement for home rule is an unkillable, malleable, and spreading force. Its leaders and name are less important than its philosophical argument—the “visions” of freedom it affords its followers. Here, the Movement is almost a physically palpable thing that covers the ground of Kenya like a blanket, “touching” and “resting on” its geographical boundaries.

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“About Jesus, they could not at first understand, for how could it be that God would let himself be nailed to a tree?” 

(Chapter 2, Page 11)

What surprises them about Jesus is exactly what they most value in Kihika—the willingness to martyr himself for a greater cause. The deeply Christian Kihika is the novel’s Christ figure, fighting against an occupying force and then being executed after a trusted ally betrays him.

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“Then nobody noticed it; but looking back we can see that Waiyaki’s blood contained within it a seed, a grain, which gave birth to a movement whose main strength thereafter sprang from a bond with the soil.” 

(Chapter 2, Page 12)

The novel’s title references a Biblical verse, John 12:24-26, a parable that explains that the death of a seemingly small and insignificant granule can spur “much fruit” to grow in its wake. Here, the novel applies the same metaphor to its history of the Movement: When the rebel leader Waiyaki is executed, his death only spurs many others to take up the cause. Hoping to kill him, the British buried Waiyaki upside down in the ground, but what they actually managed to do was plant him and his ideas until they sprouted into the Mau Mau.