Critical Context

I Will Marry When I Want is a drama that celebrates, in a series of flashbacks, the events of the Mau Mau Revolution that quickened the pace of Kenya’s march toward independence. References are made throughout the drama to the taking of oaths not to betray fellow members of the organization to British authorities or to sell land to the Europeans. After these vows are administered, the initiates pass in pairs through an “arch of banana leaves to the other side.”

These allusions to the Mau Mau are also used as time markers. Kiguunda recalls his courtship of Wangeci as taking place “long before the state of Emergency,” a period from 1952 to 1962 that saw the establishment of the Homeguard and the subsequent arrest and detention of suspected Mau Mau members. The frequent allusions to the martyred Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimaathi, who is praised in songs, contrast with references to the Homeguard, whose ascendancy to power is described as the result of crooked means. Hence, I Will Marry When I Want may be read as a tribute by Ngugi to Mau Mau leaders, those he considers the progenitors of Kenya’s freedom and the rightful heirs of political leadership in postindependence Kenya.

Ngugi’s criticism of the economic policy of Kenya’s leaders in I Will Marry When I Want led to the banning of the play, and was in part the cause of his imprisonment from 1977 to 1979. Originally written in his native language, Gikuyu...

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