The God of Small Things
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A Grain of Wheat and the God of Small Things
Ngugi WA Thiong’o has established himself as a renowned and a leading writer among the second generation of African writers. Most of his works were set in Kenya, especially addressing issues about colonialism, racism and gender issues. Some of his works that address the above issues include Weep Not Child and The River Between. A Grain of Wheat is one of the most distinguished works that have been written by Ngugi WA Thiong’o. In God of Small Things, Roy Arundhati shows and brings up the suffering that goes on in India, even after gaining independence from the British Empire. Ngugi WA Thiong'o and Roy Arundhati compare and contrast issues of colonialism in terms of race, bringing out effects about victimization, colonization and post-colonization.
A Grain of Wheat was Ngugi’s third novel that was published in 1967 four years after Kenya had gained independence from its colonialists, the Britons. A Grain of Wheat depicts several characters that live in a village which changes radically between 1952 and 1960. This period was the peak of colonization in Kenya and was the time of emergency. The action in the novel follows the arrangements made in the village with regards to the preparation to the Independence Day, commonly referred to as Uhuru. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o interweaves stories within stories, allusions to real-life leaders of the independence struggle, including the late Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya, and also the narratives that are interwoven with myths and those allusions. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o places Mugo at the center of the novel acting as the villages elder and leader. He was chosen as the hero of the village, and is haunted by a terrible secret that he finds hard to reveal. As the story unfolded, many things happened, which lead to compromises and betrayals (Thiong'o 20).
Like God of Small Things, A Grain of Wheat is about British colonialists. Gikonyo and Mumbi have just bonded their love in marriage, when Gikonyo is taken by colonialists who detain him. He is jailed for six years upon which he is released. When he comes back at home, he finds that his wife had given birth to his rival’s child. Instead of linking up and renewing their love, they are separated by anger. British colonialists have invaded the village and are tearing apart the unity and peace that people once had. Gikonyo’s brother in law, Kihika, who is a local hero, is captured by the colonialists and hanged. It is at this time that Mugo rises as a hero when he leads his village mates in a hunger strike when in detention. The town desires his leadership and wants him to become their political leader. However, Mugo is disturbed by the secret that he keeps from his village mates. He can no longer keep this secret; therefore, he decides to reveal that he was the one who betrayed Kihika. This shows that the colonial period was not only marked by unfair treatment of Africans by the British colonialists, but was also marked by betrayals by the villagers themselves, to seek favors from the British colonialists (Thiong'o 35).
The struggle, as brought out in the book by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, was not only about the struggle for independence, but it was also by redemption from the claws of the white men. It is not clear when the movement for independence began; most probably it started when the white man invaded Kenya. As clearly indicated in the book, the white man came with the intention to spread Christianity in Kenya. When they first landed in Kenya, the locals laughed at the story of a female ruler, because they could not believe it. In traditional African and Kenyan societies, women were not allowed to rule, irrespective of the fact that in the earlier years women held power. Ngugi Wa Thiong'o creates humor when he writes that women went to war and men waited for them at home. When they came back, the men impregnated them and rebelled. He gives an example of a woman who danced naked and was dethroned from her rule (Thiong'o 50).
As the white men traversed, through Kenya they acquired land forcefully and through treachery. They took most of the fertile land that was used for agricultural purposes. This made the locals landless. The white man oppressed the locals. A man called Waiyaki was the first to rebel against the white man, but was unable. The white man had better weapons. The people state that the white man buried Waiyaki alive, and that it was his blood that activated the movement. Harry Thuku, was being tired to rebel by using a different strategy. He wrote letters to the white man, demanding that they treat Africans in a just manner. However, the white man did not heed into the request. He continued oppressing the locals. The white man took all the fertile land and forced the locals to work on that land as slaves. The white man introduced new rules that the locals were supposed to obey, failure to which they would be severely punished (Thiong'o 157).
In the two books, the locals were forced to live as squatters in designated places. They were put under the authority of African chiefs who had gained literacy and would implement the white man’s rule to the latter. The white man victimized the locals to the extent that they did not have any rights as human beings. Detention, suffering, severe beatings, murder were the kinds of issues that the locals had to deal with, being mistreated by the white man. They were oppressed and dehumanized, in every manner. However, these sufferings did not discourage the movements. The movements pushed on with their demands for freedom. On December 12, 1963, Kenya gained independence from the British colonialists. The locals were happy having achieved their search for ‘uhuru’. People went for a dance at Mugo’s place, which lasted for two hours. The night was covered with rains that turned into a violent storm. When the day came, people celebrated because their fight for freedom had brought fruits. The suffering was finally over (Thiong'o 213).
Unlike Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat, The God of Small Things looks at the remnants of the colonial system that amplifies the problems that exists in Ayemenem. The novel brings out a controversial law called the Love laws that dictate the people who deserve to be loved and also the way they should be loved. Along with the problems brought about by colonialism, the story also touches on caste and gender issues. The novel is set in India, where the Britons have destroyed the inner and outer struggles for independence in India. The untouchables serve the touchable, but are not permitted to interact with them in any way (Roy 10).
When the British came to India as colonizers, they interfered with the cultures and ways of the Indian people. The consequences of the adoration of the culture of the Britons and the remnants of colonialism are clearly seen through Chacko. Chacko went to Oxford and became educated. He claims to be a Marxist, irrespective of the fact that he is a Bourgeoisie. He comes back and brings the capitalistic ideas from Oxford. He takes over the family business and proceeds to run it to the ground. Chacko admired the culture of the Britons. He educated himself in their ways and applied the ideas of the British conquerors, to his workers. He takes advantage of them and oppresses them the same way he feels oppressed by the Britons. He flirts with young female workers who work for him. This makes Ammu refer to him as the Oxford Avatar of the old mentality of Zamindar (Roy 50).
Chacko decides to marry the daughters of the conquerors. This is an outward expression that he had totally surrendered into their ways. His two wives were from the family of Anglophiles, but could not trace their history, because it had been swept away after the end of the colonization period. Despite the fact that the British had left, their influence had remained with the locals. Even Chacko who thought that he was better, being still trapped in the ways of the British. The minds of the people have been corrupted by a war that was brought by the British colonialists. The people have been made to adore the colonialists and despise their own cultures. They have been made to believe that the ways of the British are superior, while their ways are inferior. The country has fought the British colonialists, because they oppressed the locals, treated them unfairly and took their land. However, it becomes ironical that the people fight against the British colonialists, yet they act in ways similar to those they fight against (Roy 100).
The violence that the police use against the masses of Ayemenem reflects the subjectivity of the former British colony. Under the control of the British colonialists, the Indians were treated as lesser human beings and as slaves. They were treated violently. At the same manner, the Indians continue to treat each other with disrespect. The colonized people of Ayemenem consider themselves so powerless during the colonial era, and also after they were colonized. This is clearly brought out through the system of the touchable and the untouchables. The touchable represent the high class in the society, who treat the untouchables the same way the British colonialists treated Indians (Roy 187).
Unlike in A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, where the people were liberated and preserved their cultures and way of life, the people in God of Small Things have been destroyed by British colonialists to an extent that they could not trace their culture. For instance, Chacko says, “We’re Prisoners of War… Our dreams have been doctored. We belong nowhere. We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore. Our sorrows will never be sad enough. Our joy’s never happy enough, our dreams are never big enough and our lives never important enough to matter” (Roy 53).
In A Grain of Wheat, people are happy because their freedom has been restored. The unfair treatments and unwanted killings are finally over, when they gain independence. They can have their land back and work on it as owners, as opposed to slaves. However, in God of Small Things, the change in rule and the independence means nothing to all of them. The untouchables are still treated as slaves, in their own country by their fellow countrymen. Both the touchable and the untouchables cannot retrace their history, because the British colonialists wiped it out completely. They have nothing to be happy about even after the independence (Roy296).
In conclusion, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o shows that independence can bring a lot of changes to the society, but only if the people are willing to bring the changes. He does this by closely looking at the movements for independence in Kenya, before 1963. On the other hand, Roy Arundhati shows that independence may fail to bring the desired changes, when people are not willing to change from colonial ways of life. He does this through an analysis of postcolonial India, where people are divided into the touchable and the untouchables.
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