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September 19, 2005

What is really important in "A Meeting in the Dark?"

I have just left a class discussion on the short story "A Meeting in the Dark" by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and I am slightly irritated by the conversation. In class some students dismissed the story as being the tale of a coward. I do not think this story would be chosen to be in an anthology of multicultural works, if this was the whole purpose of the stories. All of the other stories in this section had to deal with the colonization of Africa.

I believe the purpose of the story was to show the effects of colonization on a man, not to show the audience what a "coward" looks like. The main character John is torn between the new culture created by colonization and the old culture of his tribe. His father is a preacher, who converted to Christianity. He wants John to be a Christian and educated by going to college. John also feels a loyalty to his tribe. John realizes he can marry the young girl he impregnates and live in his tribe, but this will infuriate his father and also eliminate any chance of him receiving a college education. A college education is now necessary for success since colonization occurred. John's inner turmoil represents the effects of a clash between two cultures. John final act of murder is not justifiable, but it represents the insanity John is subject to as a result of this clash.

I think focusing on John being a "coward," is missing the problems Thiong'o was trying to expose.

Posted by JennaOBrocto at September 19, 2005 9:19 PM


Hello Jenna,
I'm a student from Germany, where the 11 short stories are an important part in the final exams that's why we have also discussed "A Meeting in the Dark" and I do not think that your solution, that John is only a victim of cicumstances, is striking.
And I must admit that I think he is a coward, too. He is not strong enough to face his father and there are enough possibilities to live without a university career(look at the woman who carries the wood).
He does not love Wamuhu but he impregnates her, and now he is not tough enough to carry the consequences. He envies the "free" young people who have rebelled against their parents. He is not strong enough to do this and his murder is the last statement that he cannot manage to decide for one culture. This is his failure. Sure, he has fallen between the stools but he would have been able to choose for one side. But he is not strong enough, you may call it that he is not self-confident, to face his father. And his murder is the worst way out because he will lose his reputation and his father(if he does not kill himself this is what I suppose).
I'm sorry if there are many mistakes but I hope that you will understand what I wanted to say.

Posted by: Christian at October 19, 2006 1:09 PM

Hi Jenna!
I'm also a student from Germany and its a funny coincidence because tomorrow I'm going to write a test about the story Meeting in the Dark. I agree to your opinion on John being not a coward and it is obvious that the author wants to show the Transition and Conflict in post-colonial times, however the murder must not be underestimate! What would be, if everybody comitted crime just on the ground of a inner conflict? There is always a solution, so I think the author also wants to show that desperation doesn't help and you have to look forward.

Posted by: Liliana Rodrigues at October 25, 2006 4:00 PM

Hey Jenna,

Third german student here, but i have to write a reading log about "The Many Voices of English", which also contains "A Meeting in the Dark" and i think the author's main intention was indeed to show how a teenager is trapped between the ancient traditions and ideals of his tribe and the religion of the white people and their opinion about what's right and what's wrong. One can consider the protagonist to be weak, not confidet enough to rebell against his father and therefor he could be a coward, but the short story is mainly dealing with cross-cultural tensions: going to church on the one hand and his pregnant girlfriend on the other hand or to pretend being the "model of humility and moral perfection" and to make out with a heathen girl, although not loving her at all. John being a coward is more or less the result of all these influences on him, because he is not able to choose.

Posted by: Narrator at November 5, 2006 2:45 PM

Guys, I have to deal with this story, too. And how I know the English lessons, we don't have to interpret the really deep sens of the stories. I would concentrate on the basic and obvious things. The want to see, if you are able to handle with English texts, not if you can interpret.
If you go too deep, you could fail the easy points and till now, I have the feeling, there are only the obvious easy points. Starting to interpret things, could be a big mistake. In fact you just just have to repeat in your own words, what the text directly or indirectly says.

Posted by: itchy2005 at February 12, 2007 12:36 PM

hi guys
I'm another student from germany and i will have to deal with the story "A meeting in the Dark" tomorrow in an exam. Altogether I'm quite confident that it will work to present John as being a victim of circumstances who, however acts pretty cowardly. My problem with John being a coward is that a guy who is able to kill someone, especially a girl can basically not be a coward, except he's in a real emergency (dunno if the word fits here, but google says so :)). As I don't think, that Johns' situation is actually an emergency I must suppose that he's way more than just a tiny coward, but more likely sort of dangerous. I must admit that some bit of time has passed since I've read the story (I don't own the book at the moment) and that I am not quite sure about the exact ending when John kills Wamuhu... So I wanted to ask whether You can tell me if John is determined to kill the girl before he does it or if it's rather an accident. I'd also like to know your opinion on my remarks about John and his possible cowardice and if his situation might be an emergency. Thanks a lot

Posted by: peter at March 5, 2007 12:30 PM

Hi Peter!
I'll have to deal with the first 7 secven stories of "Caught between cultures" in an exam on Tuesday, and I really like a few of them, in´cluding "Meeting in the dark" We talked in our lessons about John killing Wamuhu, and I think it was rather an accident. He saya he's not sure what to do:
-He doesn't want to admit, because his father'd be angry, and he couldn't go to college anymore
-He can't marry a girl, who's not been in school, because he can't destroy his father's reputation
-he im impregnanted Wamuhu, so he has to decide.
-he doesn't love Wamuhu

All this confuses him, and it's said in the book, that he went to the "meeting in the dark" ;) without knowing what to tell Wamuhu. So in the end he's desperate and tries to spoil her with money. As she doesn't want to take it, he loses control of himself, and of the situation and he kills her, although he "only" tried to convice her to take his money.

Posted by: Fawks at March 9, 2007 4:49 AM

the meeting in the dark is the literary piece i've chosen for our english 105 subject for a critical analysis. my reaction is that, the meeting in the dark is not only a short fictional story, but it also happens in the real world. wamuhu, having a problem for being pregnant, and john who impregnated wamuhu, but do not know what to do. for me, it's really shameful for john to act like that, because in the first place, wamuhu loved him but he can't have the nerves to face the responsibilities he owes to wamuhu and their baby.

Posted by: sheila at March 12, 2007 10:20 PM

I will be the next one who is writing an exam about that text i guess..tomorrow it is time for me..
and I guess those comments up there are more or less the same..or better they show two sides of the medal..On the one hand: John acted as a coward on the other hand: John acted out of desperation, being clashed between two cultures. And I must say I would cling to the second one as we discussed that in class as well and came to the same conclusion. Although I agree with sheila saying that murdering Wamuhu was the most shameful thing he could do, I still can partly understand his reasons. And I think that is what the author wants to show us. We like John, we understand how he is acting. And the last bit where he kills her, shocks us, wakes us up and lets us think about it!

Posted by: Elisa at March 20, 2007 5:50 PM

The point of the whole story, in my opinion, is to demonstrate several effects of a "clash of two cultures".
First of all, the whole John Story. Due to the extrem pressure forced upon him by his father and his society he only saw one way out of the dilema:
Bribing her. (then accidently killing her "during the process") This does not that much show a "coward" but, in my opinion, a young man already being corrupted by western ideals. (Money = solution to everything).
Second of all, the relationship of his father and hsi mother. Before Stanley became a christian the relationship was alot better I believe. You can see that in his behavior towards his wife's telling of storys to their son.
Third of all, the changes to the very fabric of the community. E.g. the way boys have to treat girls. They have to meet in the dark (as the title also impleys) since they musn't be seen by the (let's call them) adults.

Considering all this one should not declare this story to be one about a coward. It'S more about a society divided against it self.


Posted by: Andreas W. at May 13, 2007 2:35 PM

thnx guys for your comments because i was more enlighten with what the story line...
i just wonder...was it Wamuhu (pregnant woman) or the baby killed?

Posted by: aizen at June 21, 2007 8:49 AM

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