Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Set in postcolonial Kenya, I Will Marry When I Want by Ngugi wa Thiong'o centers on the poor farm laborer Kĩgũũnda and his family. The play begins in Kĩgũũnda’s one-room house. Wangeci, his wife, cooks, Kĩgũũnda’s fixes a broken chair, and their daughter, Gathoni, does her hair. They are waiting for their guests, Kĩoi and Jezebel, a wealthy married couple, to arrive. The title-deed to their one and a half acres of property, which is pinned to the wall, falls to the floor. Kĩgũũnda tells his wife that it is his most prized possession.
Wangeci wonders why Kĩoi, who is a wealthy farmer and businessman, would visit them, given the disparity in their class and financial position. While they are waiting, Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci begin arguing with Gathoni, whom they accuse of having become superficial, lazy, and “modern” since Kĩoi’s son John Mũhũũni began showing romantic interest in her. They wonder if the reason for the visit is to arrange a marriage between the two.
Kĩgũũnda realizes that Kĩoi and his business partner are local directors of an international company which was interested in buying his one and a half acres of land in order to build a factory. As Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci wonder if this could instead be the reason behind the unexpected visit, their peasant friends Gĩcaamba and Njooki arrive. As they talk, Njooki encourages them to ask Gathoni to end her relationship with Kĩoi’s son, John. Both her and her husband are distrustful of the rich, explaining how they take advantage of their workers and the poorer classes in order to make money. Gĩcaamba is very animated and passionate about politics and speaks of the oppression and poor quality of life experienced by factory workers and Kenyan people—all in order to make money for other wealthier countries and companies.
There is a knock at the door, and Kĩoi and Jezebel arrive, along with the newly rich Samuel Ndugĩre and his wife, Helen. Gĩcaamba and Njooki leave as the rich Kenyans enter. As everyone sits and begins to talk, it is clear that the guests look down on Kĩgũũnda’s family. They begin to speak of Christianity, which Gĩcaamba had previously criticized as a Western and imperialist influence in Kenya. The guests then begin to sing hymns, and Kĩoi tries to convert Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci to Christianity. They present the couple with a wedding ring, insisting that they must have a church wedding and be baptised in order to stop “living in sin.” Kĩgũũnda shouts at them to leave the house, chasing them out with a sword which hangs on the wall.
Gathoni returns from her date, wearing new, modern clothing and platform shoes, prompting another argument with her parents. She leaves, going on a week-long trip with John against her parents’ wishes. Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci talk about Kĩoi’s visit and come to the conclusion that the only reason for their insistence about Christianity would be so that Gathoni and John Mũhũũni could marry.
The second act begins on another day, with Kĩgũũnda, Wangeci, Gĩcaamba, and Njooki sitting in the house and talking about Kĩoi’s visit. Gĩcaamba encourages them to leave it alone and claims that none of the rich guests are to be trusted. Both he and Njooki try to convince them that the rich do not marry poor people like Gathoni. Moreover, Gĩcaamba and Nooki remind them how Christians worked with the enemies of the struggle for Kenyan independence.
Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci ignore these warnings and go to Kĩoi’s house to agree with the plans. They are received coldly and are not allowed to sit at the...
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table where Kĩoi, Jezebel, and the Ndugĩres are eating. When they explain the reason for their visit, however, the rich couples are pleased, believing the Kĩgũũndas to be converted. Despite their concerns about the cost of a wedding, Kĩoi says Kĩgũũnda is a wealthy man in comparison to the majority of Kenyans. He agrees to grant him a loan from the bank of which he is a director, taking the one and a half acre property’s title-deed as security, to which Kĩgũũnda agrees.
Kĩgũũnda and Wagenci use the loan to buy furniture and clothes and are extremely happy with their newly acquired belongings. As they try on their wedding clothes, Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci fantasize about the ceremony. Amidst their happiness, they do not notice Gathoni’s return. She begins to cry and explains that she is pregnant and that John Mũhũũni has jilted her. Wangeci assures them that Kĩoi is a man of integrity, and will insist that the children marry.
Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci go to Kĩoi’s house and are surprised to find that he becomes angry at the news, calling Gathoni a whore and insisting that John is blameless. Kĩgũũnda pulls out his sword. Terrified, Kĩoi agrees to sign an agreement in order to spare his life. Though he offers to allow the children to marry, Kĩgũũnda refuses. The Ndugĩres enter with a watchman, and Jezebel walks into the room brandishing a gun. She tells Kĩgũũnda to surrender the sword and leave the house. Before Kĩgũũnda and Wagenci leave through the door, Kĩgũũnda goes to reclaim his sword and is shot by Jezebel.
Two weeks later, the house is largely back to its original state, and Wangeci is being comforted by Gĩcaamba and Njooki. Gathoni has become a barmaid, and Kĩgũũnda has lost his job and fallen into alcoholism. The bank demanded that they pay back the loan or have the land taken away from them, and since they could not pay, it is being auctioned. Kĩgũũnda drunkenly returns from the bar and begins fighting with Wangeci, and tells them that the land was purchased by Kĩoi. Gĩcaamba inspires the couple to stop fighting each other, telling them to instead rise up against Kĩoi and the other wealthy oppressors of the Kenyan people. They sing together, proclaiming that the trumpet of the workers and masses has been blown.