The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Muthoni Character Analysis

Muthoni is Joshua’s younger daughter and Nyambura’s younger sister. Although Muthoni is a Christian and cherishes the Christian God, she feels as if she cannot be a real woman unless she is circumcised like the traditional women of their tribe. Within the tribe, circumcision for both men and women represents one’s entrance into adulthood as a Gikuyu and their commitment to tribal tradition and identity. Joshua, however, views circumcision as a sinful “pagan” rite, proof of the tribe’s backward ways, and strictly forbids his daughters to be circumcised. Muthoni defies Joshua and leaves his household, moving in with her aunt in Kameno so that she can be undergo this rite of passage and be circumcised with the other young women. After the ceremony, though she is in great pain, Muthoni tells Nyambura that she finally feels whole, having integrated her Christian faith with her Gikuyu customs. However, Muthoni’s circumcision wound does not heal properly and becomes infected. She grows ill, and though Waiyaki takes her to the mission hospital in Siriana, she dies of her infection. Before she dies, though, she tells Waiyaki that she is happy—that she sees Jesus and feels like a real woman, signifying that she has merged her Christian identity and tribal identity and thus proving that unity can exist between Christians and Gikuyu tribalists. Muthoni’s death leaves a great impression on everyone in Makuyu and Kameno. Waiyaki and Nyambura are stunned by her bravery to rebel against Joshua, while Joshua and his followers grow more militaristic about opposing tribal rituals since Muthoni died during one. Muthoni’s death is also what spurs Kabonyi to leave the church (because he blames Joshua for the situation) and begin his crusade to protect the tribe’s purity.

Muthoni Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below are all either spoken by Muthoni or refer to Muthoni. 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 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 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 10 Quotes

The knife produced a thin sharp pain as it cut through the flesh. The surgeon had done his work. Blood trickled freely on to the ground, sinking into the soil. Henceforth a religious bond linked Waiyaki to the earth, as if his blood was an offering.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Muthoni
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

Schools grew up like mushrooms. Often a school was nothing more than a shed hurriedly thatched with grass. And there they stood, symbols of people’s thirst for the white man’s secret magic and power. Few wanted to live the white man’s way, but all wanted this thing, this magic.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Muthoni
Page Number: 66
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:
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Muthoni Character Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the character Muthoni appears in The River Between. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
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 about how the villagers... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Muthoni’s wish to be circumcised upsets Nyambura, since it goes against the missionaries’ teachings. Muthoni insists... (full context)
Chapter 8
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...by Kabonyi. One Sunday, after a particularly long service, Nyambura returns home and realizes that Muthoni is absent. By evening she still has not returned, and Nyambura fears that Muthoni is... (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 their aunt in Kameno to be circumcised.... (full context)
Chapter 9
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... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Although Waiyaki feels reservation at first, he sees Muthoni dancing beautifully and allows himself to be swept up in the spirit of the dance.... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Waiyaki leaves the dance feeling strangely and finds Muthoni at the edge of the forest. He self-consciously asks her why she rebelled, and Muthoni... (full context)
Chapter 10
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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... (full context)
Chapter 11
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Muthoni dies in Siriana. Waiyaki returns to Kameno to inform Nyambura and Miriamu. Before she died,... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...emotion and resolves to stay firm on his “journey to the new Jerusalem.” Chege sees Muthoni’s death as proof that the white religion causes division and death. He fears for the... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In Siriana, Livingstone sees Muthoni’s death as confirmation of “the barbarity of Gikuyu customs.” Though Livingstone had arrived in Kenya... (full context)
Chapter 12
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki fears that the hatred Muthoni’s death aroused will break the villages apart. Within days, Waiyaki hears that Kabonyi has defected... (full context)
Chapter 14
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...develops quickly and soon has a considerable reputation across the ridges. In the wake of Muthoni’s death, the split with Siriana, and Chege’s death, Waiyaki takes spreading education in the ridges... (full context)
Chapter 15
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...of the white people’s incursion into his country and the “disruption” it caused, and of Muthoni’s courage and death—the result of such disruption. The shape of a woman hovers in his... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...would be angry to see her standing with Waiyaki, but she has been lonely since Muthoni died. Though she obeys her father, she feels “cold” toward him and blames him for... (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 are bad” and that Christians cannot... (full context)
Chapter 19
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...but she still loves the Christian God and cannot simply abandon it or rebel as Muthoni had. But she knows that she longs for Waiyaki and the surety he represents to... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...and stands with him. They speak about their shared love for the river and about Muthoni. Waiyaki recalls carrying her to Siriana and her last words for Nyambura: she has seen... (full context)
Chapter 21
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...irritable toward Joshua. She resents him and his religious fervor. She wants to rebel like Muthoni and marry Waiyaki but fears her father and lacks Muthoni’s courage. Sensing this, Miriamu warns... (full context)
Chapter 22
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...at her. As the crowd throws Nyambura into the river, Waiyaki sees that it is Muthoni they have killed, not Nyambura. He sees Nyambura in the distance, but she will not... (full context)
Chapter 24
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...violence. However, when he tries to do so, Joshua rejects him and blames him for Muthoni’s death. Kamau and his followers see Waiyaki in Joshua’s church and decide that he is... (full context)
Chapter 25
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...to wipe away the traditions of the tribe, or the tribe will have no grounding. Muthoni tried to reconcile Christianity and tribal culture and died in her attempt. But female circumcision... (full context)