The title of the novel “A Grain of Wheat” is not self-explanatory and needs clarification. There are many symbols and metaphors that we must consider before analysing the title of this novel. However, the title “A Grain of Wheat” carries much significance because of the metaphors that the writer uses indirectly.
From the themes in A Grain of Wheat and the incidents, different symbols may be obtained from the novel. In simple terms, the grain of wheat indirectly refers to the struggles and sacrifices that many individuals made voluntarily in order to become an independent nation.
Apart from that, some indirect biblical allusions are also there. However, the fact that has been mentioned in the bible is also a natural phenomenon. It should be remembered that a single grain of wheat must be sown into the ground to produce a bountiful harvest. It means that in order to get something fruitful, sacrifice is necessary. Thus, in biblical terms, sacrifice is the main theme that the title of the novel suggests.
There are many incidents in the novel that support this idea. Almost every character struggles for the freedom of his country. Everyone makes difficult choices and sacrifices something in order to create a better future for himself as well as for his fellowmen.
Table of Contents
Title and Setting of the Novel
The writer tells the story of a nation. It shows how the people of Kenya fought against British colonialism. It was the result of their struggles that Kenya got rid of British colonial rule. The people wanted to build a new society for them. They wanted to live a life while following their tradition. Their primary demands were equality and justice. Ultimately, they remained successful in achieving the same.
The title “A Grain of Wheat” becomes a symbol of the significance of hope and renewal in this context. There was a possibility for the people to build a new system for themselves. They struggled for it and ultimately succeeded. It goes without saying that the novel represents transformation and growth. However, growth is not possible without making difficult and painful decisions. In other words, the process of change is always painful.
The title “A Grain of Wheat” also clarifies that every individual has to make all-out efforts in order to create something better for himself and his people. One of the main themes in this regard that the writer portrays in the novel is self-determination. The other things that the writer requires from the people are commitment and sacrifices.
There is no denying the fact that the title “A Grain of Wheat” covers many important themes of the novel, hence, it has much significance. The title reveals the struggle for independence, the legacy of colonialism and the power of individual and collective action to effect change.
The Symbol of Grain
Indeed, grain symbolises sacrifice, rebirth, change, growth and development throughout the novel. The Mau Mau Uprising took many necessary steps. The purpose of the movement was rebirth, change, growth and development for Kenya. Ultimately, the people of Kenya gained freedom but the novel suggests that everything is subject to sacrifice and a willingness to endure hardship.
It is pertinent to observe here that only physical sacrifice is not necessary. In order to achieve a greater good, many sacrifices are involved including physical violence, giving up personal ambitions and making hard decisions. The “grain” in the title also represents the potential for new beginnings and the possibility of a better future besides sacrifices.
The Symbol of Wheat
On the other hand, the “wheat” is a powerful symbol of getting rid of the destructive forces of colonialism. It covers all the significant themes of violence, betrayal and suffering. In Kenya, wheat is a primary crop. It ends poverty when people harvest it. Thus, wheat represents the end of colonialism.
Apart from that wheat also symbolises new beginnings. The writer willingly uses it to show that the future may be more prosperous. For those people, about whom the writer talks, the future becomes good to some extent at the end of the novel. Nonetheless, it was not perfect because they faced many other problems, including corruption, poverty and mismanagement in New Kenya.
The main purpose of using the word “wheat” is that colonialism had disrupted traditional farming practices while creating something that was entirely against the norms of those people. In this way, there was no economic development for the people. The law in respect of building new settlements disrupted the whole system.
Thus, the wheat represents the disrupted system, structural inequalities and environmental degradation due to colonialism. These were the main reasons why the people wanted to get rid of the unfavourable system. Economic development was necessary for the survival of those people. It is only possible in case all the individuals play their respective parts.
Characters Justify the Title of the Novel
Every character in the novel justifies that the title “A Grain of Wheat” best suits this novel. One of the major characters worth mentioning in this regard is Mugo. He is a complex and troubled character. He serves the purpose of portraying themes of sacrifice, guilt and redemption.
Mugo’s past haunts him badly. He has a sense of guilt because he denies joining the Mau Mau rebellion movement. The writer sketches him as a lonely and isolated figure. He is unable to find a purpose in life. It is also one of the reasons he does not connect with any other character.
The symbol of the grain represents Mugo’s potential for rebirth. The novelist also shows his redemption in the novel. Like a grain of wheat, the old Mugo must be buried and die in order to be reborn as a new and more fruitful person. Ultimately, at the end of the novel, Mugo becomes a responsible person.
Finally, Mugo takes responsibility for his past actions. He starts building meaningful relationships. He becomes a symbol of hope, renewal, the transformative power of sacrifice and the potential for new beginnings.
As far as the symbol of “wheat” is concerned, it is not directly associated with Mugo’s character. Nevertheless, the growth and development in Mugo’s character is a symbol that the writer uses to explore themes related to sacrifice, redemption, and the struggle for independence.
It has already been mentioned that the “wheat” is also a symbol of destructive colonial forces. The old Mugo is a product of those forces. The writer shows through this main character that colonial forces have a great impact on the people of Kenya. The people suffered so much under colonial rule that they lost their identities and became purposeless.
In this way, if the “wheat” is considered a dreadful force of nature and a symbol of destruction and colonial forces, then Mugo, his actions and the impact of colonialism prove that the title is significant. In short, Mugo’s character justifies its title symbolically.
Another character who is worth mentioning in this regard is Kahika. The writer uses the symbol of grain as a metaphor for Kihika’s leadership. A single grain is buried in the land to create a complete crop. Similarly, the contribution of a single person can force other people to join the cause. Kahika’s actions and messages compel others to join a good cause.
In addition, Kihika’s actions also reflect the complexities and challenges of the struggle for independence. He is a hero as well as a controversial figure at the same time. Many accuse him of violence and extremism. The replacement of wheat crops with cash crops is a symbol that the colonial forces want to replace important figures like Kahika.
The wheat crop is a source of ending hunger whereas the cash crop is a symbol of getting monetary benefits. The writer proves that some people refused to be sold in the colonial system.
One of the female characters should also be mentioned in order to know the significance of the title “A Grain of Wheat”. Mumbi faces many hardships in pursuing her goals. She is initially presented as a traditional wife and mother; she just focuses on her family and domestic responsibilities. However, as the novel progresses, Mumbi becomes more involved in the struggle for independence and begins to assert her political voice and identity.
The symbol of the grain can be seen as a metaphor for Mumbi’s personal growth and transformation. At the same time, the grain symbol also represents the collective struggle of the Kenyan people for freedom and independence.
The “wheat” on the opposite side can be seen as a symbol of the larger struggle for independence in which Mumbi participates. Mubi along with the male characters of the novel works to build a new society based on principles of justice, equality and self-determination. Hence, although the symbol of wheat is not directly associated with Mumbi yet it can be seen as a powerful metaphor for the larger historical and political context of the novel, and the struggles that Mumbi and other characters face as they work to build a new society.
Some Quotes from the Novel Justifying the Title
In Chapter 1 of the novel, the novelist writes:
“For the white man, wheat meant bread; for the African, it was the white man’s bread”.A Grain of Wheat – Chapter 1
Similarly, in the same chapter, the writer talks about the importance of wheat and says:
“This was wheat country, the only part of Africa where it grew”.A Grain of Wheat – Chapter 1
The writer uses the technique of symbolism in Chapter 5 of the novel and writes:
“Wheat, that golden harvest that would make men free”.A Grain of Wheat – Chapter 5
The novelist continues talking about the grain and writes in Chapter 1:
“It was the grain that had given them strength to endure and even to hope” (Chapter 2).A Grain of Wheat – Chapter 1
The writer also uses several metaphors to create a direct connection between the grains of wheat and the themes of this novel. For instance, in Chapter 6 the writers mentions:
“The people’s cry was like a voice of grain bursting its husk”.A Grain of Wheat – Chapter 6
The writer of the novel, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o uses the wheat and grain as metaphors to describe the sufferings of the people and the hurdles that they face on their way to get freedom from the colonial rules. The above-mentioned quotes are enough to justify the title of the novel “A Grain of Wheat” and its significance throughout the novel.
These quotes also demonstrate that the writer uses “wheat” and “grain” in the novel to symbolise the economic and agricultural growth of Kenyan society. The writer also talks about the impact of colonialism and the struggles of people for gaining independence with the help of their self-determination.