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....
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