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Petals of Blood is a novel of social and political criticism cast in the form of a crime story. Three directors of the local brewery in Ilmorog have died as a result of a fire. Arson is suspected, and the novel opens with the arrest of the four principal characters: Munira, the protagonist, headmaster of the school in Ilmorog; Karega, a teacher at the school; Abdulla, the owner of a local shop and bar; and Wanja, a young woman who works in Abdulla’s shop and who later becomes a prostitute.
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  Summary ©2014 eNotes.com, Inc. or its Licensors. Please see copyright information at the end of this document. SummarySummary (Critical Guide to British Fiction) Petals of Blood   is a novel of social and political criticism cast in the form of a crime story. Three directors of the local brewery in Ilmorog have died as a result of a fire. Arson is suspected, and the novel opens with thearrest of the four principal characters: Munira, the protagonist, headmaster of the school in Ilmorog; Karega, ateacher at the school; Abdulla, the owner of a local shop and bar; and Wanja, a young woman who works inAbdulla’s shop and who later becomes a prostitute.The story then unfolds through a series of time shifts, moving from the present to the past. It was twelve yearsbefore the time of the fatal fire that Munira first made his way to the village of Ilmorog. He had come becausehe wanted to establish a school that would provide the village children with a good Christian education. Atthat time, Ilmorog was a dusty, sleepy, wasteland of a village, and since others had come before him and left,everyone in Ilmorog believed that Munira too “would go away with the wind.” Munira, however, is made of sterner stuff. He stays and enlists the support of others, including Abdulla, Karega, and the very attractiveWanja; a considerable part of the novel is devoted to revealing the manner in which the lives of these fourpeople become entangled.Inspector Godfrey, a strong believer in the police force as “the maker of modern Kenya,” is in charge of investigating the death of the three directors. Godfrey is a relentless interrogator of Munira and his friends,and through his investigation the reader learns about the four principal characters and their involvement withone another.Ngugi also reveals the physical and spiritual changes that have transformed the village of Ilmorog from a“small cluster of mud huts” to a bustling new town “of stone, iron, concrete and glass and neon lights.” Thistransformation has brought with it much of the materialistic baggage associated with Western progress, andwith this “progress” has also come corruption and the abuse of power. A multinational corporation owns thebrewery, while the villagers are still poor; the wealth from the new Ilmorog is enjoyed by greedy investorsfrom faraway Nairobi. Small shopkeepers such as Abdulla have been wiped out, and the beautiful Wanja hasbecome a brothel owner to service the decadent desires of the new rich. The venerable hero of the Mau-Mauresistance is a ruined cripple in the free Kenya for which he had fought so hard, while the fat directors of thebrewery enjoy a life of pleasure in exclusive country clubs.The interrogation and the responses by the four principal characters are not presented in straightforwardfashion; rather, information is provided in fragments and the reader is expected to follow the clues carefully.From the present, Ngugi moves to the past of the principal characters, and even to the past of their ancestors.The four characters move back and forth from Ilmorog. When Munira first comes to Ilmorog, Abdulla isalready there as a shopkeeper and bar owner. Wanja joins them, but her desire to marry Munira is doomedfrom the beginning, because Munira is still recovering from the trauma of his own failed marriage. Thencomes Karega; there is a bond between him and Munira, because both of them were expelled from the highschool which they attended in the village of Siriana. Ngugi uses this opportunity to describe the high school 1  experiences which they shared; these reminiscences also sketch their schoolmate Chui, another importantcharacter, one of the three directors killed in the fire. In their youth, Chui was very much a rebel, but as thestory proceeds the reader learns how Chui became a member of the establishment.From time to time the four characters break off to go out on their own; Wanja and Karega return to their homeregion in the highlands, while Munira goes off to help the oppressed Kikuyu tribe. All four gather again, andinvolve themselves in traditional ceremonies and dances—a time of great joy in which they feel a strongidentification with the roots of their culture.Munira, a deeply religious man, is both puzzled and angered by Wanja’s illicit affairs; he is particularlydisturbed by her secret meetings with Karega. As long as she lives, Munira believes, “Karega will neverescape from her embrace of evil.” Feeling compelled to save Karega, almost looking upon it as a messianicduty, Munira sets fire to Wanja’s home, which to him is a “whorehouse.” As the fire consumes the house,the flames “forming petals of blood,” Munira is convinced that he is one with God and that he has obeyed thehigher Law although he has broken man’s law. Having learned the facts of the case, if not their deepermeaning, Godfrey charges Munira “with burning Wanja’s house and causing the deaths of three men.” 2  Summary Part 1 Summary Petals of Blood   opens with each of the four protagonists, Munira, Abdullah, Wanja, and Karega, being takento the New Ilmorog Police Station for questioning. They are suspects in the murder of the three directors of Theng'eta Breweries and Enterprises—Chui, Kimeria, and Mzigo—who have been burned to death. PoliceInspector Godfrey, from Nairobi, has been summoned to solve the case. Within this structure of a detectivenovel, Ngugi explores the interrelated lives of his main characters and the people around them as well as thetransformation of Ilmorog and Kenya in the years following independence. The main action of the novel is notrecounted chronologically, but is revealed in a series of flashbacks and confessions by various characters aswell as by an omniscient narrator. The timeline shifts back and forth from the present to various times in thepast, as far back as pre-colonial days. The present-tense action, in which the suspects are questioned and themurders solved, spans about ten days. The story of Munira's stay in Ilmorog, during which he meets the otherprinciple characters, takes place over a period of twelve years. Narratives by other characters reveal events intheir pasts as well as that of the land, back to the srcinal founding of Ilmorog. Ngugi uses the brokenchronology, shifting perspectives, and interrupted accounts to reveal very gradually the novel's events and thecharacters' psychological backgrounds. By the end of the novel a complex picture has unfolded of thecharacters' development and motives. The novel is divided into four parts, which correspond with majorchanges in the lives and attitudes of the protagonists, but again the action of each part is not chronological andmoves back and forth in time. Part One: Walking In the first flashback of the novel, Munira is seen arriving in Ilmorog to teach at the primary school. He meetsAbdullah, the owner of the village shop and bar, and his adopted brother, Joseph. They are soon joined byWanja, who has left her life as a bar-girl to join her grandmother, Nyakinyua, on their ancestral land. Sometime later comes the Karega. In various confessional narratives, the characters reveal important facts aboutthemselves. Both Munira and Karega had, at different times, been expelled from elite Siriana High School fortheir involvement in strikes. The leader of the strike during Munira's tenure at Siriana was the charismatic andbrilliant Chui. Wanja recounts her relationship with an older man who seduced her while she was still aschoolgirl and abandoned her when she became pregnant. It is also revealed that Karega's mother, Miriamu,has worked as a laborer on the land of Ezekiel Waweru, Munira's father. Also during the first part of the novelWanja convinces Abdullah to send Joseph to school. Munira and Wanja have a brief affair before Wanjaleaves to return to the Highlands. Karega also leaves Ilmorog to find his way in the world.Another important episode in the first part of the novel is the ‘‘Tea Party’’ that Munira attends. He is luredto a covert meeting of the Kamwane Cultural Organisation (KCO) during which participants are asked to takean oath to protect the property of rich Gikuyus from the envy of other tribes. At the end of Part One, Munirameets Wanja and Karega in Kamiritho township, and the three travel back together to Ilmorog on Munira'sbicycle. Munira hires Karega to work as an untrained teacher in the school. Ilmorog suffers a severe drought,and with no other resources, the villagers face the possibility of a famine. Part One closes with the villagerspreparing to load up Abdullah's donkey cart and journey to the city on foot, on the advice to Karega, to seek help from their Member of Parliament to improve their living conditions.Part 2 Summary Part Two: Toward Bethlehem During the trek to Nairobi, Abdullah emerges as a brave warrior who has fought valiantly to winindependence for Kenya, and is the hero of the journey. He entertains the village children with stories andprocures food with his catapult. Also during the walk to the city Nyakinyua tells her people of Ilmorog'sglorious past ‘‘when all Africa controlled its own earth'' as well as of the British occupation and Kenyans'brave resistance to foreign rule. Wanja recounts the terrifying details of her experiences in the city as a 3  bar-girl. After the third day of walking, the villagers' food supplies almost exhausted, Joseph falls ill. Thetravelers seek help from the Reverend Jerrod Brown, who turns them away after telling them they do not needphysical but spiritual nourishment. They go to the next house, which Munira discovers is the house of Chui,who is having a party with his modern, urban friends. The crowd is disrespectfully singing the juicy parts of traditional circumcision songs. One of the guests at his party, a woman with bright red lips and a huge ''Afrowig,'' faints at the sight of the villagers, and Munira flees without asking for help for Joseph. Desperate, thevillagers stop at the next house, where Karega, Wanja, and the villager Njuguna are imprisoned fortrespassing. It turns out to be the house of Wanja's former lover Kimeria, who forces her to sleep with him inexchange for his aid. After the travelers arrive in Nairobi, they are offered assistance by a lawyer, but receiveno help from their Member of Parliament, Nderi wa Riera. But the publicity following their trek to the citybrings donations and aid from around the country. Also in the course of Part Two Karega reveals that after thestrike at Siriana against the English headmaster Cambridge Fraudsham, Chui had been brought in to replacethe ousted Englishman. The protest against Chui's policies, which were not much different from those of Fraudsham, was the cause of Karega's expulsion.Part 3 Summary Part Three: To Be Born Despite the failed mission to the city, the village enjoys some sense of renewal in the third part of the novel.Karega begins a correspondence with the lawyer, seeking to learn more about what African intellectuals arewriting about the present struggle against economic inequality. He is disappointed and disillusioned by theirabstract treatment of people's very real problems. The rains fall again, and a good harvest is gathered. Thevillagers celebrate their fortune with ancient songs and dances. The old woman Nyakinyua brews an ancientdrink that had been banned by the British, Theng'eta, which the villagers partake of during a circumcision rite.Their consumption of the brew is followed by detailed confessions by the main characters. Abdullah revealsthat he fought in the resistance with Karega's brother, Nding'uri, and that they were both betrayed by Kimeria.Karega tells of his love for Mukami, Munira's sister, and her suicide after her father's disapproval of theirunion. Munira is overcome with jealousy at Wanja's and Karega's growing love, and eventually has himdismissed from the school. Wanja confesses to Karega that the man she was forced to sleep with during thetrek to the city was Hawkins Kimeria, the same person who had made her pregnant many years before andwho Karega now knows is responsible for his brother's death. During the course of the third part Joseph isalso shown as excelling at school, and Abdullah is increasingly proud of his younger brother's success. PartThree ends with the crash of an small plane carrying surveyors who have come to scope out the area for thebuilding of the Trans-African Highway. The plane crash heralds a new age for Ilmorog. But for Wanja and thevillagers, far more significant than the influx of new visitors into the town are the death of Abdullah's donkeyand Karega's departure from Ilmorog.Part 4 Summary Part Four: Again ... La Luta Continua! The final part of the novel sees the transformation of old, rural Ilmorog to a sprawling town of concrete, iron,stone, and glass. The Trans-Africa Highway linking Nairobi and Ilmorog is built and cuts the village in half,razing the old priest Mwathi's place to the ground. Abdullah's place, which eventually becomes Wanja's place,caters to the many new visitors by serving them roasted meat and drink. Wanja's and Abdullah's businessbooms. They build an extension to their bar and begin brewing Theng'eta, the ritual drink, and selling it to theworkers and peasants of the New Ilmorog. Their success is short-lived, however, as Wanja is forced to sell herbusiness to save her grandmother's land from being possessed by the bank. Mzigo, the new owner of herpremises, with the help of Chui, Kimeria, and foreign financiers, transforms her business into a major brewerythat employs over six hundred workers. Abdullah and Wanja are unable to obtain a license to brew their ownTheng'eta, and lose everything. Abdullah is forced to sell oranges in the street and Wanja becomes ahigh-class prostitute serving the new rich of New Ilmorog. Abdullah and Wanja's relations become strained,but they are eventually reunited when Abdullah learns that Joseph is doing well at Siriana and goes to Wanjato tell her the good news. He finds her in her old hut, not in her brothel, and she is crying. He comforts her and 4
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