The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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.


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.