Significance of the Title A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Significance of the Title A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Significance of the Title A Grain of Wheat

The title of the novel, A Grain of Wheat is taken from the New Testament, it refers to a passage from Paul’s First Letter to Corinthians (15:36) which is placed as an epigraph at the very beginning:

“Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat or some other grain.”

The reference to the “grain of wheat” links this epigraph to the third one, taken from John’s Gospel (12:24), which opens the last part of the novel. It is also the verse underlined in black in Kihika‘s personal Bible. It is:

“Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (AGOW: 197).

The chapter in the Bible from which the first quote is taken is St. Paul’s attempt to answer the Corinthians who had questioned the logic of the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming. St. Paul speaks of the fulfillment of the miraculous quality of that small particle of vegetable substance, which contains within itself the potential for development into a complex system. Before unfolding into a plant that bears flowers and fruit, the grain must die, otherwise it remains a single grain.

In Christian terms, the main emphasis is on the fulfillment of the seed’s potential, which materializes only through God’s grace and the Christian’s readiness to play his part, and that is, bear his or her own cross. Unless both sides play their respective roles, the seed accepting its death and the land nurtures, the seed will remain an unfulfilled potential.

The theme of the development of the seed is clearly stated by the narrator in the novel:

“Waiyaki’s blood contained within it a seed, a grain, which gave birth to a movement whose main strength thereafter sprang from a bond with the soil” (AGOW:12)

The parallel between the Gikuyu attachment to the land and the nourishment, which the seed draws from the soil, is clear. The people here represent the land that nurtured the grain of Waiyaki’s patriotism and made it possible for it to develop into a successful struggle for independence.

The struggle for independence should be motivated and organized by a leader, Kihika is the local leader in Thabai of the Movement. Kihika is a compelling speaker and charismatic leader; his qualities project him and endear him to almost everyone. The opinion is that,

“Kihika, a son of the land, was marked out as one of the heroes of deliverance”.

As a child Kihika was sent to a mission school, this is where his knowledge of Christianity was added upon him. Although he is not Christian and does not believe in the religion, he uses the teachings from the Bible as an inspiration for the people of the movement. The teachings of the Bible had a great effect on Kihika for it played an important role in his leadership of the movement. He identified with different parts of the Bible and used it to his advantage as a weapon against the English

In Kihika’s personal Bible is a verse from Exodus (8:1) which has been underlined in red, this is also the epigraph at the beginning of the second part of the novel. It is as follows:

“And the Lord spoke unto Moses,

Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him,

Thus saith the Lord,

Let my people go.” (AGOW:31)

Thus, Kihika sees himself as ‘the Moses’ who has to lead his people out of enslavement to the promised future. As Moses organizes the Israelites and confronts the Pharaoh, demanding the release of the Hebrew people, so should Kihika organize the peasants and confront the colonizers. He tells Wambuku:

“Kenya belongs to black people. Can’t you see that Cain was wrong? I am my brother’s keeper. In any case….It is our mother and we her children are all equal before her. She is our common inheritance.” (AGOW:96)

Kihika is a man following an idea. After the successful raid on the police garrison at Mahee, “People came to know Kihika as the terror of the whiteman. They said that he could move mountains and compel thunder from heaven.” (AGOW: 16). People come to realize that Kihika is the kind of individual who is capable of making the supreme sacrifice, not for self-aggrandizement or for the purpose of satisfying a personal whim but because he has an enduring love for his motherland. Kihika knows that he must motivate the people to organize them to fight for their freedom. They have to nourish the Movement, which has started into true freedom and nationhood. And for this, a new sense of commitment and sacrifice is expected of reciprocal give-and-take affair on a national scale, so that one generation draws its sustenance from the previous one while preparing the ground for the coming generation. As Kihika, the Mau Mau leader summarizes:

“In Kenya we want deaths which will change things that is to say, we want true sacrifice. But first we have to be ready to be ready to carry the cross. I die for you, you die for me and we become a sacrifice for one another. So I can say that you … are Christ” (AGOW:93).

This leads us to the third epigraph in the novel from John’s Gospel (12:24):

“Verily, verily I say unto you. Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (AGOWE 197).

This means:

As the germ of life in the grain of wheat can only pass into other grains by departing from the original grain and leaving it dead, so the life, which was in Jesus Christ, could only pass into his disciples by his death. Hence, the body that is planted in the grave will unfold in the resurrection into a new form, endowed with new qualities according to the will of God and the consequent laws that govern its nature.

So in the novel, Kihika “is the ‘grain of wheat’ of the title, who must die for new life to begin.” (AGOW p.xiv). He is the hero who has to be sacrificed for the good of others. Mugo betrays this hero for his own petty gain to the imperialist authorities. Kihika’s death does not end the Mau Mau organization: their rebellious activities do not die with the death of one of its leaders. The Mau Mau rebellion was the one historical event that shaped the Independence struggle in Kenya. Kenya achieved her liberation from the clutches of the colonizers: there was a rebirth of the nation which is expressed through the fourth Biblical epigraph at the beginning of the last part of the novel which is from Revelation: 21:1:

“And I sawa new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven

and the first earth were passed away” (AGOW: 197).

It constructs this rebirth of a new nation where the old world, with all its troubles and tumults, will have passed away. All effects of former trouble shall be done away. Kenya becomes a land free from colonizers oppression; the novel opens four days prior to the Uhuru celebrations.

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