The Importance of Education in "Dreams in a Time of War", a Book by NgũGĩ Wa Thiongo

Education plays a vital role in an individual’s success and helps the world understand such challenges that arise in culture differences, economic disparities, government disputes, etc. The importance of an education can be portrayed in its entirety in Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s memoir, Dreams in a Time of War.

Ngugi recounts his childhood life in Kenya when it was under colonialism and warduring the mid twentieth century and how education was a fundamental aspect in shaping his future despite such events.

With the encouragement from his mother and the determination he had, Ngugi was able to advance in his educational pathway and achieve his “dreams in a time of war”.In this paper, I will be focusing on how Ngugi succeeded in his educational career despite his hardships and realized the true value of an education.

When Ngugi was growing up, he faced many hardships such as poverty and the fear of being captured by the Mau Mau. He was living in Kenya amidst the war between the Mau Mau and the British.

The Mau Mau rebellion eventually tortured his mother and killed his stepbrother. However, despite these hardships, Ngugi was determined to proceed with hispursuit of an education. First, school was “way beyond [him]” and he “never thought about it as a possibility” (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg.58).

Then, the day came when his mother asked if he wanted to attend school and since that day, Ngugi never gave up on the idea of pursuing an education. By recounting his passion for reading, Ngugi is able to reflect his passion and ambition for education.

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He also realized that reading “is like music”. 

Even when not reading it, I can hear the music. The choice and arrangements of the words, the cadence, I can’t pick any one thing that makes it so beautiful and long-lived in my memory. I realize that even written words can carry the music I loved in stories, particularly the choric melody…It is music. Written words can also sing. (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg. 65)

This idea that words are musichas been carried with him ever since he realized the true value of an education. Even though his “nighttime” reading was limited due to poverty, Ngugi always tried his best to keep himself entertained with readings and seek to expand his mind. He “read by the light of an unreliable and coverless kerosene lantern” (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg. 67). “Paraffin means money and there are days when the lamp has no oil,” he recallsas being of the difficult circumstances he had to face back at home when he wanted to read (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg. 67).

Additionally, he does not let the idea of poverty get in his way. He has to walk six miles to and from school everyday with little to no meal and still perseveres.Despite these harsh circumstances, Ngugi never failed to strive for his goals. He understands what is best for him to help him advance to a more privileged lifestyle. Despite the circumstances and background one comes from, there is always education that one can strive for to better understand the world and be prepared for such drastic events or hardships.

Not only does Ngugi stay committed to his education, his mother encourages him along the way. He was born to a father with four wives that had about two-dozen children. Ngugi was the fifth child of his father’s third wife. His mother’s love for her son drives him to fulfill his dreams, as his mother wants the best for him. She reminds him that he should always try his best at school because she knows that education can promote a successful life for her son.

She understands that they are living in harsh conditions as of now and does not want her son to be living like this anymore. She keeps encouraging her son to thrive for success and to really appreciate his education by prosing questions such as “Is that the best you could have done”? (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg. 64)This demonstratesto Ngugi that he can rely on not only on his mother, but he can also rely on his education. It gives Ngugi a sense of comfort and calmness since he does not have to worry as much due to the strong support system he has.He states, “In addition to the comfort my mother’s house gives me, there is school.

Though the fear that I might lose my place in Kinyogori hovers over me always, it does not actually happen. I am grateful. I seek refuge in learning” (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg. 217). In the quote above, readers can perceive that Ngugi seeks education as a refugee. Ngugi does not only see education as a refugee of learning and for educating himself, but also as a path to discover his abilities and passions. Ngugi is able to find the passion of reading and writing, in which he integrated later in his life.

Now, he is a writer and depicts many of the struggles that Kenyans had to face throughout his novels. Ngugi further demonstrates the importance of education by devoting his time and attention to exams such as the Kenya African Preliminary Exam, which would “decide his fate” (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg.221). These exams were given to students to test whether they have learned the years’ material and are ready to advance to higher levels of their educational course. Ngugi recalls “only about 5 percent of the students taking the tests ever found places at high schools or teacher training colleges.

Preparing for the exams was nerve-racking, made more so by our being in the midst of a war” (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg.222). In the quote mentioned above, readers can perceive that the value of education for Ngugi is far beyond the idea of just learning concepts. Education was super imperative for the future of his family and himself. Education is what determines where Ngugi will lead to next. If he passes the exam, Ngugi gets to proceed with his education. If he does not pass the exam, Ngugi and his family will have to experience the same shame as experienced before when her other sons dropped out of school.

Ngugi would have to drop out of school and will have to face the misery and hardships that his family is experiencing as of now. Ngugi sees education as the passage that will set him and his family free from poverty.

With his determination and mother’s encouragement, came success and new opportunities for Ngugi. With higher education, Ngugi was able to see the value of an education. He was able to communicate thoroughly with others. He speaks, “We decided that it was time to test our knowledge of the languages we had learned… Years later I would feel a similar thrill at the acceptance of my first pieces of writing in a school magazine or at a publisher’s positive response to my book manuscript” (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg. 179-180).

Ngugi’s dedication to learning and determination led him to embark on this new writing journey, and if it weren’t for this, Ngugi would not have had the privilege of overcoming poverty and gaining this new writing experience. Without the knowledge he gained through schooling, he would have never had this opportunity; the opportunity of being recognized and leaving home for the benefit of his own.

He eventually is admitted into Alliance High School, which “admits only the best” (wa Thiong’o, pg. 2010, 243). Not only does he engage with learning in a classroom setting, he also learns on his own. He states, “But trying to make sense of what’s around me, independently, and then defending its veracity as well as I can against Kenneth’s skepticism, makes me feel that much more of a man, my own man” (wa Thiong’o, 2010, pg.232).

In the quote mentioned before, Ngugi was able to use his critical thinking and analysis skills that his education provided him with in order to examine the events that were happening at that time. Education helped Ngugi examine his reality. He was able to learn from the experiences he encounteredand use his educational skills to approach many events in different ways. Through classroom settings and experiences dealt with outside, hewas able tobroaden his educational senses directly and indirectly, in the way that he was able to understand his struggles and reality. Ngugi is a great example in which he demonstrates that education cannot be underestimated. He transformed from a small, impoverished boy to a Professor at a University.

As stated before, the importance of education is far greater than what it seems to be. With an education, one can strive for their dreams and goals just as how Ngugi did in Kenya. Because of his thirst and strong willingness for learning, he grew from a young boy to an educated Professor. With determination and motivation from his mother, he was able to succeed and discover great achievements in his life. Ngugi wa Thiong’o was able to achieve his dreams amidst a war.

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The Importance of Education in "Dreams in a Time of War", a Book by NgũGĩ Wa Thiongo. (2023, Mar 15). Retrieved from

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