The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Windmill Symbol Analysis

The Windmill Symbol Icon

Built exclusively from recycled materials, William’s windmill represents the triumph of human invention in the face of poverty and starvation. It is a testament to William’s personal aptitude for science, built from his independent study of physics textbooks rather than a formal school education. Indeed, William only has time for the windmill because he is forced to drop out of formal schooling when his family is unable to pay the high school fees. William’s success with the windmill then symbolizes the achievements that are possible when individuals in tough situations apply their intelligence, hard work, and effort to inventions and innovations that can improve the quality of life in developing countries. William did not need the Malawian government or foreign aid organizations to step in and give him money to better his life; he only needed to be assured of the basic necessities for survival and given the chance to realize his own dreams for the future. The windmill thus stands for William’s desire to improve life for himself and his family, and the practical ways that William can repurpose the things that other people throw out in order to accomplish this goal.

William’s windmill is both a practical and a metaphorical life saver for his family. In the practical sense, the windmill provides free electricity that allows the Kamkwamba family to have light at night, charge cell phones, and eventually power a water pump that makes it possible to have two harvests each year. In the metaphorical sense, William’s windmill earns him the attention of Malawian professors and officials who boost William’s story and help him earn funding and educational opportunities that benefit the entire village. William also passes the advantages of the windmill on to the next generation, using his fame to garner more support for education efforts in rural Malawi (and Africa at large), so that young students are given the chance to develop their own “windmills” – whatever inventions those windmills might turn out to be.

The Windmill Quotes in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Windmill. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the William Morrow edition of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind published in 2010.
Chapter 9 Quotes

What is this? I thought. Pulling it out, I saw it was an American textbook called Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life.

The cover featured a long row of windmills - though at the time I had no idea what a windmill was.

Related Characters: William Kamkwamba (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windmill
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

Within a few meters, I entered the scrapyard and stopped. Behold! Now that I had an actual purpose and a plan, I realized how much bounty lay before me. There were so many things: old water pumps, tractor rims half the size of my body, filters, hoses, pipes, and plows.

Related Characters: William Kamkwamba (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windmill
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 11 Quotes

Just then a gust of wind slammed against my body, and the blades kicked up like mad. The tower rocked once, knocking me off balance. I wrapped my elbow around the wooden rung as the blades spun like furious propellers behind my head. I held the bulb before me, waiting for my miracle. It flickered once. Just a flash at first, then a surge of bright, magnificent light. My heart nearly burst.

Related Characters: William Kamkwamba (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windmill
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 13 Quotes

In Malawi, we say these people are “grooving” through life, just living off small ganyu and having no real plan. I started worrying that I would become like them, that one day the windmill project would lose its excitement or become too difficult to maintain, and all my ambitions would fade into the maize rows. Forgetting dreams is easy. To fight that kind of darkness, I kept returning to the library every week.

Related Characters: William Kamkwamba (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windmill
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

But Geoffrey was scared we would be arrested by the authorities for messing with their frequencies. People were also saying this nonsense about my windmill: “You better be careful or ESCOM power will come arrest you.”

If the first people to experiment with great inventions such as radios, generators, or airplanes had been afraid of being arrested, we'd never be enjoying those things today.

“Let them come arrest me,” I'd say. “It would be an honor.”

Related Characters: William Kamkwamba (speaker), Geoffrey
Related Symbols: The Windmill
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 15 Quotes

Erik wasn’t a biological African (he was raised in Kenya and Sudan), but what he said summed up our crowd perfectly:

“Africans bend what little they have to their will every day. Using creativity, they overcome Africa's challenges. Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles. Where the world sees junk, Africa sees rebirth.”

Related Characters: William Kamkwamba (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windmill
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I took a deep breath and gave it my best. “After I drop out from school, I went to library… and I get information about windmill…” Keep going keep going. . . “And I try and I made it.”

Related Characters: William Kamkwamba (speaker), Chris Anderson
Related Symbols: The Windmill
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind LitChart as a printable PDF.
The boy who harnessed the wind.pdf.medium

The Windmill Symbol Timeline in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Windmill appears in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...textbook called Using Energy, a book that will change his life. On the cover are windmills, though William doesn’t even know what a windmill is at this point. The book explains... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William begins to dream of all the things a windmill could do for him and his family, including creating electric light to replace kerosene lamps... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William experiments with small prototypes before tackling a giant windmill. He starts to gather materials for blades, a shaft, and a rotor as well as... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...center. He considers earning the five hundred kwacha through ganyu, then realizes that this prototype windmill could actually use a smaller generator such as a radio-cassette player motor. William goes to... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...wires to his tongue. Their prototype works. They then test the prototype by wiring their windmill to Geoffrey’s radio. When the wind blows, the radio produces music! (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
The first afternoon, William finds a tractor fan that will be perfect for the windmill’s rotor and a tractor piston he can use for the shaft. Three days later, he... (full context)
Chapter 10
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
When the harvest is over, William returns to his windmill project. He takes home tons of interesting pieces of machinery from the scrap yard and... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William spends all his time on the windmill, much to the chagrin of his sisters, who have to go to primary school and... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William now has all the windmill pieces in place except a generator. With no money to buy a bicycle dynamo from... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...month later, William still has nothing for a generator and complains to Gilbert that his windmill dream will never come true. Just then, a young man on a bicycle rides by... (full context)
Chapter 11
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
William starts to put his windmill together, arranging everything on the ground outside his kitchen where there is both shade and... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
...first light the next morning, William begins building a temporary tower to see if his windmill machinery will actually work. William builds a pole out of bamboo, and convinces Geoffrey to... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William repairs the bicycle chain and hoists the windmill back up at an angle away from the strongest wind. He then attaches the windmill’s... (full context)
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon
With the windmill test successful, William, Geoffrey, and Gilbert begin to build a real tower. Gathering wood from... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
At 7 the next morning, Geoffrey and Gilbert return to help William hoist the windmill on top of the tower. Using Agnes’ clothesline wire, the boys make a pulley system... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon
With the windmill finally steady on its tower, William collects a small contraption he has wired to the... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
For the next month, people come to see William’s windmill every day. Some even travel from other districts to see this miracle with their own... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...Charity for quality, insulated copper wire. William connects this wire to the dynamo on the windmill, then runs wire into his room along the wooden roof and dangles the dynamo lightbulb... (full context)
Chapter 12
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
The windmill only works when the wind is blowing, so William begins searching for a battery to... (full context)
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... (full context)
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... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 13
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon
...library every week. Feeling pressured to come up with another project as successful as his windmill, William decides to build a radio transmitter. He experiments with radio frequencies by tuning two... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon
...in Wimbe, but a strong wind blows them away. People in the village blame William’s windmill for calling witches and causing the drought. William attempts to explain, but knows that there... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William’s success with the windmill and the HIV club earns him the attention of a teacher at Wimbe primary, who... (full context)
Chapter 14
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...Teacher Training Activity come to inspect the library at Wimbe Primary School and notice William’s windmill. Mrs. Sikelo tells them that William built it, and the officials call back to their... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...Wimbe the next week with a famous Malawian radio journalist, who interviews William about his windmill and his dreams for the future of Malawi. More journalists from the radio and newspapers... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon
...celebrates the publications of his newspaper articles. The whole village reassesses its opinion of William’s windmill and shows pride for William’s effort. William gets to work improving his windmill with a... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...that he has been chosen as a TEDGlobal 2007 fellow and will go present his windmill project to other scientists and inventors in Arusha, Tanzania. William is amazed that he will... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...and says goodbye to Geoffrey and Gilbert, making them promise to take care of his windmill. William travels to the small town of Madisi and is amazed at the well-kept state... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...puts an end to the teasing by showing the other students an article about his windmill, impressing the other students with his scientific knowledge. William is incredibly happy to be back... (full context)
Chapter 15
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...American organizer at TEDGlobal, greets William and realizes that this is the boy with the windmill. Tom shows William a laptop, the first portable computer that William has ever seen, and... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...his nerves and stage fright to answer Chris’s questions about the journey to making a windmill in Wimbe. Though William is ashamed that his English is not perfect, the crowd erupts... (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...wants to help William raise funds to send back to his family, build a better windmill to power an irrigation pump, and cover William’s school fees. Several American investors agree to... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...McKay and Soyapi give William a tour, even showing William their own plans for electricity-generating windmills and teaching William about deep-cycle batteries. William uses these ideas to improve his own windmill... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
Science vs. Superstition and Magic Theme Icon
...medical care. He also repays Gilbert for all the help that Gilbert offered with the windmill, paying Gilbert’s school tuition as well as the school fees for his own sisters. William... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...peace of his home in Malawi and the feeling of standing on top of his windmill achieving his dream. (full context)
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Theme Icon
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
William often thinks of home when traveling in America, especially when faced with the huge windmill farms in Palm Springs, California. These hundred-foot-tall turbines are controlled by computers to maximize the... (full context)
Epilogue
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
...technology in emerging countries at the World Economic Forum on Africa. He explains about his windmill, and even gets the chance to inform President Mutharika about the amazing things that he,... (full context)
Malawian Culture and African Community Theme Icon
Education and Entrepreneurship Theme Icon
...friends as well as do some much needed maintenance on the recycled materials of his windmill. (full context)