Analysis

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I Will Marry When I Want (originally published as Ngaahika Ndeenda) by Kenyan playwrights Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Ngugi wa Mirii examines the politics and society of postcolonial Kenya. The play was considered controversial upon publication and during its run on stage due to its political commentary, which irked the Kenyan government.

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The play is told from the perspective of the common Kenyan citizen just after the country won its independence from British rule. Before the British ruled present-day Kenya, the territory was colonized by Portugal. The long history of imperialism in the country has deeply changed the social structure and collective psychology of the people.

This is what the play examines throughout its narrative. In particular, the play analyzes and criticizes neocolonialism, which is a form of imperialism that uses proxy strategies—such as pressuring the government with economic and political sanctions—to suppress development or manipulate the government. The leaders of the newly-independent nation use the same imperialist tactics employed by past foreign colonizers in order to oppress their own people. Bitter infighting and power struggles are the norm in the government, and the people of the country suffer from it.

The main conflict in the story, the competition among several actors to seize control of real estate from the locals, is a metaphor for the colonial mentality. Each antagonist has their own interests, all of which stem from greed and thirst for power. The farmer at the center of the story fights off proposals and schemes, and the play depicts the others as similar to jackals preying on a wounded animal. Ahab Kioi wa Kanoru is the representation of colonial greed and general immorality. Like past imperialists, he uses his connections and position of power to defraud the farmer in order to take the latter's property.

The then-current government and social elites in Kenya were enraged with the play on its performance, and the government shut down the play's run was shut down after just over a month. The playwrights were subsequently arrested, and they were forced into exile abroad.

The Play

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1111

The set of the opening scene in I Will Marry When I Want reveals the stark living conditions of Kiguunda, a common laborer, his wife, Wangeci, and their teenage daughter, Gathoni. The three of them share a one-room house that is sparsely furnished and decorated. It consists of a bed for Kiguunda and Wangeci, a broken folding chair, and a cooking pot that sits on three stones. A pile of rags on the floor establishes that “the floor is Gathoni’s bed and the rags, her bedding.” Prominently displayed on the wall is a framed title-deed for one and a half acres of land, a plot that was purchased after the Mau Mau Revolution of the 1950’s, a guerrilla war waged by the Kikuyu, along with members of other tribal groups of Kenya, to reclaim the land from British settlers.

As the play opens, the family is making preparations for the arrival of important guests. Kiguunda is repairing the broken leg of a folding chair, while Wangeci is busy preparing a stew to serve to the guests. The makeshift nature of their accommodations reinforces the impression of the family’s substandard living conditions. Wangeci, who has spent thirty cents on cooking oil and sugar, discovers that another important staple, salt, is missing and has to send the daughter, Gathoni, to borrow from the Gicaambas. During this bustling activity, the title-deed falls to the floor of the hut. Kiguunda picks it up gingerly and studies it carefully before returning it to the wall, his actions as well as his words identifying him as a proud landowner, despite the family’s humble living conditions. In response to Wangeci, who asks why he gazes at the title-deed, Kiguunda explains that “these [one and a half acres] are worth more to me/ Than all the thousands that belong to Ahab Kioi wa Kanoru.”

With the entrance of Kioi, a wealthy landowner, who is accompanied by another landowning couple, Samuel and Helen Ndugire, the framed title-deed again falls conspicuously to the floor of the hut. Literally, the crash is caused by the cramped living quarters; figuratively, it connotes the likelihood of land loss to the wealthy visitors, who deliberately seek to veil the true purpose of their visit.

The conflict in act 1 stems from the uncertainty surrounding the nature of Kioi’s mission. Although prior to Kioi’s visit Kiguunda had produced a letter from Ikuua wa Nditika, Kioi’s partner, wherein Nditika had proposed purchasing Kiguunda’s plot of land in order to construct an insecticide factory, Kioi makes no reference to the letter during the course of his visit. The confusion of Kiguunda and Wangeci is further compounded by their daughter’s present involvement with John Muhuuni, the son of Kioi and Jezebel. Subsequently, when Kioi and Jezebel seek to persuade Kiguunda and Wangeci “to enter the church of God” and speak of a union of families, “your house and mine becoming one,” Kiguunda and Wangeci are convinced that their aim is to ensure that their son marries into a Christian family. Acting upon that assumption, Kiguunda and Wangeci, in scene 2 of act 2, visit the home of Kioi and Jezebel to agree to consecrate their marriage in the traditional church wedding.

In order to finance the wedding, however, Kiguunda and Wangeci must mortgage their plot of land in order to secure a bank loan. Kioi does not offer to provide Kiguunda with a personal loan; he does offer, however, to become a guarantor for the loan, which is to be handled by the bank, for which he serves as director.

The duplicity of Kioi and his associates does not become apparent to the unsuspecting Kiguunda and Wangeci until act 3, the final act of the drama. In scene 1 of act 3, Kiguunda and Wangeci are absorbed in the plans for their impending wedding but are startled by the weeping of Gathoni, who has returned from an outing with John Muhuuni. When pressed by her parents, Gathoni reveals the ugly truth: She has been jilted by John Muhuuni after he has learned of her pregnancy. Upon hearing the news, Kiguunda and Wangeci shed their wedding attire, purchased with loan funds, and replace it with their old garb, indicative of their return to pauperism. At the end of the scene, they decide to pay an immediate visit to Kioi’s home, convinced that Kioi will rectify matters.

In scene 2 of act 3, a confrontation ensues when Kioi denies any knowledge of a prospective wedding between the two families and challenges Kiguunda to seek redress through a legal suit, contending, “There are no laws to protect parents/ Who are unable to discipline their children,/ Who let their children become prostitutes.” Kiguunda, enraged, draws his sword and threatens Kioi. Kioi is saved by his wife, Jezebel, from signing an agreement to make restitution to the family. Alerted by the watchman’s whistle, she enters, armed with a pistol, and drives Kiguunda and Wangeci from the premises.

The duping of Gathoni by John Muhuuni had presaged the actions of Muhuuni’s father. It was reported by Gathoni in act 1 that Muhuuni had invited her to travel with him to Mombasa, where he had been instructed by his father to survey some land that he had acquired with the intention of constructing a hotel for tourists. Gathoni, in defiance of her parents, had traveled with Muhuuni to the coast. In going against her parents’ wishes, however, Gathoni gambled and lost. Deceived by Muhuuni into thinking that pregnancy would lead to marriage, since “he would never marry a girl/ Who had not conceived,” Gathoni is discarded by Muhuuni in the same way that Kiguunda is discarded by Kioi after each has served the other’s purpose.

The gullibility of Kiguunda and his family (because of their own social climbing aspirations), faced with the ruthlessness of Kioi and his associates, results in losses. The plot of land is possessed by the bank and is auctioned off to Kioi, purportedly to recover the bank’s losses. The home of Kiguunda is described in the final scene as looking “very much like the way it was at the beginning of the play, except for the picture of Nebuchadnezzar and the board with the inscription ’Christ is the Head’ which still hang from the walls as if in mockery.”

Despite, however, the deterioration of the family’s circumstances—Kiguunda is now a drunkard and Gathoni a barmaid—the drama’s conclusion is one of hope as the neighbor, Gicaamba, identified as a former member of the Mau Mau revolutionary army, joins with Kiguunda and others in renewing their Mau Mau oaths to reclaim the land from foreign ownership.

Dramatic Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 256

The betrayal of the African peoples, as well as the African culture, by the ruling elite is encapsulated in Ngugi’s identification of their adoption of Christian names. Kioi’s wife Jezebel is reminiscent of the biblical Jezebel, wife of the Israeli king Ahab, who forcibly appropriated the vineyard belonging to Naboth after he had refused to sell it. She accomplished this by sending letters in King Ahab’s name to the community’s elders with orders that Naboth be stoned to death for disobeying the king’s orders. The Jezebel in I Will Marry When I Want is no less willful. It is she who surreptitiously produces a gun, thereby rescuing Kioi, also named Ahab, from a threat upon his life by Kiguunda. The weapon also shows the extent of Jezebel’s assimilation of Western culture; Kiguunda, on the other hand, is armed only with a sword, a relic of the Mau Mau revolutionary war of the 1950’s.

Ngugi perceives the conversion to Christianity as another form of treason, involving the disavowal of traditional customs and the acceptance of alien ones. This cultural treason is dramatized in scene 1 of act 3, when Kiguunda and Wangeci are transported to the site of their anticipated wedding. Vows are exchanged, or renewed, and Kiguunda and Wangeci are immediately given the Christian names “Winston Smith Kiguunda and Rosemary Magdalene Wangeci.” The change of names, symbolizing a change of identity, is a dramatic device used by Ngugi to suggest the extent to which cultural imperialism penetrates the consciousness of its victims.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 146

Sources for Further Study

Blishen, Edward. “Tumbled Traditions.” New York Times Literary Supplement, January 28, 1983, p. 26.

Cook, David, and Michael Okenimkpe. Ngugi wa Thiong’o: An Exploration of His Writings. 2d ed. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1997.

Gikandi, Simon. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Killam, Gordon Douglas. An Introduction to the Writings of Ngugi. Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann Educational, 1980.

Killam, Gordon Douglas, ed. Critical Perspectives on Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1984.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. “Women in Cultural Work: The Fate of Kamiriithu People’s Theater in Kenya.” In Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya. London: New Beacon Books, 1983.

Robson, Clifford B. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979.

Sicheraram, Carol. Ngugi wa Thiong’o—the Making of a Rebel: A Source Book on Kenyan Literature and Resistance. New York: H. Zell, 1990.

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