Character and Themes

Main Characters
Additional Characters
Central Themes


  • Shailja Patel – Author/Main character/Narrator – the work of Migritude derives heavily from Patel’s own experiences living in Nairobi as a third-generation immigrant of Indian-Gujarati heritage.
    • She is not Indian, despite her Gujarati relatives. She is not British, despite her education in the UK. She is not fully Kenyan because she does not look or act like everyone else. She is not American as no real Americans have to wait four hours for their parents to make it through customs after being held without cause. So what is she? The question emphasizes a common feeling of self-reflection/analysis that many immigrants experience.
    • The readers are given the opportunity to see the life she leads —how she tries to remain faithful to her Indian culture in spite of the different perspectives she has, how she struggles to justify the rights for sexual abuse victims, and how she makes a living by performing in countries where the audiences don’t seem to comprehend the suffering of people in Africa.
    • She thinks wearing saris doesn’t give much protection—contrary to what her mother always tells her, that wearing valuable saris and jewelry represent family’s wealth, and therefore women will be kept safe—because even though women wear saris, they still are sexually abused.


  • Patel's Mother – Most important figure in Patel's life.
    • Has been collecting saris and jewelry for Shailja for the day she would get married.
    • Shailja turned down offers to be wed, so her mother gave her the red suitcase full of beautiful saris and jewelry to do with as she pleases — this act was pivotal for Shailja as she interprets it as recognition of her strength as a woman to lead her own path with the power to change the way things are/tradition.


  • Brother – Absence of a male sibling is noted as brothers are viewed as the protector of sisters and a strong influence in the family dynamic.
    • “You are not safe as a girl,” my mother said. “If you had a brother to protect you, you could go out at night. If you had a brother to protect you, we would let you,” (pp. 20-21) 


  • Maasai/Samburu women
    • Offer oral testimonies from women survivors who were raped systemically for 35 years by British soldiers stationed in Kenya during wartime (Mau Mau Revolution). (pp. 44-48)
    • Relates to the narrator because the testimonies illustrate the fear and anxiety of potential danger that loomed over Kenyan women (including Patel) during civil unrest.
    • Tells of the impact on those who are receiving end of global forces and conflict.


  • Survivor 1
    • A woman shares her account of how she went looking for a well that still had water and ended up getting raped by two soldiers, while another soldier held their guns.
    • Ambitious woman who had just finished high school and was about to become a law student.
    • She ended up getting pregnant with twins — but one child, a boy, died during labor. Parents were outraged when they found out she was pregnant, as they had invested everything into her education.
    • She ended up becoming a teacher, never married, and feels pain and ambivalence towards her daughter, and grief and rage over her shattered ambitions.
    • She still wonders if they attacked her because she greeted them in English. The language that was supposed to be the key to her world,” (p. 46).


  • Survivor 58 –
    • A heavily pregnant woman herding her goats was raped by four soldiers, who argued over who would rape her first.
    • When she saw them approach, she began to run, as it was widely known that they raped women,” (p. 46)
    • They chased her for three kilometers before catching her.
    • She went into labour the next day and gave birth to a stillborn.
    • She only told her husband about the ordeal,”(p. 46).


  • Survivor 618
    • Male survivor* tending to his father’s cattle was raped by four soldiers who offered him a biscuit to lure him toward them.
    • He knows of other boys who were also raped, but are too ashamed to speak of it,” (p. 47)


  • From Silence to Self-Expression:  – “History buried becomes history repeated. A whole generation of Africans have been denied the truth of their own history, and so we do not really know ourselves, or our countries. Reclaiming those erased or hidden histories is vital political and creative work, and is central to my purpose as a writer.”


  • Objectification of Women: Women in their saris – “You have to be careful in your Sari. You’re exposing (whisper) the body. Don’t let the pillow slip under the breast. That’s obscene. Don’t let the petticoat show the panties. That’s obscene” (Migritude, 22).


  • Gendered Violence– Sexual violence Kenyan women and children endured at the expense of British Soldiers.


  • Tradition vs Individuality– “Don’t put down your roots. Don’t get too comfortable. By dawn we may be on the move, forced to reinvent ourselves in order to survive” (Migritude, 10).


Migritude’s Homepage

Casey Nixon, Erika Memolo, & Danny Burke ’19

Comments are closed