Macgoye Explores Different Events In Protagonists Life English Literature Essay

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1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this


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The study relies on reading the novel and undertaking an individual analysis on the context to answer my research.It examines how Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, in her novel Coming to Birth demonstrates the protagonist′s (Paulina′s) development. It investigates how Macgoye explores different events in the protagonist′s life which influence her life and help to develop her character; I argue that, the author places Paulina in various situations so that she can be able to develop.

The study will focus on the main events which are brought up by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye by focusing on these character developing episodes. My research question is “how efficiently does Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye demonstrate the protagonist’s (Paulina’s) development of the character and self-realization through her responses to the events and relationships in her life?”

The study will focus on the main or crucial events in Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye’s description of the plot by focusing on the different changes in Paulina’s life which influences her self-growth. I will analyze the responses to events e.g. marriage, which is a key aspect to her empowerment. I will also focus in her pregnancy, education, traditional practices and friendship to her journey to self-realization. Also look at the political development of Kenya and how it is parallel to her coming to independence as well. I come to the conclusion that,indeed the process of Paulina′s emergence as an independent,and fulfilled woman is effectively developed through her actions and reactions to the major situations and episodes of her life.


My research is based upon how Macgoye unfolds the novel through the colonial period, letting us share the life of a young girl. Through all her pain and struggle we see Paulina coming to birth. The author empowers her to think for herself and make decisions for her life which leads to her coming of age. I am going to investigate the process which enables her to have self-realization. My research is important as I feel it shows how many Kenyan wives are oppressed in their marriages and how they can also empower themselves as the protagonist.

The study will further go on to compare Kenya’s coming of age with that of Paulina, the protagonist. As the two are parallel to one another. The book is divided into several chapters and each of the chapters explores Paulina’s development from being a naive rural girl to a mature and independent urban woman, cognizant of her rights. I shall therefore explain the journey to coming to birth for Paulina; I shall embark on this by simply going through the important events/episodes in her life to explain my research question‟how effectively does Marjorie oludhe demonstrates the protagonist′s (Paulina′s) development of the character and self­realization through her responses to the events and relationships in her life?”


Paulina is characterized as a very naïve rural girl who does not even know what is going on in her country. We see these when Rachel her neighbor explains to her of all the political struggles in Nairobi. Paulina found life in the big city strange from what she is used to in the rural area. The first time we see her alighting from the train and as they walk home with martin, she is amazed by the tall building and rushing traffic. She is also surprised to find out that in the city people are individualistic and pass each other without a word of hello. She also feels obligated to give way for them to pass. The narrative voice tells us that Paulina “felt she must the one to give way whenever she came face to face with someone hurrying in the same direction” (pg. 3). I argue that these events that Paulina experiences on her arrival in the city marks the beginning of her coming to birth compared to the second time she arrive in Nairobi. Paulina’s naiveness contributed a lot to her coming of age. Another aspect we can prove this statement is when they finally reach home. She is astonished by the fact that they have to sleep in the same bed like Europeans do. I emphasize that Paulina was way too young to get married off to Martin by the above point. She is a child robbed of her childhood. The second time we see Paulina coming to Nairobi. The author shows us how she is more experienced when alighting from the train, this time she is seen carrying a larger sack of food compared to the first time. This shows us that she has the knowledge of how expensive it is to live in Nairobi. Thus she brings home more food to sustain them for more days. Also we see that this time, Martin did not have to escort her home as she already knew her way home. This takes us to the incident when just a day after her arrival to Nairobi, Paulina was admitted into hospital. She was discharged and instead of waiting for Martin to come for her, she attempted to go home on her own. Although it could be argued that it was brave for her to try to find Pumwani. It just shows us how naïve she was to think that just because she could find her way in the small town of Kisumu. She also thought that she could also find her way In Nairobi without getting lost.

As the novel continues Paulina becomes increasingly responsible. She learnt not to hurry straight to the market immediately after pay day as the price of food fluctuates in the city. Sometimes it is expensive while sometimes it is cheaper. Her young willing open mind contributes in her coming to birth quicker than expected. As she learnt how to speak Swahili, although it was not fluent compared to her friends. Paulina found a small piece of land near her house of which she opted to grow some vegetables to help them during the dry season. She also learnt how to crochet and would make beautiful table clothes for some money to help support herself. She stopped being too naïve as the money which was taken from her and instead all the money was given for food. She saw it would be wiser to save a few shillings so as to buy a yarn to knit some table clothes, which her neighbors admired and would make orders to buy from her.

As the chapter goes on Paulina cannot be categorized as being naive anymore because she has fully developed, if compared to the first chapter. She involves herself to infidelity when she starts seeing Simon which leads to the birth of her son Okeyo.


To date women are considered to be a source of wealth as many communities still practice the tradition of dowry. In Coming to Birth Paulina was married off to Martin at a very tender age. The author tells us her age and one is left to wonder why she insisted on letting us know her age. It is not even enough for her to just tell us she was a young girl. By telling us Paulina’s age the author wants to emphasize the fact that a child does not have the knowledge to nuture a marriage into prosperity. She gives us a little hint that Paulina’s marriage is doomed to fail right from the beginning.

The word “married off”, in Coming to Birth, from my knowledge means to get married to someone to whom it was not your own personal preference. Paulina being married off could be interpreted as her freedom or her future was taken away from her by her father without her consent. She had been living with her father for 16 years. Being told what to do and when and when she was married, you would think that she would have a say in her marriage but Martin abuses her physically and mentally. Even her freedom to walk around is kept under surveillance. I argue that the violent beatings and verbal abuse lead to Paulina coming to birth. Macgoye shows us that Paulina’s marriage was a hindrance to her coming to birth. As Martin wanted to control her, Paulina could not develop much when she was in her marriage because for her instance the little money she made from her knitting Martin would borrow some to go buy beer. Also he kept sending her back to the rural area to collect the harvest, instead of maybe opening a small business for her in Nairobi. Another thing holding her back was her inability to have a child while marriage to Martin. As soon as she realizes how unfulfilled she really is in her marriage, the sooner she comes to birth by walking out on Martin. This proves that her marriage was holding her back when she gets an education which leads to a job. She also gets a house of her own and convinces a child out of wedlock but although she does not have a spouse to go home to the narrative voice tell us that the woman in the home craft could see how much happier she had become.


Tradition and culture in African society are custom to everyone, having being born and raised in the rural area, Paulina was taught and believed in her culture. We first see this the first time she arrives in Nairobi, she was not feeling well and Martin could see that. He offered to carry her suitcase but Paulina refused because she would be ashamed to be seen with him carrying the luggage. I argue that tradition was a major impact to empower Paulina on her growth to coming to birth. Since its tradition that a man goes to work and brings the money while the woman’s place is in the kitchen, her first coming to birth by the theme of tradition was when she felt pain and decided to tell her husband. Paulina was pregnant and it was against traditional values to talk about her pregnancy. Instead she should let the pregnancy show itself. The protagonist opted to tell Martin of the pain and her fear of the baby. The narrative tells us “for though it was against custom she felt outside the place where tradition could help” (pg. 9). Although Martin went out of his way to get her to a hospital, it was all in vain as Paulina had her first miscarriage.Her opposition to tradition was helped her in her growth towards maturity at this point.

Paulina finally came to birth by going against tradition, she became independent by securing a job at the home craft center and having a house for was considered improper for a woman to live by herself. It was against tradition. Macgoye demonstrates that although Paulina is a woman in a society where they undermine women. She can have her own dreams and freedom.

Since Paulina is a young woman who seems to have a problem conceiving, it is supported by tradition for Martin to bring a second spouse. It also applies to women too; As Paulina seeks the advice of her friends who tell her that it is allowed for her to have a child with another man if Martin cannot. Although she knew that he was not the problem but she was. I argue that Paulina’s affair with Simon brought her one more step to coming to birth. It is therefore very ironical that Paulina got a child with a married man who did not want to commite to her. Paulina does not mind because by having this child he had filed the gap in her life. It is also ironical that the tradition that once supported her to seek a child with another man turned its back on her because when word reached Paulina’s home she was neglected and Martin beats her up while denouncing her as his wife. Paulina shows her maturity and leaves the home with respect and dignity as she even leaves some money for her mother-in-law. These events had little to no effect on Paulina as she grew increasingly independent and happier than she has been in a long time. Later on we see Paulina having accomplished a few things more than that Martin who is still struggling, nowhere to be seen in the world. He moves back in with Paulina. This is also ironical because it is tradition that when couples have a fight or an argument that the woman is the one to go back to her husband and not the other way around. I argue that the author is trying to demonstrate that tradition is not always right. The characters can make good decisions outside tradition,which in Paulina′s case is a reaction that shows character development.


Education played a major role into the coming of age of Paulina. Being educated is a way of growing so although Paulina had been in school until standard eight, she still was not evolved as the standard eight child is immature. Paulina was determined to learn. She wanted to learn how to be fluent in “Swahili” so Martin encouraged her bible studies by buying her the new testament bible so that she could compare the Luo ‘muma’. Paulina was so determined that she joined the home craft college. Being the youngest in the class she received cold shoulders from the other students but she still moved forward. The missionaries could see how hard working she was and would praise her continuously. The home craft college was a big turning point in the plot for Paulina. It made her more independent. She got a job as a result of her hard work and participation in the center. The little money she got from the center, she rented a house and some she used to help her mother-in-law. Paulina was appointed club leader at the center, she was growing as a respected member of te society with a civic responsibility. Macgoye turns the tables and shows us that although Paulina is living in a society where women are considered as being inferior that she can be independent.

We also see her being able to handle her finances better than her husband who the author seems to be retrogressing while Paulina is progressing a lot. We see that Martin missuses his money by buying alcohol. He moves in with a friend in an even smaller house than the one they used to live in, in Pumwani with Paulina.


In the novel the author suggests that the ability to get pregnant is not only a mark of fertility or creating another living being, but also it is a source of feminist power. Being pregnant in Coming to Birth earns the respect of others. Paulina when going to visit her mother-in-law the narrative voice tells us that she was disappointed when she saw that there was no sign of a child. Also when Paulina comes back home, she is disrespected by Nancy, asking her “and you are the mother of who”. Since Nancy was having an affair with Martin she could only give Paulina respect if she had a child. Martin engages an affair and brings the woman to live with him as his second spouse. This brings Paulina to suffer and embarrassment as she cannot complain about Martin’s unfaithfulness. She has to accept her position since she cannot carry his child. Paulina has two is suggested that the living environment offered by Martin was not good enough to have a productive pregnancy. The violent beating and stressful home, Martin would also send her back and forth from the rural area to Nairobi. She did not have a constant home to be able to conceive a child. Oludhe seems to suggest that Paulina′s body had not matured enough to carry a child in her womb. However, it is very ironical that Paulina was living in the harsh environment provided by martin she was unable to conceive but when she gets her own house and engages in an affair with a married man she conceives a child. This also proves my point that marriage in coming to birth can only be considered to be a drag for Paulina’s self-growth.


in the novel particularly the female characters. n this subchapter, I will be focusing on Paulina’s friendship to others. Through the relationships she had with her friends; they helped her to come to age as she faced some tough challenges in her marriage. I also argue that the author presents the theme of female friendship in Coming to Birth as a vital component for women in helping their fellow women, adjust to the challenges presented to them by society.

Macgoye suggests that support and acceptance of other women is essential, in that though women’s teachings and identification as women they aided and supported each other both psychologically and mentally. As we start reading the novel the first female friend we came across is Rachel. She is the next door neighbor and she comes from the same tribe as Paulina. Rachel’s friendship proved to be very helpful to Paulina’s growth as she understood her more and she was more experienced in life and marriage than Paulina was. Her first attempt to befriend her was seen when she brought Paulina tea and ‘mandazi’ as she knew Paulina was hungry and tired from the long journey she took. Rachel gave her some advice which was very helpful to her since Paulina was very naïve at the moment. Since there was no firewood used in Nairobi, Rachel advised Paulina on how to use charcoal and not to light it in the house without opening the window. This was the first advice she got. Through Rachel, Paulina gets emotional comfort about her marriage. Another way that the friendship helped Paulina’s development is when Rachel talks about the emergency (pg. 8). The narrative voice tells us how Paulina will come to see how innocent and naïve she was when Rachel was explaining the curfew and the barbed wires. She came to birth by learning more about her country and the situation it was in, with the entire political struggle it was going through.

Paulina also learns a lot from her other friends from Pumwani (pg. 28). The older women gave her some useful advice on how not to spend the money on the market on pay day but wait till the prices had gone down foe her to shop. I interpret this as Paulina’s strength on how she became superior on her own, to make decisions for her house. This helps her as she saves some money to buy thread to make table clothes to earn an extra shilling. Paulina starts being independent and moves fast on her journey to coming to birth. She starts helping Martin financially and in turn he does not feel the need to send her back to the rural area which would have retrogressed her, as she proves to be helpful. Also this step made by Paulina could be interpreted as her moving away from her safety zone and doing something for herself, which she felt she did not need to look up to Martin for financial support.


In the first chapter I pointed out that the author does not situate Paulina as an active participant in politics, however I argue that the political events or happenings both in colonial and postcolonial in Kenya, influenced Paulina’s choice in life. For every political event mentioned in the book, Paulina’s life seems to go parallel with it. Which seems in turn gears her towards her liberation.

The first thing we see is when Paulina first arrives in Nairobi she is confused and not at ease, more so there is an emergency and political confusing parallel, Paulina’s shocking plunge into the city. Throughout the book Macgoye’s political upheavals are closely linked with what happens in the protagonist’s life. For starters Paulina’s second miscarriage was caused by the violently aggressive police in her house. In 1960 Kanu, is formed and the state of emergency is lifted. Paulina’s life is also looking good as she joins the home craft training center. In 1963, Kenya gains independence and so does Paulina. She gains freedom of which she is deprived of since her childhood. Paulina organizes the women to participate in the celebrations. When Tom Mboya was assassinated, Nancy the woman who was leaving with Martin at the time packs and leaves Martin its only at the celebration that we are told about the inner death of Paulina, and it marks a step forward towards her personal growth. For her to gain independence she has to come to terms with Martin’s infidelity. She could not confront him at first because she was unable to conceive but she comes to terms that he was unfaithful, this helps us at the end when she moves back to leave with him again.


One of the political aspects that influenced Paulina was the operation anvil. It was exercised by the colonial government to force kikuyu’s from Pumwani into centralized and controlled areas where they were closely supervised. As a result Macgoye tells us that the job of which martin had achieved was obtained when a kikuyu had dropped three years before, Martin’s job acquires him a room at Pumwani where we are told that the tenant had been swept away by operation anvil. Martin thus invites Paulina to come and live with him. The journey which she embarks on can be interpreted as her coming off age as the journey was full of lessons.

The Kisumu massacre is a very important event in the protagonist’s life as it is when her son Okeyo was prematurely killed in 1969. It’s important in her life since the event requires her to be strong and be able to adjust and continue progressing. It is very ironical that throughout the book the author has lead us to believe that Paulina’s quest for her yenning for a child is what will fulfill her but alas! At the end her son dies. The death of her son could be interpreted as a method, the author used to reunite Paulina and Martin. We are told that in her quest of self-satisfaction which leads back to Nairobi, she finds a sense of belonging as she admits that she felt more at home in Nairobi than in her rural home (pg. 108). I argue that the death of her son Okeyo caused by the Kisumu massacre geared Paulina to develop as she reunites with Martin and at the end of the novel she is again expecting Martin’s child. The political event therefore saves her marriage with Martin.


The study has been about the journey of the protagonist coming to birth.I have show how Paulina has developed through all her struggle.

I come to a conclusion that all the aspects of the plot offers the development of incidents in which the treatment and behavior of the protagonist leads to the believable and satisfying (for the reader) development of the character into a mature,independent woman.coincidentally at the sometime the social background and setting of the story shows how the country is developing into independence parallel to her Coming to Birth.

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