Weep Not, Child

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Weep Not, Child: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That Monday, Njoroge goes to school. Because he doesn’t know how to get there, Mwihaki shows him the way. “Mwihaki was a daughter of Jacobo,” Ngũgĩ explains. “Jacobo owned the land on which Ngotho lived.” Like Njoroge, Mwihaki is a student, but she has already started school, since her family believes in educating all of their children. In fact, her older sister, Lucia, is a teacher at the school. This gives Mwihaki a certain amount of power, which she uses to fend off bullies when they try to pick on Njoroge on his first day. Calling him a Njuka—a newcomer—they taunt him until Mwihaki tells them to stop, saying, “Yes, he is my Njuka. Let any of you touch him.”
Although it is a very small-scale representation of the matter, Mwihaki’s willingness to defend Njoroge against bullies foreshadows the ways in which these two children will come together in the face of antagonism and division. Unafraid of the aggressive boys who make fun of Njoroge for being a newcomer, Mwihaki proudly defends him. 
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Njoroge gets used to school, though he keeps to himself, making a point of returning home early so he won’t encounter “bad boys” in the dark. Three weeks into the term, though, Mwihaki asks him to wait for her so they can walk home together. Talking on their way, they stop atop a hill near their village and pass the time. “It was sweet to play with a girl and especially if that girl came from a family higher up the social scale than one’s own,” Ngũgĩ notes. However, Njoroge fails to see that the sun is “sinking,” and is startled when Nyokabi appears and anxiously rushes him home. “She did not want her son to associate with a family of the rich because it would not be healthy for him,” Njoroge writes. Blaming this incident on Mwihaki, Njoroge promises himself he’ll stop playing with her.
Ngũgĩ has already mentioned that Ngotho’s family lives on Jacobo’s land. As such, Mwihaki—Jacobo’s daughter—has a certain elevated social status, which is why Njoroge’s mother doesn’t want her son playing with her. Of course, this is a rather strange reaction, since there is seemingly no problem with the idea of “associate[ing] with a family of the rich.” At the same time, though, Nyokabi believes that playing with Mwihaki isn’t “healthy” for Njoroge, an opinion that suggests a certain fear that her son will become too aware of the disparity—the division—between Kenya’s rich and poor. In turn, readers see that white people and black people aren’t the only divided populations. Rather, there are also rifts between Kenyans themselves.
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After school one day, Njoroge urges his mother to tell him stories, but she tells him to do his homework first. “Nyokabi was proud of having a son in school,” Ngũgĩ explains. “It made her soul happy and lighthearted whenever she saw him bending double over a slate or recounting to her what he had seen at school. […] It was to her the greatest reward she would get from her motherhood if she one day found her son writing letters, doing arithmetic, and speaking English.” Indeed, she wants Njoroge to become educated because she doesn’t think that her own “social circumstances and conditions” will help him grow up. “Her other son had died in the big war,” Ngũgĩ writes. “It had hurt her much. Why should he have died in a white man’s war?”
Once again, Ngũgĩ emphasizes the fact that Nyokabi and her family believe education will help Njoroge advance the whole family. This, Nyokabi hopes, will enable her son to avoid the gruesome and seemingly needless fate that her other son met during World War II, in which he fought for white people who only cared about their own cause.
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Njoroge runs to find Kamau, who should be coming home from his apprenticeship. On his way, he passes Mwihaki’s house and thinks about the interior of the kitchen, which he once visited on Christmas Day because JulianaJacobo’s wife—invited him and a handful of other children who work on the land for a party. During grace, a boy next to Njoroge made a funny noise, and he couldn’t help but laugh, setting off a chain reaction throughout the group that left him feeling ashamed. Delivering a “long lecture,” Juliana said that if Njoroge was her own son, she wouldn’t feed him for two days because her children all have “good manners.”
When Njoroge thinks about his experience in Julianna’s kitchen, it’s clear he feels ashamed for his inability to demonstrate “good manners.” What’s more, it becomes evident that Julianna is self-righteous about the way she has raised her children, essentially insulting Njoroge’s upbringing in an attempt to make him feel guilty for misbehaving. This moment is important to remember as the novel progresses, considering that Mwihaki—Julianna’s daughter—is already growing close to Njoroge. It’s obvious, then, that these two children must navigate their differences and the fact that they come from opposing backgrounds, and this is yet another reminder that there is division between Africans themselves, not just between black people and white people.
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Njoroge makes his way along the path and sees Mwihaki approaching. Suddenly, he feels acutely aware of his calico cloth, which is barely covering “the lower part of his body.” Angry that his mother made him change out of his school clothes, he “hate[s] himself for feeling” ashamed of his own clothes. “Before he had started school,” Ngũgĩ writes, “[…] he would never have thought that he would ever be ashamed of the calico, the only dress he had ever known since birth.” Nonetheless, he decides to avoid Mwihaki by turning into Jacobo’s pyrethrum field. From this vantage point, he can see Mr. Howlands’s land, which lies just beyond an adjacent ridge. “That was where Ngotho, Njoroge’s father, worked,” Ngũgĩ writes.
Njoroge’s abrupt self-consciousness underlines the ways in which his new experiences in school have made him aware of the difference between people like him and people like Mwihaki, who are rich and undoubtedly influenced by European culture. In turn, he feels guilty for the shame he experiences in this moment, but this doesn’t stop him from hiding from Mwihaki—a fact that demonstrates how feelings of shame and embarrassment can motivate a person to do things he or she might not otherwise consider.
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As Njoroge goes to find Kamau, he passes Nganga’s land. Nganga is the carpenter with whom Kamau is apprenticed, and Njoroge thinks about how Ngotho had to pay “a huge fattened he-goat and a hundred and fifty shillings” to convince the master to take on his son. “Nganga was rich,” Ngũgĩ explains. “He had land. Any man who had land was considered rich. If a man had plenty of money, many motor cars, but not land, he could never be counted as rich. A man who went with tattered clothes but had at least an acre of red earth was better off than the man with money.”
In this section, Ngũgĩ impresses upon readers the importance of land ownership, suggesting that there is nothing more valuable than owning a farm or “an acre of red earth.” In turn, he intimates that this kind of proprietorship is a form of power, one that is more stable than monetary or material wealth. Unfortunately, Njoroge’s family doesn’t own land, which is why he is so sensitive to the supposed differences between himself and people like Mwihaki.
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When Njoroge finally finds Kamau, his brother complains about Nganga, saying that the man isn’t even teaching him anything but instead forcing him to carry tools and clean up the workspace.  “But why does he treat you like that? He is a black man,” Njoroge says. “Blackness is not all that makes a man,” Kamau replies. “There are some people, be they black or white, who don’t want others to rise above them. They want to be the source of all knowledge and share it piecemeal to others less endowed.” Going on, he upholds that sometimes “Europeans are better than Africans,” which is why Ngotho can be heard from time to time saying he’d rather work for a white man. “A white man is a white man,” Kamau says. “But a black man trying to be a white man is bad and harsh.”
When Kamau says that some people “don’t want others to rise above them,” he addresses the division in his community. He articulates the fact that those in power are eager to make sure others don’t have a chance to increase their own wealth, whether this wealth comes in the form of ownership or “knowledge.” By calling Njoroge’s attention to the idea that certain black people try even harder than white people to disempower other Kenyans, Kamau touches upon the sad reality that Africans have become so divided and competitive that they spend all their energy struggling against one another instead of helping uplift their shared community.
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That night, Njoroge gathers with his family to listen to stories. Included in this group are his older brothers, Kori and Boro. “Boro, who had been to the war, did not know many tribal stories,” Ngũgĩ writes. “He drank a lot and he was always sad and withdrawn. He never talked much about his war experiences except when he was drunk or when he was in a mood of resentment against the government and settlers.” Even when Boro does talk about the war, he rarely mentions his brother Mwangi, whom he loved deeply and who died while fighting in Europe.
It’s clear that Boro has been changed by the things he witnessed as a soldier in World War II. Unfortunately, he lost his brother to a cause that has very little to do with Kenya, making the loss all the more painful because it seems needless and futile. What’s more, the fact that Boro has returned from the war completely uninterested in participating in his culture’s tradition of telling “tribal stories” suggests that violence has estranged him from his old life and companions. When he does talk, he only speaks resentfully about “the government and settlers,” ultimately suggesting that the only thing he can think about is the way colonialists have ruined his life.
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On this particular night, many family members are present. “Boro, Kori, and Kamau were all sons of Njeri, Ngotho’s eldest wife,” Ngũgĩ writes. “Njoroge’s only true brother was Mwangi who had died in the war. But they all behaved as if they were of one mother.” Settling in with his close-knit family, then, Ngotho tells a version of the creation story, explaining that God bequeathed their ancestors with the land before them. “Where did the land go?” Njoroge interrupts, and Ngotho says, “I am old now. But I too have asked that question in waking and sleeping.” He then tells his family that an old seer prophesied that “the white man” would come and take the land that belongs to the Kikuyu people.
It’s worth noting that Ngotho’s family is especially close. This unity is important to keep in mind as the novel progresses, since Weep Not, Child is largely about how discord can work its way into even the closest groups of people. On another note, Ngũgĩ once again stresses the significance of land ownership. By telling a creation story in which God presents land to the Kikuyu people, Ngotho intimates that the soil under his feet belongs to him, not to white men like Mr. Howlands, who have claimed it as their own. In turn, readers prepare themselves for a struggle between Kenyans and colonialists over the earth itself.
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“Then came the war,” Ngotho says, continuing his story. “It was the first big war. I was then young, a mere boy, although circumcised. All of us were taken by force. We made roads and cleared the forest to make it possible for the warring white man to move more quickly. The war ended. We were all tired. We came home worn-out but very ready for whatever the British might give as a reward. But, more than this, we wanted to go back to the soil and court it to yield, to create, not to destroy. But Ng’o! The land was gone. My father and many others had been moved from our ancestral lands.” Going on, Ngotho explains that his father died a Muhoi (a serf, essentially) on his own land. Now, Ngotho explains, he himself works on this ancestral land, which belongs to Mr. Howlands these days.
In this moment, Ngotho tells the story of how the ancient prophecy—that “the white man” would take the land belonging to the Kikuyu people—came true. In turn, readers see how British colonialists exploited Kenyans by forcing them to leave their homes to help in a war that had nothing to do with them. And while they were away, the British stole their land. Interestingly enough, though, Ngotho doesn’t necessarily focus on the idea of ownership, but rather on the fact that he and his fellow Kenyans simply want to “court” the soil “to yield.” Indeed, Ngotho wants to interact with the land so that he can “create” more life on earth through the process of farming. As such, readers see that his motivation to reclaim his land has little to do with greedy notions of ownership—a mentality that stands in stark contrast to the white settlers’ exploitative ambitions.
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Fortunately, Ngotho upholds that the old prophet also predicted that “the white man” would eventually be driven away. As such, Ngotho has spent his time working for Mr. Howlands, “waiting for the prophecy to be fulfilled.” When Kori asks if he thinks this will ever actually happen, though, Ngotho says he doesn’t know. There was once a time, he explains, when a certain man emerged and promised to drive away the settlers, “but he was killed by wicked people because he said people should stand together.” Since then, Ngotho has continued waiting for the prophecy to come true, but he believes it might not “be fulfilled in [his] lifetime.”
When Ngotho explains that the white settlers once killed a man who wanted to unite the people, he suggests that the colonialists want to actively prevent Africans from coming together. This is because any kind of true and widespread unification amongst Kenyans could lead to an overthrow of power. As such, it is in the best interest of the white settlers to keep black people divided. Unfortunately, this brings to mind the socioeconomic tensions that keep people like Njoroge and Mwihaki apart—evidence of the fact that the white settlers’ strategy of sowing division amongst Kenyans is working.
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Listening to his father, Boro thinks about how Ngotho “fought in the war only to be dispossessed.” “He too had gone to war, against Hitler,” Ngũgĩ writes. “He had gone to Egypt, Jerusalem, and Burma. He had seen things.” When he came home from World War II, he found himself unable to find a job, and “there was no land on which he could settle.” As he listens to Ngotho’s story, these injustices reoccur to him and work him into a slow rage. “How could these people have let the white man occupy the land without acting? And what was all this superstitious belief in prophecy,” he wonders, saying aloud, “To hell with the prophecy.” Turning to his father, he says, “How can you continue working for a man who has taken your land? How can you go on serving him?” With this, he leaves the hut.
Boro can’t stand the idea that his father and elders have let white people treat them so badly. Indeed, he feels as if people like Ngotho should be ashamed for their inability to take action against the settlers, and this infuriates him so much that he’s unable to sit idly by while his father speaks about the matter. In turn, readers see that even Ngotho’s close-knit family is susceptible to the kind of internal divides that arise as a result of the exploitative ways of the British colonialists.
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