Weep Not, Child


Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Weep Not, Child Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ngugi wa Thiong’o's Weep Not, Child. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Born in central Kenya in the late 1930s, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o belonged to a family that suffered as a result of the conflict between British colonialists and the Kenya Land Freedom Army, a guerilla army to which Ngũgĩ’s half-brother belonged. After attending one of the first high schools in Kenya to provide education to Africans, he went to Makerere University in Uganda, where he wrote and debuted his first play. During this time, he met Chinua Achebe, who read drafts of Ngũgĩ’s first two novels, The River Between and Weep Not, Child. Achebe was so taken by Ngũgĩ’s work that he served as advisory editor in the publication of the author’s initial novels. In 1967, Ngũgĩ embraced Marxism and renounced his Christian name (James Ngũgĩ). Nine years later, he was imprisoned after publishing a starkly political play, Ngaahika Ndeenda (or I Will Marry When I Want). During his detainment, he decided to stop writing in English, and composed Devil on the Cross in the Gikuyu language. An outspoken anti-colonialist, Ngũgĩ has worked for many years as an activist and author, and is now a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. He has a wife and six children, four of whom are authors themselves.
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Historical Context of Weep Not, Child

Weep Not, Child takes place during what’s known as the Mau Mau Uprising, a period in the 1950s in which groups of Kenyans came together to form a guerilla army that opposed British colonial rule. Beginning in the 1940s, people like Jomo Kenyatta—an anti-colonial activist—started advocating for Kenyan independence, ultimately forming the Kenya African Union (KAU). However, certain members of the KAU became more militant and aggressive than the original group, eventually using violence to resist the oppressive rule of the British government. This is how the Mau Mau formed, and because of their violent tendencies, many Kenyans came to fear them, despite the fact that the group was originally established to protect them. Of course, the white settlers were also violent, and by 1960 had killed over 11,000 people, whereas only 32 settlers were killed, according to the official record (though the unofficial count is likely much higher, considering that the Kenya Human Rights Commission published a death tally upholding that 90,000 Kenyans were killed during the eight-year conflict). Kenya finally moved toward true independence from colonial rule in 1960, though the Mau Mau Uprising died down significantly in 1956, when Dedan Kimathi—the true leader of the resistance—was captured. In 1964, Jomo Kenyatta became the country’s first president.

Other Books Related to Weep Not, Child

Due to its examination of the effects of British colonialism on an African country (Kenya), Weep Not, Child is similar to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a novel about how Nigeria changes after the arrival of white settlers. In fact, many of Achebe’s works are related to Weep Not, Child, including his novel No Longer at Ease, which traces a Nigerian man’s journey away from his village to receive an education. Both Weep Not, Child and No Longer at Ease look at the impact formal education has on African communities, ultimately showcasing both the limits and advantages of traditional schooling. Like Weep Not, Child, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood also takes place in Kenya and deals with both the Mau Mau Uprising and the damaging effects of British colonialism.
Key Facts about Weep Not, Child
  • Full Title: Weep Not, Child
  • When Written: 1962
  • Where Written: Kampala, Uganda
  • When Published: 1964
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: Central Kenya
  • Climax: Having murdered Jacobo, Boro sneaks into Mr. Howlands’s house and shoots him.
  • Antagonist: Mr. Howlands, Jacobo, and the British colonialists who have taken over Kenya and sown division amongst Africans.
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Weep Not, Child

Imprisonment. After Ngũgĩ was imprisoned because of his play I Will Marry When I Want, he was named a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International, the organization responsible for eventually setting him free.

Forced Exile. While promoting his 1980 novel Devil on the Cross in England, Ngũgĩ heard that the Kenyan government planned to assassinate him upon his return. As such, he sought exile in England and other countries, and even narrowly avoided an assassination attempt in Zimbabwe in 1986.