Chapters Eleven & Twelve

Summary: Chapter Eleven

William assembles the moving parts of the windmill and places it on top of a pole to test it. The span of the blades is nearly eight feet. When attached to William’s father’s radio, the windmill produces so much current that black smoke comes out of the radio. William researches transformers and dissipation in Explaining Physics. With the help of Geoffrey and Gilbert, William builds a proper tower for the windmill. They cut down several trees for lumber and build a sixteen-foot tower. Once the tower is assembled, the three boys use the wire from William’s clothesline and one of the support rungs as a pulley to lift the heavy windmill to the top of the tower. While they are fastening the windmill to the top of the tower, people start to gather at William’s house, since the tower is visible from the trading center. He tells the crowd that he will generate electricity from the wind, but most of the people who have gathered just mock him. 

William attaches a light bulb to the windmill and lets it spin. Bright light is generated, and everyone is amazed. William runs longer wire to his bedroom and is finally able to stay up past sundown with light in his room. His mother tells him that they would all like light in their rooms. William agrees and tells them that he plans to incorporate a car battery to store power so that they always have light, even when the wind is not blowing. He also thinks about an even larger windmill that will be able to power a water pump for the fields.

Summary: Chapter Twelve

William’s cousin, Ruth, asks him if he can use his windmill to charge her mobile phone. With a step-up transformer made from an iron sheet and wrapped wire, he obtains an output voltage close enough to 220 V to charge the phone. Using the AC cord from a radio, he even makes a makeshift electric outlet in his room. He runs wire to lights in his parents’ room and the living room. William’s father tells him that he especially enjoys the electricity “because my own son made it.” 

After a large storm, one of the beams in the ceiling over William’s room is broken. His floor is covered in dirt and termites. After using chickens to clear the termites, he realizes that the wires he has run through the house could start a fire. Since he does not have access to fuses, he cannot install a circuit breaker. William creates his own fuse after studying how an electric bell functions. After another storm, he discovers that his makeshift fuse works. William also replaces the windmill’s bicycle chain with a pulley system and belt, after Geoffrey tells him that is what the large machinery in the maize mill uses. William is grateful for the belt-drive. It is more reliable than the chain, and he no longer has to be cut by the windmill blades while trying to adjust and repair the chain.

Analysis: Chapters Eleven & Twelve

William’s innovative spirit is at the center of the action in gripping, descriptive sequences of starting the windmill. With each problem he faces, William gets the help he needs or figures it out on his own. Now, William’s character first introduced in the book’s Prologue is fully realized. His path to this moment has been illuminated, and when the actual lightbulb comes on, William’s trials have been vindicated. But even after his success sways the hearts and minds of his community, William faces new challenges. The world presses in on him again, forcing William to keep innovating. Creating his own fuse to make the wires safer, William shows his determination to see the project through. William is not only determined to make a change, but he also possesses the skill and intelligence to solve problems along the way.

Just as floods and droughts had undermined William’s plans in previous chapters, a large storm antagonizes him now, at the height of his success. This antagonism forces William’s development and changes his perspective. Using a chicken as a metaphor, William comes to terms with the chaotic side of nature. William’s windmill uses that chaos, wind, to make electricity. But the windmill exists in a fragile balance with the unpredictable forces of nature. William comes to a higher understanding of his purpose. Instead of overcoming nature, William is now working with nature in balance. Having shown his path to this moment, William contrasts his new understanding with the leadership in Malawi. Where entire forests were logged for the rich, William takes only a few trees to attempt to provide electricity for an entire village. William now understands the fragile balance all humanity must find with their surrounding environment.