Book Review: A Meeting in the Dark, by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

The short story “A meeting in the Dark” (1974) by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is set in Gikuyuland (central Kenya) and John is the name of the leading character. He is among the few educated members of his community who got the opportunity to acquire education offered by Christian missionaries to the region. The author accounts for Johns’ determination in his studies, and how his hard work in the course of school had pays off. He secures a place in one of the leading learning institutions in the region and outside the country.

In the course of the short story, there is a vivid description of the culture and environment surrounding Johns’ community. There is the mention of African traditional huts, built according to the African authentic style. As the author describes, the activities around the village give a clear picture of the community’s’ way of life. Then there is Johns’ immediate family. There is the father, a man distant from johns’ reality and view of life. Occasionally, John inwardly directs feelings of anger at his deeply religious father. He however manages to find confidence and solace in his mother, who is more understanding. Susana (Johns’ mother) takes conscious note of her sons’ growth and emotional development. Johns’ father remains detached from his sons’ troubled state of mind.

Wamuhu is Johns’ lover; with whom he expects a child. At the same time, John awaits his departure from the country in pursuit of further studies. Wamuhu (Johns’ lover) is not ready to lead life as a single mother, so she insists on Johns’ participation in the upbringing of the child. That means sacrificing the opportunity to further his studies. In the end John ends up making a worse choice, compared to owning up to his responsibility as a father (to wamuhu’s unborn child) or giving up his opportunity to study abroad. In a state of confusion and panic, he strangles Wamuhu to death. Ngugi concludes his story with the statement – “… he had created, then killed”
Ngugi’s story once again gives evidence of his excellent story-telling skills. He dramatizes the merging of different cultures through the relationship of john and Wamuhu. The backgrounds of the young people stand in opposition to each others’ ways, making their marriage and union close to impossible. The author succeeds in arousing imagination for the recreation of the typical Kikuyu village. The description of communal activities surrounding the village social life and the aspirations of john to leave the country for further studies at Makerere, are almost tangible. The conflict between the African traditional lifestyle and the colonizers’ impressions on the African culture is further evident in the course of the story. The state of johns’ confusion and panic results to killing Wamuhu. John embodies the merging of the African and foreign European culture. The attempt of John to still Wamuhu’s voice and disown the product of their union (Wamuhu’s pregnancy), results to the ‘death’ of the African traditions.

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o succeeds in drawing a clear picture of the need for merging the African traditional ways of life, with that of the foreign European culture. In the event of merging cultures, neither tradition is subordinate to the other, for they share a level platform in terms of authority. The African traditional way of life is in every way complete and ‘logical’ in organization and structure, as compared to the European way of life. An acceptance of both worlds is the way to a meaningful future.


Writer Review: Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

Ngugi Wa TRhiong'o

African Literary writer

Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a novelist and theorist with focus on post-colonial literature. He also serves as a Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and English at University of California, Irvine. Read extended Biography of the author.


© African Literature reviews, 2014

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