Walking to the work the next day, Ngotho thinks about Boro’s words. For years, he has been waiting for the prophecy to come true, but now he wonders if he has “waited too long.” “Now he feared that this was being taken as an excuse for inactivity, or worse, a betrayal,” Ngũgĩ writes. When he arrives at work, Mr. Howlands greets him with something like kindness. Apparently, Ngotho is the only worker he treats this way. Indeed, Mr. Howlands’s wife is very particular about the people they employ, constantly letting workers go on a whim, but Mr. Howlands has never let her fire Ngotho. This is because Mr. Howlands cares about his farm more than anything, and Ngotho is an excellent farmer: “Ngotho was too much a part of the farm to be separated from it.”
Contemplating the division that has manifested within his own family, Ngotho is forced to reevaluate the way he has responded to the impact white colonialists have had on his life. The fact that Boro has now voiced his criticism, Ngotho’s sense of pride is clearly beginning to suffer, since Boro has called into question his ability to protect the family and its ancestral lands. Meanwhile, Mr. Howlands’s apparent kindness toward Ngotho is nothing more than a self-motivated attempt to wring as much as he can out of the land by using Ngotho’s expertise to better care for the farm.
Mr. Howlands, Ngũgĩ explains, is a “product of the First World War,” in which he fought for four years and saw “terrible destruction.” As a result, he became “utterly disillusioned” and decided to leave England once and for all, ultimately making his way to Kenya because he saw it as “a big trace of wild country to conquer.” After settling on what used to be the farm of Ngotho’s family, he then returned to England to find a wife, which is when he brought back Suzannah, who was “bored with life in England.” “Africa sounded quite a nice place so she had willingly followed this man who would give her a change,” Ngũgĩ writes. “but she had not known that Africa meant hardship and complete break with Europe. She again became bored.” Thankfully for her, though, she soon had a child, and this took her mind off her discontent.
Although Ngũgĩ presents Mr. Howlands as someone who dislikes violence and “destruction”—thereby humanizing him somewhat—it quickly becomes clear that this is a man who doesn’t care about people like Ngotho. Indeed, Mr. Howlands only has his own interests in mind, as made clear by the fact that he abandons his country and its war in order to stake out a new life. What’s more, he sees Ngotho’s land as “wild country” that he can “conquer,” an indication that he is attracted to the idea of asserting his will and subjugating not only the swathes of land he owns, but also the people he forces out in the process.
Not long after having her first son, Suzannah gave birth to a girl, and the family lived happily for a time. Eventually, their son started walking through the farm with Mr. Howlands, who relished the idea that he would be able to pass on the land after he died. Unfortunately, though, “European civilisation caught up with him again,” and his son was sent to war. In turn, Mr. Howlands became further disenchanted with his own country and plunged into a deep depression. He would have “destroyed himself,” Ngũgĩ writes, if he hadn’t cared so deeply about his land, to which he suddenly applied all his “energy,” “worship[ping] the soil” and toiling on the farm. During this time, Suzannah gave birth to another boy, Stephen, who “was now an only son.” His daughter, for her part, had become a missionary and left her parents behind.
As Ngũgĩ narrates Mr. Howlands’s past, it becomes clear that Howlands’s obsession with the land is directly related to his desire to completely forget about England and the sorrows he’s suffered as a result of the war. Indeed, he fought in World War I and was so traumatized and disillusioned by it that he fled to Kenya. It’s no surprise, then, that he recommits himself to “worship[ping] the soil” when his son dies in World War II. The farm, it seems, is his only salvation. Unfortunately, though, he fails to take into account—care about—the fact that he has stolen this land.
Now, Ngotho walks with Mr. Howlands, each man surveying the shamba. “For Ngotho felt responsible for whatever happened to this land. He owed it to the dead, the living, and the unborn of his line, to keep guard over this shamba.” Mr. Howlands, on the other hand, feels triumphant as he moves over his land, thinking that “he alone” is “responsible for taming this unoccupied wildness.” When he asks Ngotho what he thinks of the farm, Ngotho says, “It is the best land in all the country,” to which Mr. Howlands says, “I don’t know who will manage it after me…” Suddenly hopeful, Ngotho asks if Mr. Howlands is going home, but the white man simply replies, “My home is here!” Confused, Ngotho wonders if “these people” will ever leave.
Whereas Mr. Howlands sees the land as something to “conquer”—something that makes him feel victorious—Ngotho approaches the earth in a more wholesome, beneficent manner. By considering the significance this land had for his ancestors and the important role it will play in future generations of his family, Ngotho becomes something of a steward of the soil, working on the farm not for any kind of personal benefit, but because he respects it and wants to make sure “the unborn of his line” are able to reap its benefits. Unfortunately, the only way to do this right now is by working for Mr. Howlands, who mistakenly believes he has dominion over the farm.