The play I Will Marry When I Want takes place in independent Kenya a few years after British rule ends. Although the Kenyan people are politically liberated, they experience continued social conflict and increasing financial hardships. Focusing on one family that struggles with these issues, the play centers on conflicts around the daughter's marriage and her parents' well-being.
Enduring Postcolonial Legacies
The characters are all affected by the legacy of British colonialism as it continues to shape Kenyan society. The workers and smallholders struggle to earn a wage or hold onto their hard-won farms. Their challenges are shown through primarily the character of Kïgüünda, a former Mau Mau rebel who has managed to buy a tiny farm but can afford only bare necessities for his wife and daughter. His friend Gïcaamba epitomizes the workers' position through his labor activism.
The play reveals how a small percentage of people who enriched themselves through post-independence shake-up assert their influence and exploit the vast majority who did not benefit. The increasing class prejudice, combined with religious change, is developed through the failed marriage arrangements for Gathoni, Kïgüünda's daughter.
Generational Conflict: Tradition Versus Modernity
The new generations of independent Kenyans, with little or no memory of the decades of colonial rule, generally embrace modern ideas and practices. Their parents, on the other hand, not only mistrust the rapid changes but view many of them as extensions of European domination. Gathoni, who embraces her role as a modern young woman who can decide her own future, is devastated when her fiancé rejects her because she gets pregnant, showing he is not nearly as modern as she had assumed.
Furthermore, conversion to Christianity is shown as an area in which traditional and modern ideas conflict through the social practices that are associated with it (in addition to conflicting religious beliefs). For example, the social pressure to bear the expenses of an opulent church wedding is the spark that lights Kïgüünda's path to ruin.
The different lifeways, beliefs, and expectations of men and women also strongly structure the play's action. Kïgüünda and his wife, Wangeci, have very different expectations for Gathoni. Her mother supports her independent attitudes, but her father rejects the idea of educating her. Wangeci also shows more practicality than Kïgüünda, whom she accuses of living in the past and reliving his rebellious youth. Jezebel, the mother of Gathoni's fiancé, Muhuuni, has fervently embraced Christianity and plays a strong role in promoting the negative attitudes (in which a clear double standard is evident) that people have regarding Gathoni's pregnancy. Gathoni's limited options after she is "ruined" show the lack of change in gendered attitudes in the new republic.