The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The windmill only works when the wind is blowing, so William begins searching for a battery to save up power. Meanwhile, he puts the windmill to new uses by helping his cousin Ruth charge her cell phone. Ruth is from the larger town of Mzuzu and always bothers William to take her phone to the trading center to charge while she is visiting her father Socrates. Men in the trading center have charging stations with high rates for charging phones, or even using phones, photocopiers, or electric typewriters on the street. However, William needs to force his windmill to produce more power to charge a phone than he usually needs to power a lightbulb.
William’s windmill was first intended to light his house, but William continues to find new ways to use the electricity it generates. Charging cell phones is another way to give rural Malawians the same autonomy that urban dwellers have without the interference of a middle man who drives up the price. Giving his neighbors easier access to this technology is another way that William wants to improve the quality of life for his entire village.
Themes
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William needs a step-up transformer to create more energy from the electricity his windmill creates, like those that are used in power companies all over America and Europe. A step-up transformer passes a current between two wire coils until the current is much stronger than it was originally. Using a diagram from Explaining Physics, William makes his own step-up transformer by wrapping wire around an iron sheet with E-shaped prongs, and he is able to boost his windmill enough to charge Ruth’s phone. William also makes electrical sockets for his walls out of old radio plugs and sets up a small business charging phones for others in the village.
William’s windmill may look very different from the windmills used in America or Europe, but it works on the same general principles, and William continues to have the confidence that he can do anything that larger power companies have done. Using the information from one of the life-changing textbooks and his own resourceful ability to find new uses for recycled materials, William is successful with this next goal as well.
Themes
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
After two months, William finally buys a car battery from Charity, who says it “fell off a truck.” To charge the battery, William has to convert his windmill’s AC power to DC power by using a diode from an old radio. With the battery working, William can light his whole house using parallel circuits after he finds lightbulbs that can run using DC power. William even creates light switches out of PVC pipe and circles of material from a flip-flop. Trywell is incredibly proud of the Kamkwambas’ house powered by free electricity, and even prouder that his son built it all.
William does not acknowledge fully that Charity most likely obtained the battery in an illegal manner, as saying an item fell off a truck is usually a euphemism for stealing. Yet William is not above using these materials no matter where they came from in service to his larger goal. Trywell also appreciates that William has gone around the legal methods of getting electricity, as both William and Trywell want to minimize the need for government involvement in their lives.
Themes
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Having light in the house is definitely a benefit for the Kamkwambas, but it comes with risks. William was forced to use wire he found in the trash or the scrap yard, meaning that most had lost their plastic insulation and could potentially start a fire. Worse, the Kamkwambas’ roof is infested with termites whose chewing might cause all the wires to come crashing down on the Kamkwambas’ heads. One afternoon, termites do break through the roof in William’s room and William has to call in the chickens to eat all the squirming bugs. In all the commotion, William doesn’t notice that the wires cross and spark, but luckily the wires are so cheap that they simply melt and break instead of starting a fire.
While William’s ability to recycle materials makes the windmill possible, it also means that he sometimes has to accept sub-par components for his windmill that are not fully able to support the energy that William wants to use. Aspects of rural life, such as bugs and chickens, interrupt William’s desire to update and elevate conditions for his family. However, the cheap condition of his wires is also a benefit at times, though William is undoubtedly lucky that his project did not cause any disasters for his family.
Themes
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
The Business of Survival Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Get the entire The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind LitChart as a printable PDF.
The boy who harnessed the wind.pdf.medium
William starts to build a proper wiring system using diagrams from Explaining Physics. He needs a circuit breaker that will stop the power if too much current comes at once so that the wires in the house don’t melt. With no way to make normal circuit breaker fuses, William makes an electric bell system using nails and a bar magnet that would cut off the power to the house if the current was ever too large. Two weeks later, William’s circuit breaker is tested by a cyclone. The huge winds overload the windmill, but the circuit breaker trips and keeps the power from reaching the wires in the house. William is happy his invention worked, but Geoffrey tells him he should fix his roof.
Having identified the biggest problems with his previous wiring, William gets to work fixing those issues. Though he understands the concepts of a traditional circuit breaker, he has to adapt his projects to the materials that are possible to find in his village. While Geoffrey sees the practical problems still involved with William’s inventions, William is more pleased that his inventions worked than upset that his house had to withstand a cyclone. As an inventor, William turns even difficult situations into chances to use his newest projects.
Themes
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
Another problem with William’s windmill is the small bike chain that often snaps when the wind blows too hard. William has to go up the tower and fix it, risking injury to his hands from the sharp tractor fan and spinning metal blades. He uses a small piece of rubber bicycle tire to grab the jagged bicycle sprocket and stop the blades from spinning while he fixes the chain, but the sprocket often slices William’s hands.
William’s amazing windmill still has structural issues from the past lives of its pieces. William tries to compensate for these difficulties, even withstanding bodily harm in order to keep his windmill working. William’s inventions are more important to him than his personal safety.
Themes
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
During this time, Geoffrey continues to work with Uncle Musaiwale in a maize mill the next town over. Geoffrey advises William to get a rubber belt like the ones used in the maize mill to replace the troublesome bicycle chain on the windmill. William finds pulleys in the scrap yard and asks Mister Godsten to weld them to the windmill’s shock absorber (as well as grind down the sharp teeth of the sprocket) so that they can hold the belt in place. But William still needs a real rubber belt. William uses various problematic fixes until Geoffrey brings back a real belt from the maize mill. Finally, William can leave his windmill to do its job without his constant work troubleshooting the various jury-rigged pieces.
Geoffrey supports William’s project by giving him new ideas and eventually making it possible for William to implement significant improvements to the windmill. Now seeing the benefits that William’s windmill can bring to the village, other people who thought that William was crazy at first, like Mister Godsten, are now happy to help him add on to this invention. Yet no matter how resourceful William is, he sometimes has to accept the help from his friends for his own peace of mind.
Themes
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon