I Will Marry When I Want

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Ngugi wa Mirii

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

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 primarily through 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. Wangeci, Kïgüünda’s wife, lambasts this elite group when she says,

Aren’t they the real bedbugs,
Local watchmen for the foreign robbers?
When they see a poor man’s property their mouths water,
When they get their own, their mouths dry up!
Don’t they have any lands
They can share with these foreigners
Whom they have invited back into the country
To desecrate the land?

The increasing class prejudice, combined with religious change, is developed through the failed marriage arrangements for Gathoni, Kïgüünda and Wangeci’s daughter.

Generational Conflict

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. As Kïgüünda declares regarding his daughter, Gathoni, “It’s all the modern children. / They have no manners at all.” Gathoni, who embraces her role as a modern young woman who can decide her own future, is later 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. Gïcaamba, a Marxist, strongly opposes Christianity, claiming that “Religion is the alcohol of the soul! / Religion is the poison of the mind!”

Gendered Conflict

The different lifeways, beliefs, and expectations of men and women 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. “The difference between then and now is this!” she states. “We now have our independence!” Meanwhile, 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.

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