The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Waiyaki sits naked on the riverbank with the other initiates. “The surgeon” makes the circumcision cut, and Waiyaki feels a sharp pain. He watches his blood trickle onto the soil, an “offering” to the earth. The people around him celebrate, but as Waiyaki feels his own pain, he wonders what Muthoni feels. Images of childhood, of Chege, and of Livingstone pass through his mind in a discordant blur. He spends the next several days in the village hospital, recovering with the other male initiates who are all in immense pain as their bodies battle infection. Eventually, they all heal.
Waiyaki’s blood falling on the soil as an offering represents his attachment to the land, to the river, and to his tribal identity and its agrarian lifestyle. At the same time, flashing images of Chege and Livingstone—representatives of the tribal life and white Christianity, respectively—reflect Waiyaki’s conflicted nature. He identifies with the Gikuyu tribe, but he also seems to feel the heavy influence of Livingstone and his Christian religion.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Chege speaks with another elder, proud of Waiyaki for enduring circumcision and proving that his time amongst the white people has not weakened him. The elder tells him that all the women except Muthoni have also recovered. Muthoni’s wound appears infected and will not heal. Chege is angry at Joshua’s religion—if he still practiced as the tribe does, he could sacrifice to Murungu and heal his daughter. As they part, Chege is proud of Waiyaki but fearful for his country.
Muthoni’s illness represents the potential cost of forming one’s identity between two different worlds. Chege’s fear for his country foreshadows not only the ending of the story, but the ultimate fate of the Gikuyu, who are subjugated by the white colonialists.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki visits Muthoni, who only grows sicker. He admires her courage, but a part of him wonders if she was wrong to defy her father. Muthoni wishes to see Nyambura, though Joshua forbids it. However, when Waiyaki speaks to Nyambura about her sister, Nyambura immediately begins visiting Muthoni in secret. Nyambura is bitter about Muthoni’s choice, but Muthoni declares that she is finally a woman and warns Nyambura that someday she will have to make her own choice. When Muthoni becomes delirious, Waiyaki and some helpers carry her to the hospital in Siriana. Nyambura tells Miriamu that her daughter is terribly ill.
Joshua’s refusal to allow Nyambura to visit Muthoni suggests he care more about his own power and pride than he does about his daughter’s comfort and wellbeing. Muthoni’s declaration that she is finally a woman suggests that, by combining Christianity and Gikuyu tribal customs, she has resolved her conflicted identity. Although it cost her family relationships, Muthoni feels at peace with herself, having reconciled the two opposing influences over her life.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon