Literature Essay

and you must do the following:

– only one idea by paragraph (keep the idea that related to the thesis )

– textual analysis

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– make it clear (which side is the writer  is on which side of the argument )

– discussion of the novel

– citations are very important

– make the essay related to the thesis

– new conclusion (the one that I have is wrong )

AA 4



Engl. 2310.20

4 December 2017

The River Between


The novel ‘The River Between’ is a chronological record of author Ngugi’s literary encounter of the Kikuyu’s culture and history. The novel gives a historical account of the Gikuyu tribe in the Mount Kenya region of central Kenya between the early ‘20s and ‘30s. Throughout the novel, Ngugi undergoes several significant changes in style and thematic. The author gives a skeletal overview of the native life amongst the ancient Kenyan tribe of the antagonism between modernity and culture. Through Waiyaki the lead protagonist in the novel, the author reveals the idealism and materialism that defined the 19th-century African societies (Thiong’o, 20).

Thesis statement

This paper is a study of the importance of cultural tradition and ritual to the cohesion of a community. It also ponders upon Ngugi’s views about how a community can withstand changes to its traditions caused by external forces.

Supporting evidence and analysis

The turmoil of former British colonies, an example being Kenya, consistently struggle with the themes Ngugi highlighted were evidently present deep into the 21st century. Ngugi highlights the plight of these communities together with the early missionaries input and their impact on societies, including the uproar of female circumcision. “The River Between distills this atmosphere of urgency, self-questioning, and change context set around the time of the push by the British colonial religious infrastructure to eradicate female circumcision” (Thiong’o & Uzodinma, 12). Ngugi through Waiyaki embodies the idea of identity in adherence to the African culture.

In the novel, Waiyaki at a very young age tackles the messianic role of mending the two ridges of both Makuyu and Kameno that separated because of the religious affiliations. “The two ridges lay side by side. One was Kameno, the other was Makuyu. Between them was a valley. It was called the valley of life” (Thiong’o & Uzodinma, 17). One was true to the tribal identities while the other embraced Christianity. The ramifications of the white man and his religious interference to the native life in the ridges acted to increase the wedge between the two ridges separated by river Honia (Thiong’o & Uzodinma, 17). According to Thiong’o, Waiyaki is the new face of change. Waiyaki does not believe in the influence of the white man’s religion but believes in the white man’s education. The story narrates Waiyaki’s failed attempts to combine old traditions with the new educational endeavors.

The novel describes how the arrival of the Whiteman and the subsequent colonization, threatened the very existence of the cultural experience. The colonialists epitomized by the Reverend Livingstone in the novel, judge the people based on their own cultural experiences. Female circumcision in the eyes of the colonialists was evil and backward but according to the Gikuyu, it was what held society together. They equated circumcision to the biblical baptism where one is born again. The society was held together by the institution that defined societal ways of life and no the act of circumcision. The tribe advocated for the preservation of its cultural identity hence opposed the introduction of the western culture in that community.

Education, therefore, became a new tool of solace. Teaching the community the ways of the Whiteman while at the same time keeping at bay those cultural elements of the Whiteman deemed offensive or corrosive to the ways of the hills. However, along the way as Waiyaki acquired education, some artistic concepts lost meaning; the aspect of female circumcision is one of them. He openly embraced change and the need for society to adapt to the changing times.

Many critics praise The River Between for its love-story like narrative while distinctly remaining African. The novel, therefore, acts as a sensitive treatment of the Gikuyu culture. The author, thus, distills an atmosphere of urgency, and the need to embrace change in one’s society positively. “More than anything else, it is the white man’s religion, Christianity, which increases existing tensions within the community” (Thiong’o & Uzodinma, 13). What was once sacred and ritualistic suddenly becomes sinful and outlawed. There are those characters in the novel who show outright rejection to the new religion like Chege. There are those who use it as ladders to achieve high statuses and others who practice religion fanatically like Joshua. Joshua’s conversion to the new religion gave him a false impression of a Jerusalem that was not consistent with the geographic realities of the region. This would lead him to disown his family for existing outside his interpretation of its tenets.

Ngugi’s brilliance in narration captured historical events when the Church of Scotland outlawed circumcised women in its mission activities and schools in 1929. The Reverend Livingstone, the only white figure in the narrative further works to increase the division when he attended one of the ritual ceremonies on the eve of circumcision. He was convinced that the people were immoral through the courtesy of the vulgarities of the situation. This was contrary to Chege’s earlier assertion that circumcision was the central rite of the Gikuyu culture, one that marks a transition from childhood to adulthood.

To the Gikuyu, an uncircumcised adult was still a juvenile unless one undergoes the rite of passage regardless of gender. It was unheard of for a woman who was not circumcised to find homage amongst the folks. Circumcision was the central pivot in the later rite of marriage. Chege would not foresee his son betraying his tribe by marrying an uncircumcised woman and above all Joshua’s daughter as such. The Church of Scotland’s mission of outlawing female circumcision amounted to cultural and tribal sabotage of the future.

This practice largely remains extinct today courtesy of its western and white opponents views. Female genital mutilation is now outlawed. Ngugi fails to pinpoint the prohibited custom as insignificant to the tribe. He looks at the great institution of circumcision, its importance, and not merely the surgical act of mutilation of clitoridectomy. Waiyaki is portrayed as an agent of real change, one who holds the progressive views of women; as agents of change regardless of female autonomy and equality. Ngugi, therefore, broadens the larger picture that female circumcision whether a first practice or a traditional culture should form the talking points of intra-tribal discussion and not prohibitive decree intended to cause tribal and ethnic anarchy.

Culture, therefore, becomes the overriding theme in the whole novel. Cultural conflicts in society as well as the loss of culture in the face of outside forces. An invasion of Christianity and its forceful impact on the people brought a lot of change to the indigenous tribes (Thiong’o, 61). Society, therefore, is built on the social fabric of its culture. It is through Waiyaki that Ngugi critically animates the question of the pre-independence struggles of the African societies (Thiong’o, 29).




To conclude, it is clear from the novel that the ills of colonialism cannot be corrected with the foreign tools of colonialism. Ngugi, therefore, gives the readers a broader picture that one cannot under look at culture from their cultural perspective and raise objections as a way to improve it. This is the exhibition of a lack of respect for indigenous cultures and colonial tools no matter how advanced they are cannot heal the rift of division that it long created.



















Works Cited

Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ. The River Between. Pearson Publisher, 11 August 2008.

Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ & Uzodinma Iweala. The River between. Penguin Books, 2015, pp. 1-116.