The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Joshua Character Analysis

Joshua is Muthoni and Nyambura’s father and a Gikuyu Christian pastor who lives in Makuyu. Joshua accepts everything that the white missionaries say and believes that they speak with the authority of God. As such, he rejects all elements of tribal culture and considers them evil pagan rites and the work of Satan. As the foremost Christian leader amongst the Gikuyu, Joshua militaristically governs his family and demands they abide by his Christian rules. He views female circumcision as the ultimate unforgivable sin and forbids his daughters from undergoing the procedure, even though it is the most important Gikuyu cultural tradition. Joshua hates that his wife, Miriamu, was circumcised before they married, and he often beats her for it in the present even though she can do nothing to change it. When Muthoni rebels and decides to be circumcised, Joshua disowns her as his daughter and acts as if she does not exist—he’s even unmoved when he hears of her death. When Nyambura decides to be with Waiyaki, Joshua tries to forbid it, since Waiyaki was involved with the Kiama and is thus his mortal enemy, an agent of Satan. When Nyambura defies Joshua anyways, he disowns her as well. His stubborn opposition to Nyambura’s happiness suggests that he is more preoccupied with wielding his authority over his family than their actual wellbeing. Although Waiyaki tries to warn Joshua that Kabonyi’s followers are considering attacking Joshua’s church, Joshua is blinded by his hatred for Waiyaki and will not listen.

Joshua Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below are all either spoken by Joshua or refer to Joshua. 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:
Colonialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The River Between published in 2015.
Chapter 3 Quotes

[Waiyaki’s] eyes were large and rather liquid; sad and contemplative. But whenever he looked at someone, they seemed to burn bright. A light came from them, a light that appeared to pierce your body, seeing something beyond you, into your heart. Not a man knew what language the eyes spoke. Only, if the boy gazed at you, you had to obey.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Kabonyi, Joshua
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

“Father and Mother are circumcised. Are they not Christians? Circumcision did not prevent them from being Christians. I too have embraced the white man’s faith. However, I know it is beautiful, oh so beautiful to be initiated into womanhood. You learn the ways of the tribe. Yes, the white man’s God does not quite satisfy me. I want, I need something more.”

Related Characters: Muthoni (speaker), Nyambura, Joshua, Miriamu
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Joshua was such a staunch man of God and such a firm believer in the Old Testament, that he would never refrain from punishing a sin, even if this meant beating his wife. He did not mind as long as he was executing God’s justice.

Related Characters: Joshua, Miriamu, Kabonyi
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

[Miriamu’s] faith and belief in God were coupled with her fear of Joshua. But that was religion and it was the way things were ordered. However, one could tell by her eyes that this was a religion learned and accepted; inside, the true Gikuyu woman was sleeping.

Related Characters: Miriamu, Joshua, Muthoni
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

As the spiritual head of the hills, [Joshua] enforced the Church’s morality with new energy. All the tribe’s customs were bad. That was final. There could never be a compromise.

Related Characters: Joshua, Muthoni
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

Day by day [Nyambura] became weary of Joshua’s brand of religion. Was she too becoming a rebel? No. She would not do what her sister had done. She knew […] that she had to have a God who would give her a fullness of life, a God who would still her restless soul; so she clung to Christ because He had died on the Tree, love for all the people blazing out from His sad eyes.

Related Characters: Nyambura, Joshua, Muthoni, Waiyaki
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

Many teachers came from all over the ridge to see him, and many elders and children came to him with various problems. But in spite of all this Waiyaki was losing that contact with people that can only come through taking part together in a ritual. He was becoming too obsessed with the schools and the widening rift and divisions.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Joshua, Nyambura
Related Symbols: Kameno
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

No! It could never be a religion of love. Never, never. The religion of love was in the heart. The other was Joshua’s own religion, which ran counter to her spirit and violated love. If the faith of Joshua and Livingstone came to separate, why, it was not good. […] She wanted the other. The other that held together, the other that united.

Related Characters: Nyambura, Waiyaki, Joshua, Reverend Livingstone
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The River Between LitChart as a printable PDF.
The River Between PDF

Joshua Character Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the character Joshua appears in The River Between. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...safe in the ridges. The white missionaries already moved into a nearby town, Siriana, and Joshua and Kabonyi, both from Makuyu, converted to the new religion. Still, no one in Kameno... (full context)
Chapter 6
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Joshua’s daughters, Nyambura and Muthoni, sit by the river and fill their water barrels. Nyambura thinks... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...circumcised like their tribe’s women have for countless generations. Muthoni begs Nyambura not to tell Joshua about this. She is planning to go to their aunt in Kameno, who will be... (full context)
Chapter 7
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
All of the buildings in Makuyu are traditional thatched huts except for Joshua’s house, which is tin-roofed and rectangular, a symbol of the outside world’s encroachment into the... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Though Joshua once feared hell, now, because Christ made him a “new creature,” he does not fear... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Since the year had an unusually good harvest, the tribespeople sacrifice to Murungu. Joshua’s followers prepare for Christmas while everyone else prepares for the initiation rites and circumcision ceremonies.... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Kameno’s people are restless and blame Joshua for the white people’s intrusion into their hills. There is rumor that the white people... (full context)
Chapter 8
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
On Sundays, Joshua preaches at his church in Makuyu, aided by Kabonyi. One Sunday, after a particularly long... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
As Joshua rages at Miriamu, who cannot find Muthoni, Nyambura finally admits that Muthoni has gone to... (full context)
Chapter 9
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...famines, like the one that left him a widower. He thinks about those days, when Joshua and Kabonyi converted to Christianity and Chege severed his relationship with them. He resents that... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
On the eve of initiation, Kameno holds a tribal dance. Word of Muthoni’s rebellion against Joshua has spread across the ridges. Waiyaki cannot imagine rebelling against his family in such a... (full context)
Chapter 10
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 11
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
When Joshua hears of his daughter’s death, he shows no emotion and resolves to stay firm on... (full context)
Chapter 12
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...levy taxes. The elders distrust Waiyaki and wonder if his time in Siriana corrupted him. Joshua now explicitly bans any Christians from having any connection to circumcision, and his new ferocity... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...aroused will break the villages apart. Within days, Waiyaki hears that Kabonyi has defected from Joshua and taken many followers with him. In response, the mission in Siriana bans any children... (full context)
Chapter 14
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...deepening divisions between villages worry Waiyaki. Some people want to maintain the old ways, while Joshua and his followers become more firmly allied with the white people and hostile to the... (full context)
Chapter 15
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Nyambura knows that Joshua would be angry to see her standing with Waiyaki, but she has been lonely since... (full context)
Chapter 16
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...is angry at Nyambura for not coming to see him until he remembers how fearsome Joshua can be. He realizes he would not want Kabonyi to have seen him with Nyambura,... (full context)
Chapter 17
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In his church, Joshua preaches powerfully, seemingly unaffected by Muthoni’s death. He declares that “all of the tribe’s customs... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...he is in the Kiama, Waiyaki knows that the elders would view his sitting in Joshua’s church as a betrayal. Waiyaki does not mind, for he knows that he would never... (full context)
Chapter 18
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...lead them against the invaders. Kabonyi fumes. Though he meant to denounce Waiyaki for attending Joshua’s church, he sees that the people love Waiyaki more and more. When the singing ends,... (full context)
Chapter 19
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Joshua worries about Waiyaki’s rising influence and the success of his schools. Many of his own... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki watches Joshua’s meeting from the doorway of his own hut. He recognizes that it is a challenge... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Nyambura has been growing increasingly depressed. She is tired of Joshua’s zealotry and Christian practice, but she still loves the Christian God and cannot simply abandon... (full context)
Chapter 20
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...to reconciliation, his failure to bring it up at the meeting now seems more serious. Joshua’s followers and Kabonyi’s followers each grow more committed to their own cause and hostile to... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...day after school, Kinuthia tells Waiyaki that people are accusing him of becoming one of Joshua’s followers. Though Kabonyi fuels the accusations, the villagers know that Waiyaki recently went to Siriana... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...is losing his connection with the people. One night, someone sets fire to one of Joshua’s followers’ huts. Such violence has never occurred before between villages. Waiyaki senses that the Kiama... (full context)
Chapter 21
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In the weeks after Nyambura rejects Waiyaki’s proposal, she grows despondent and increasingly irritable toward Joshua. She resents him and his religious fervor. She wants to rebel like Muthoni and marry... (full context)
Chapter 22
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Joshua’s Christmas celebration and the tribe’s next initiation rites will occur soon, on the same day.... (full context)
Chapter 23
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...with the Kiama. At the meeting, Kabonyi accuses Waiyaki of betraying the tribe by visiting Joshua’s church, conspiring with the white missionaries in Siriana, and marrying Joshua’s daughter, Nyambura. Waiyaki insists... (full context)
Chapter 24
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the savior foretold by ancient prophecy. Kinuthia thinks that the Kiama is going to attack Joshua tonight. Although he begs Waiyaki to flee for his life to Nairobi, Waiyaki decides he... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Nyambura sees Waiyaki in the church and her heart longs for him. She decides that Joshua and Livingstone’s version of Christianity, which divides people and makes them enemies, is not the... (full context)
Chapter 26
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Kabonyi declares that Waiyaki has broken the oath by seeking to marry Nyambura, Joshua’s daughter, an uncircumcised woman. The crowd will not believe it, so Kabonyi presents Nyambura and... (full context)