Throughout Weep Not, Child, Njoroge clings to his hope that life will improve if only he continues to work hard for the things he values and loves. First and foremost, this means pursuing an education, which he believes will enable him to uplift his community. Indeed, his desire to learn is admirable because it not only indicates his determination to improve himself, but also his motivation to help the people he cares about. In turn, his commitment to upward mobility signals his optimistic outlook, which enables him to envision a better future for his people. Unfortunately, though, the senseless violence surrounding him eventually interferes with his hope, ultimately discouraging him from having faith in the vision of a better “tomorrow,” and forcing him to resign himself to the bleak reality of his life. In doing this, he stops thinking about making progress, instead focusing only on the present as a way of coping with the fact that he has no resources he might turn to in order to improve his life. As such, Ngũgĩ illustrates the dispiriting reality of living in countries torn to pieces by violent conflict. And though he doesn’t condemn Njoroge for slipping into cynicism—which he intimates is an understandable response, given the circumstances—he also doesn’t fully condone Njoroge’s newfound pessimism. In this way, Ngũgĩ simply draws attention to the tragedy of disillusionment, which can so easily befall people living in the midst of political and cultural turmoil.
The entirety of Njoroge’s family believes in his determination to receive an education. For instance, his father’s obsession with regaining the family land factors into the boy’s desire to become upwardly mobile, which he hopes will enable him to help his father. “Njoroge listened to his father,” Ngũgĩ notes during a scene in which Ngotho talks to his son about their lost land. “He instinctively knew that an indefinable demand was being made on him, even though he was so young. He knew that for him education would be the fulfilment of a wider and more significant vision—a vision that embraced the demand made on him, not only by his father, but also by his mother, his brothers, and even the village. He saw himself destined for something big, and this made his heart glow.” In this passage, it becomes clear that Njoroge sees his own education as something that will empower not only himself, but his family, too. Indeed, he believes there’s a “demand” for him to succeed. Thankfully, he sees himself as “destined for something big,” so this “demand” doesn’t feel like a burden. In fact, Njoroge relishes the idea of delivering his family from poverty and oppression, and this is a testament to his optimism.
Part of Njoroge’s hope has to do with his relationship with Mwihaki, with whom he bonds over matters of education. Although Mwihaki is the daughter of Jacobo—a family enemy—she and Njoroge manage to transcend the tension or animosity that might otherwise threaten their connection. This is possible because they both thrive on the idea of improving themselves through education, and they enjoy going through the school system together. In this way, the progress Njoroge makes is wrapped up in his budding but unacknowledged love for Mwihaki. In a passage about one of Njoroge’s first days of school, Ngũgĩ writes, “The two had shared each other’s hopes and fears, and [Njoroge] felt akin to her.” It is this shared sense of “hope” that enables their bond to persist even after their fathers become dangerously pitted against one another.
Later, when Njoroge is admitted to a school Mwihaki didn’t get into, he consoles her by emphasizing the importance of maintaining her commitment to education, which he upholds will still enable her to improve her life. “Our country has great need of us,” he says, but she expresses her doubt that they’ll be able to change anything. “You are always talking about tomorrow, tomorrow,” she says after he tells her that the “sun will rise tomorrow.” “What is tomorrow?” she presses. In response, Njoroge demonstrates his unwavering hope, saying, “You and I can only put faith in hope. Just stop for a moment, Mwihaki, and imagine. If you knew that all your days life will always be like this with blood flowing daily and men dying in the forest, while others daily cry for mercy; if you knew even for one moment that this would go on forever, then life would be meaningless unless bloodshed and death were a meaning. Surely this darkness and terror will not go on forever.” This is an important moment because Njoroge reveals that the only way he knows how to cope with his bleak reality is by investing himself in the idea of a better future. This is why he has so wholeheartedly committed himself to education. And because he feels strongly for Mwihaki, he urges her to embrace this optimism, arguing that it’s her only option.
Unfortunately, Njoroge loses his “faith in hope” when governmental thugs pull him out of school and torture him for information about a violent act he knows nothing about. After this, he stops attending school, instead spending his time making money in the markets. “For the first time Njoroge was faced to face with a problem to which ‘tomorrow’ was no answer,” Ngũgĩ notes. After a while, Njoroge decides to visit Mwihaki—the only person or thing in his life that still gives him a sense of hope for the future—and professes his love to her. “At last he had said it. For now he knew that she was his last hope,” Ngũgĩ writes, revealing that Njoroge has embraced a form of “hope” that isn’t forward-looking and idealistic, but rooted in that which exists in the present: love and companionship. This, it seems, is the only thing he can control, and so it’s what he focuses on. However, Mwihaki hasn’t given up her belief in a better future, and so she declines his invitation to leave Kenya. When she tries to remind him that their country needs them, Njoroge voices his disillusionment, saying, “All that was a dream. We can only live today.” Unfortunately, though, even investing in the present becomes difficult for Njoroge once Mwihaki makes clear that she won’t elope with him. “Njoroge had now lost faith in all the things he had earlier believed in,” Ngũgĩ explains, “like wealth, power, education, religion. Even love, his last hope, had fled from him.” Disenfranchised by his government and dispirited about the idea of self-improvement, Njoroge finds that he has nothing to “hope” for—not even love. In this way, Ngũgĩ traces the demise of the boy’s optimism, ultimately revealing how thoroughly violence and oppression can thwart even the most motivated people and their dreams of progress.
Hope, Progress, and Disillusionment ThemeTracker
Hope, Progress, and Disillusionment Quotes in Weep Not, Child
Nyokabi was proud of having a son in school. 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. She felt elated when she ordered her son to go and do some reading or some sums. 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.
“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 us 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. He died lonely, a poor man waiting for the white man to go.”
He just loved to see Ngotho working in the farm; the way the old man touched the soil, almost fondling, and the way he tended the young tea plants as if they were his own . . . Ngotho was too much a part of the farm to be separated from it. Something else. He could manage the farm labourers as no other person could. Ngotho had come to him at a time when his money position was bad. But with the coming of Ngotho, things and his fortune improved.
Mr Howlands was tall, heavily built, with an oval-shaped face that ended in a double chin and a big stomach. In physical appearance at least, he was a typical Kenya settler. He was a product of the First World War. After years of security at home, he had been suddenly called to arms and he had gone to the war with the fire of youth that imagines war a glory. But after four years of blood and terrible destruction, like many other young men he was utterly disillusioned by the “peace.” He had to escape. East Africa was a good place. Here was a big trace of wild country to conquer.
“Education is everything,” Ngotho said. Yet he doubted this because he knew deep inside his heart that land was everything. Education was good only because it would lead to the recovery of the lost lands.
Ngotho rarely complained. He had all his life lived under the belief that something big would happen. That was why he did not want to be away from the land that belonged to his ancestors. That was really why he had faithfully worked for Mr Howlands, tending the soil carefully and everything that was in it. His son had come and with one stroke had made him doubt that very allegiance to Mr Howlands and the soil. And with this doubt had now come an old man’s fear of his son. Boro had changed. This was all because of the war. Ngotho felt the war had dealt ill with him. It had killed one son! And the other was accusing him.
“I must be a man in my own house.”
“Yes—be a man and lose a job.”
“I shall do whatever I like. I have never taken orders from a woman.”
“We shall starve . . .”
“You starve! This strike is important for the black people. We shall get bigger salaries.”
“What's black people to us when we starve?”
“Lord, do you think the strike will be a success?”
He wanted an assurance. He wanted a foretaste of the future before it came. In the Old Testament, God spoke to His people. Surely He could do the same thing now. So Njoroge listened, seriously and quietly. He was still listening when he fell asleep.
Ngotho did not speak much. He sat in his own corner and Njoroge could not tell if he was listening to what was going on. Ngotho was changing. Soon after the strike Boro quarrelled much with the old man. He accused him of having spoilt everything by his rash action in spite of Kiarie’s warning. Boro clearly had contempt for Ngotho. But he had never expressed it in words except on those two occasions. Since then, he had become more critical of Ngotho. Ngotho, as a result, had diminished in stature, often assuming a defensive secondary place whenever talking with his sons and their friends. For months he had remained in this position, often submitting unflinchingly to his son. And then Boro thought that he could make the old man submit to his will. But Ngotho made a determined resistance. He would not take the Mau Mau oath at his son’s hands or instruction. There had been a bitter quarrel and Boro had stayed for a long time without coming home.
“The white man makes a law or a rule. Through that rule or law or whatever you may call it, he takes away the land and then imposes many laws on the people concerning that land and many other things, all without people agreeing first as in the old days of the tribe. Now a man rises and opposes that law which made right the taking away of land. Now that man is taken by the same people who made the laws against which that man was fighting. He is tried under those alien rules. Now tell me who is that man who can win even if the angels of God were his lawyers . . . I mean.”
Was he a man any longer, he who had watched his wife and son taken away because of breaking the curfew without a word of protest? Was this cowardice? It was cowardice, cowardice of the worst sort. He stood up and rushed to the door like a madman. It was too late. He came back to his seat, a defeated man, a man who cursed himself for being a man with a lost manhood. He now knew that even that waiting had been a form of cowardice, putting off of action.
Through all this, Njoroge was still sustained by his love for and belief in education and his own role when the time came. And the difficulties of home seemed to have sharpened this appetite. Only education could make something out of this wreckage. He became more faithful to his studies. He would one day use all his learning to fight the white man, for he would continue the work that his father had started. When these moments caught him, he actually saw himself as a possible saviour of the whole God’s country. Just let him get learning.
Boro had always told himself that the real reason for his flight to the forest was a desire to fight for freedom. But this fervour had soon worn off. His mission became a mission of revenge. This was the only thing that could now give him fire and boldness. If he killed a single white man, he was exacting a vengeance for a brother killed.
“And freedom?” the lieutenant continued.
“An illusion. What freedom is there for you and me?”
“Why then do we fight?”
“To kill. Unless you kill, you'll be killed. So you go on killing and destroying. It's a law of nature. The white man too fights and kills with gas, bombs, and everything.”
“Don't be angry, Mwihaki. For what can I say now? You and I can only put faith in hope. Just stop for a moment, Mwihaki, and imagine. If you knew that all your days life will always be like this with blood flowing daily and men dying in the forest, while others daily cry for mercy; if you knew even for one moment that this would go on forever, then life would be meaningless unless bloodshed and death were a meaning. Surely this darkness and terror will not go on forever. Surely there will be a sunny day, a warm sweet day after all this tribulation, when we can breathe the warmth and purity of God […].”
“Mwihaki, you are the one dear thing left to me. I feel bound to you and I know that I can fully depend on you. I have no hope left but for you, for now I know that my tomorrow was an illusion.”
But as they came near home and what had happened to him came to mind, the voice again came and spoke, accusing him:
You are a coward. You have always been a coward. Why didn’t you do it?
And loudly he said, “Why didn't I do it?”
The voice said: Because you are a coward.
“Yes,” he whispered to himself, “I am a coward.”
And he ran home and opened the door for his two mothers.