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Short Stories > "Minutes of Glory" by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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message 1: by Barbara (last edited Oct 02, 2011 06:13PM) (new)

Barbara | 4963 comments Our next short story is "Minutes of Glory" by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. You can find it in the collection, The Art of the Story, edited by Daniel Halpern, on page 557. It is also included in To Stir the Heart: Four African Stories.

The following short biographical information is from Ngugi wa Thiong'o's webpage at
There is a great deal more information available there.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, was born in Kenya, in 1938 into a large peasant family. He was educated at Kamandura, Manguu and Kinyogori primary schools; Alliance High School, all in Kenya; Makerere University College (then a campus of London University), Kampala, Uganda; and the University of Leeds, Britain. He is recipient of seven Honorary Doctorates viz D Litt (Albright); PhD (Roskilde); D Litt (Leeds); D Litt &Ph D (Walter Sisulu University); PhD (Carlstate); D Litt (Dillard) and D Litt (Auckland University). He is also Honorary Member of American Academy of Letters. A many-sided intellectual, he is novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, editor, academic and social activist.

message 2: by Barbara (last edited Oct 02, 2011 06:23PM) (new)

Barbara | 4963 comments There was some beautiful language on the first page of this story that hooked me in its description of Beatrice:
Not that she was ugly; but she could not be called beautiful either. Her body, dark and full fleshed, had the form, yes, but it was as if it waited to be filled by the spirit.


She was like a wounded bird in flight: a forced landing now and then but nevertheless wobbling from place to place.....

And, the origin of her difficulties seem to be at least partially contained in the first sentence:
Her name was Wanjiru. But she liked better her Christian one, Beatrice.

Beatrice seemed to be caught in Hell. Success is defined as being attractive and fought over by the men who frequent the bars where she works. When she talks to the lorry driver, we find out that she had hoped to go to school, but one year of not working quite as hard seems to have left her to this fate. My first reaction was that there had to be some other alternative, but that may be a function of my middleclass, western ideas. Do you think she was limited by her situation or by her own lack of belief in herself?

And, did you find it significant that the other bargirl with all of the seeming confidence used her African name? And, yet, in some ways, she seemed no better off than Beatrice.

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Barbara wrote: "My first reaction was that there had to be some other alternative..."

She mentioned to her sleeping confidant that she could have repeated her 7th year of school but didn't because of appearances. Her tragedy is that her self-worth is to appearances. She doesn't get that sparkle in her eye until she's living her 15 minutes of fame with her new stockings.

The other girl seems to her opposite. She comes from a more privileged situation, uses her African name, and is disinterested in what others think of her. Each girl seems to possess what the other is looking for.

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments I really like the first quote you cited Barbara. Not that she was ugly; but she could not be called beautiful either. Her body, dark and full fleshed, had the form, yes, but it was as if it waited to be filled by the spirit. And, you're absolutely right about that first line representing her difficulties.

Barbara | 4963 comments I've read that Ngugi feels strongly about English corrupting the African cultures. I'm wondering if the two girls' use of names is meant to be symbolic. However, Nyaguthii (sorry I don't know how to do the pronounciation marks) doesn't seem terribly happy either, just more sought after.

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments I think the idea of the corruption of African cultures is a nice lens to look at this story.

If I recall correctly, Nyaguthii wasn't happy because she felt something was missing and envied Beatrice for having that intangible hard to define thing (a connection to a more authentic indigenous culture perhaps). Maybe she used her African name to try and find that connection.

Beatrice may be a victim of the corrupting influence of external cultures. The importance she placed on having and showing off the stockings and wigs could be evidence of that corrupted culture. The same might be said for some of the self-important clients at their last place of employment.

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) | 228 comments I too like the writing, the language, the descriptions. The story seems to be about life and it's randomness and the constant longing to be, to have what others have. As Mike said - the two seem to be opposites but each wanting something of what the other is. Also the climax of the story seems somewhat related to the Warhol '15 mins of Fame' thing.

I enjoyed the story.

message 8: by Kenneth P. (last edited Oct 05, 2011 09:06PM) (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 647 comments Nice, insightful comments Barb, Mike, Kenny. Yes, there seems to be a breakdown in the fabric of the Kenyan family. The changes are generational rather than personal. Nyaguthii and Beatrice are from different classes but both feel compelled to flee the fractured village life. Having been Christianized (a result of colonialism), Nyaguthii, who's family was well off, is forbidden from fraternizing with heathens, which is to say all of her village friends. Beatrice has two brothers shot to death and another who dies in detention (again colonialism). Both girls become birds in flight.

She was part of a generation which would never again be one with the soil, the crops, the wind and the moon.

The men in the story have managed to grab a small piece of power in the new order but they are a sorry lot. Beatrice's lorry driver parks his vehicle "not as a lorry, but as one of those sleek, cream-bodied frames..." When Beatrice first escapes the village she drinks beer and sleeps with a guy in neon-lit Nairobi. "When she awoke in the morning, the man in the cream white Peugeot was not there." (my italics)

The cream-white vehicles remind me of the skin-lightening cream so important to the bar-maids.

It's interesting that the lorry-driver from whom she steals money is a worthless loser until a woman, with whom he was associated, is hauled off in hand-cuffs. Suddenly he makes the big-time. "The averted threat to property had knit them into one family." This is the death of the village!

It reminds me of Achebe's classic, Things Fall Apart.

message 9: by Kenneth P. (last edited Oct 05, 2011 09:53PM) (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 647 comments I was in a dermatologist's chair two days ago. The nurse numbed me up with her tender needle (bless her) so the doc could dig tissue out of my back, all pretty routine for a guy my age. Doc saw my book, a novel by a Somalian writer. He knew something about east Africa, having spent a month there working in a hospital. He spoke eloquently of the beauty of Kenya. He also spoke of the ravages of AIDS. He went on to say that the only things that have been built that are of any value-- railroads, highways, buildings etc. were done by the British and are now in a state of complete decay. Things fall apart. His nurse, a beautiful African American girl, has already done a tour in Africa and wondered aloud where, on that continent, she might go next. I thought, Wow.

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Good points on the post-colonial aspects Kenneth. I had missed the cream colored cars.

I remember liking Things Fall Apart quite a bit. Unfortunately, that was 15 or so years ago and I've forgotten what it was I liked so much.

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments I'm curious if anyone wants to take a stab at why Nyaguthii cries at the end? I can think of a few different reasons why she might but it seems to be left open to interpretation. I can't see where the text is arguing for any one reason.

Barbara | 4963 comments I liked your analysis, Kenneth. If we follow that thread out about Beatrice and Nyaguthii both trying to escape the village life -- perhaps Nyaguthii is crying because it now feels that there is no escape.

One other thought, maybe she realizes that if she and Beatrice had bonded earlier, they might have teamed together and been more successful. In that case, Christianized Africa and anglocized (is that a word?) Africa would have joined forces. Or, maybe I'm reaching too far with these symbols.

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 647 comments Mike wrote: "I'm curious if anyone wants to take a stab at why Nyaguthii cries at the end?

This may sound simplistic but since this a very feminist piece, in my opinion, how about fundamental Sisterhood?

It reminds me of The Color Purple where the men are so debased, emasculated, that their only avenue to manhood is to abuse their women.

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Interesting. I was thinking Nyaguthii cried because Beatrice had spent so much time and energy and was going to jail for pursuing a materialism that Nyaguthii had already judged to be of low value.

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