F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "The reason one writes isn't the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say." This quote applies directly to Ngugi Wa Thiong’s novel A Grain of Wheat. One could infer from this quote that some writers write not just for the enjoyment derived from it, but rather out of a feeling of obligation to let readers hear what they may have to say. Ngugi’s message that he feels obligated to convey is delivered, however, he uses a very unusual writing technique to arrive there. He wants the readers to understand the pain, suffering, and confusion that took place during the Emergency. Through jumbled chronological order, numerous character and point of view changes, and a powerful conclusion, Ngugi relays his message with immense authority.
The writing style Ngugi uses in this novel is quite impressive. The most obvious difference in this writing opposed to the other two stories we have read is that without maintaining chronological order, he travels from the start of the Emergency in Kenya to the conclusion of the Emergency. One can understand the complexity of this time shifting by examining the first four chapters. Ngugi begins the novel with Mugo experiencing a nightmare six days before Uhuru. Immediately the readers begin questioning exactly what is taking place. Then, Mugo is awake and begins walking through the town. The entire first chapter is following Mugo through his day. Ngugi gives the readers the names of people who are not yet significant to the story. In the beginning of the second chapter, Ngugi proceeds to lead the readers into a history lesson of the beginning of the Emergency. He starts by examining the original leaders of the movement and explains what became of them. In chapter three, Ngugi shifts back to the present setting of the book with Mugo with it getting closer to Uhuru. When Part two begins with chapter four, the setting of the book has completely changed. Within this chapter, the readers start out with another short history lesson that is completely out of context from the previous reading. Ngugi then shifts to Karanja and his multiple inner battles. The readers are now left pondering what time period and which characters thoughts they are reading.
The fact that Ngugi begins this novel, and concludes it, after the Emergency without maintaining chronological sequence is what begins to make this story so unique. Although he is moving across a vast time period, the chronology is never consistent. He manages to explore a sixty-year time period while remaining focused on the six days leading up to Uhuru. Basically, the readers are forced to become deadlocked into the book and examine every minute detail that is thrown at them. If the readers do not do this, then it is most likely that they will miss a key detail in the book and be confused for the rest of the novel.
During Ngugi’s chronological jumps throughout the book, he constantly...