Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Ngugi wa Mirii use free verse for the play's dialogue. While there is a linear plot structure, the overall organization of the play utilizes numerous songs as well as several dance numbers that include songs, so the lyrics also form significant parts of the text.
The play takes place in Kenya in the first years after the country achieved independence from Britain. The characters' diverse situations convey both the positive effects of political independence and the economic hardships that arose when British businesses pulled out of the former colony. The characters often reflect on the vital efforts of fighting for independence and the ways that the current situation differs from their expectations.
At one point, Kïgüünda wa Gathoni, the protagonist, neatly sums up his view of the change in the Kenyan people's situation: "I ran away from coldland only to find myself in frostland!"
Kïgüünda is proud of his role as a freedom fighter. He often seems trapped by his "bitter memories" of the efforts that he and his compatriots made. This sad nostalgia includes his evaluation of the oppressive British rule:
Our homes were burnt down. . . .
Some of us were crippled through beatings,
Others were castrated.
Our women were raped with bottles.
Our wives and daughters raped before our eyes.
He insists that it was the effective organization of the masses during Mau Mau, the era of rebellion, that led to their success:
We beat the whites
And freedom came . . .
We raised our national flag.
One scene includes a set of dancers who come onstage; as they dance the traditional Mücüng'wa, they also repeat the lines of the song that Kïgüünda sings. Along with boasts of sexual conquest, it includes the warrior's promise to his mother:
Mother ululate for me
For it I don't die young I'll one day sing songs of victory.
One plot line concerns the possible future (including the marriage prospects) of Gathoni, the teenage daughter of Kïgüünda and his wife, Wangeci. Both parents complain that she neglects her domestic duties to focus on selfish pursuits and has become obsessed with superficial matters. This is seen both as a generational divide—as the young people do not recall the parents' struggles—and as a failing specific to a new generation of women. Gathoni's self-centeredness is represented in the time and effort she takes to plait her hair. Wangeci complains to her daughter:
Can't you help me
In peeling potatoes
In sorting out the rice
Or in looking after the fire?
Instead of sitting there, . . .
Plaiting your hair?