In Weep Not, Child, Ngũgĩ frames violence as futile and self-perpetuating. Although characters like Boro believe in taking revenge on the people who have oppressed them, readers see that violent retribution is ineffective when it comes to bringing about positive change. Indeed, the true result of Boro’s decision to murder Jacobo—who has wronged his family and community—is that Njoroge (Boro’s little brother) is suddenly taken out of school, beaten, and interrogated by the governmental powers affiliated with Jacobo. Unfortunately, this throws Njoroge’s life completely off-course, effectively ruining his upwardly mobile trajectory by bringing his hard-earned education to an abrupt end. And yet, Boro remains unable to accept that his violence has done nothing but harm, as he goes forth and murders Mr. Howlands, too—an act that further imperils his family by forcing one of his other brothers into jail and ensuring that Njoroge will never again have the financial support necessary to continue his schoolwork. Considering that everything Boro does to advocate for his family members only further disempowers them, then, it becomes obvious that Ngũgĩ believes violence is self-defeating, a means of destruction that becomes an end in and of itself without ever managing to effect meaningful change.
Because British colonizers have stolen land from the Kikuyu people, there’s no doubt that retaliation is in order. Otherwise, people like Ngotho and his sons will never regain their homeland. Kiarie (Boro’s friend from Nairobi) outlines this in his speech to Ngotho’s village, but he stresses the importance of peaceful action, saying, “Remember, this must be a peaceful strike. We must get more pay. Because right is on our side we shall triumph. If today, you’re hit, don’t hit back…” However, Boro has trouble committing himself to peaceful resistance, since he has been to war and experienced terrible violence. One night, he listens to his father tell the story of how their family lost their land. “Boro thought of his father who had fought in the war only to be dispossessed,” Ngũgĩ writes. “[Boro] too had gone to war, against Hitler. He had gone to Egypt, Jerusalem, and Burma. He had seen things. He had often escaped death narrowly. But the thing he could not forget was the death of his stepbrother, Mwangi. For whom or for what had he died?” In this moment, Boro becomes angry about the fact that he and his family members have been forced to fight—and, in some cases, die—for a cause that has nothing to do with them. As a result, he wants to rectify this death and destruction by rising up against the white settlers and embracing a form of resistance that has nothing to do with peace. This, he hopes, will help him cope with the meaninglessness of his brother’s death.
Simply put, Boro behaves violently because of the violence he has experienced. Having fought in World War II and “seen things,”, he has been taught a lifestyle of hate and aggression that is difficult to leave behind. This is why he joins the Mau Mau and takes violent revenge on the British colonizers. As he does so, though, Boro discovers that violence only brings about more violence, creating a never-ending cycle of brutality. In a conversation with a Mau Mau lieutenant, he admits that he has lost sight of everything except the idea of exacting revenge on his enemies. “Don’t you believe in anything?” the lieutenant asks, to which Boro replies, “No. Nothing. Except revenge.” In turn, the lieutenant asks if he cares about winning back the land, and Boro says, “The lost land will come back to us maybe. But I’ve lost too many of those whom I loved for land to mean much to me. It would be a cheap victory.” At this point, then, all Boro cares about is inflicting pain onto the people who have wronged him. Taken aback, the lieutenant asks Boro if he believes in “freedom,” and Boro tells him that freedom is merely an “illusion.” “Why then do you fight?” asks the lieutenant. “To kill,” Boro answers. “Unless you kill, you’ll be killed. So you go on killing and destroying. It’s a law of nature.” In this moment, readers see that Boro has stopped fighting for a cause. Instead of devoting himself to the idea of regaining his land and freeing his people, he has become obsessed with revenge, thinking that the only way to respond to the violence he has experienced is by perpetuating it himself. In turn, Ngũgĩ suggests that violence is self-generating, something that can come to seem like an end in and of itself rather than a means by which a person might effect actual change.
Although he doesn’t alter his ways, it’s evident that Boro recognizes the futility of violence. For example, when he’s finally about to kill Mr. Howlands, he feels nothing. With the gun pointed at the white man, he explains why he also killed Jacobo: “He betrayed black people. Together, you killed many sons of the land. You raped our women. And finally, you killed my father. Have you anything to say in your defence?” Despite the fact that these words sound impassioned, it’s worth noting that Boro is simply setting forth a narrative of revenge, as if this is the only thing he can think about after living a life of violence. “Boro’s voice was flat,” Ngũgĩ notes. “No colour of hatred, anger, or triumph. No sympathy.” In this moment, readers see that Boro has gotten nowhere even though he’s finally about to exact the revenge he has been dreaming about all this time. Unsurprisingly, this unfeeling, unsympathetic state continues even after he shoots Mr. Howlands: “He felt nothing—no triumph.” By including this, Ngũgĩ demonstrates the pointlessness of pursuing violent forms of revenge, which do nothing to make a person feel better about what has happened to them. In fact, it isn’t until Boro gives himself over to the police (thereby letting go of his dedication to violence and vengeance) that he feels any kind of relief. “At last he gave up,” Ngũgĩ writes. “Now for the first time he felt exultant.” In turn, it becomes clear that Boro’s compulsive violence hasn’t helped him cope with his difficult life, failing to bring him any kind of satisfaction or relief. And yet, he has continued to murder, perpetuating a cycle of ruthless revenge that is not only ineffective when it comes to bringing about change, but also detrimental to his own well-being. In this way, Ngũgĩ intimates that the only way to cope with violence and injustice is by removing oneself from the self-perpetuating revolutions of hate.
Violence and Revenge ThemeTracker
Violence and Revenge Quotes in Weep Not, Child
Why should the white men have fought? Aaa! You could never tell what these people would do. In spite of the fact that they were all white, they killed one another with poison, fire, and big bombs that destroyed the land. They had even called the people to help them in killing one another. It was puzzling. You could not really understand because although they said they fought Hitler (ah! Hitler, that brave man, whom all the British feared, and he was never killed you know, just vanished like that), Hitler too was a white man. That did not take you very far. It was better to give up the attempt and be content with knowing the land you lived in, and the people who lived near you.
When the war came to an end, Boro had come home, no longer a boy but a man with experience and ideas, only to find that for him there was to be no employment. There was no land on which he could settle, even if he had been able to do so. As he listened to this story, all these things came into his mind with a growing anger. How could these people have let the white man occupy the land without acting? And what was all this superstitious belief in a prophecy?
In a whisper that sounded like a shout, he said, “To hell with the prophecy.”
Yes, this was nothing more than a whisper. To his father, he said, “How can you continue working for a man who has taken your land? How can you go on serving him?”
He walked out, without waiting for an answer.
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.
Jacobo, the richest man in all the land around, had been brought to pacify the people. Everyone listened to him in silence. But something unusual happened to Ngotho. For one single moment Jacobo crystallised into a concrete betrayal of the people. He became the physical personification of the long years of waiting and suffering—Jacobo was a traitor. Ngotho rose. He made his way towards the platform while everyone watched, wondering what was happening. He was now near Jacobo. The battle was now between these two—Jacobo on the side of the white people, and he on the side of the black people.
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.
But what could he have done? He had to go on strike. He had not wanted to be accused by a son anymore, because when a man was accused by the eyes of his son who had been to war and had witnessed the death of a brother, he felt guilty. But Ngotho had always wanted to be gentle with Boro because he knew that the son must have been sorely tried in the war. The something that had urged him to fight against Jacobo certainly had no logic. But it alienated Boro further still.
Mr Howlands felt a certain gratifying pleasure. The machine he had set in motion was working. The blacks were destroying the blacks. They would destroy themselves to the end. What did it matter with him if the blacks in the forest destroyed a whole village? What indeed did it matter except for the fact that labour would diminish? Let them destroy themselves. Let them fight against each other. The few who remained would be satisfied with the reservation the white man had set aside for them. Yes, Mr Howlands was coming to enjoy his work.
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.”