I Will Marry When I Want
is a Gikuyu play co-written by Ngũgĩ wa Mirii and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. First produced in Kenya in 1977, the story depicts a farmer who is tricked into risking his land due to social and religious pressures. The prominent themes reflect a commentary on the hypocrisy and corruption of religion and capitalism, and the politics explored in the play were controversial in post-colonial Kenya. The production of the play is widely believed to be the root of Mirii and Thiong’o’s arrests and detentions without charges that same year. The writers were released in 1978, along with other detainees, once Daniel Toroitich arap Moi succeeded tyrannical President Kenyatta after his death.
The play opens at the modest home of a poor couple, Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci. They are busy preparing their home to receive wealthy visitors while discussing their daughter, Gathoni. Their beautiful yet superficial daughter is dating John Mũhũũni, who they criticize for being lazy and modern. Kĩgũũnda has a deed to one and a half acres of land framed on the wall, purchased after the revolution that brought Kenya its independence. Kĩgũũnda is very proud of this asset, and it represents the only financial security the family has.
They are visited by their friends Gĩcaamba and Njooki. Gĩcaamba is very politically involved, and he is very critical of the wealthy and of the Western powers that he believes collaborate with the rich to oppress the Kenyan people. He is also unhappy about the influence of Western religions, notably Christianity, which are beginning to push out the traditional Kenyan religions and cultures.
Gĩcaamba and Njooki leave, and their wealthy guests arrive: Kĩoi Mũhũũni, who wishes to purchase the land that Kĩgũũnda owns, and his wife, Jezebel, as well as another couple. Kĩgũũnda worries that Kĩoi will bring up the land again, but instead Kĩoi focuses on religion. He tells Kĩgũũnda that he should marry Wangeci in the Christian Church to legitimize their marriage. This upsets Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci, and Kĩgũũnda becomes passionate in his disagreement.
After Kĩoi and the others leave, however, Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci discuss matters and decide that if they were to marry in the Christian Church, Kĩoi would have no objection to his son, John, marrying their daughter. They decide to go along with Kĩoi’s suggestion even after Gĩcaamba returns and argues with them. Gĩcaamba maintains that since the foreign powers are colluding with the rich, Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci will be aligning themselves with the outside forces, essentially against the people of Kenya who are suffering.
Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci go to Kĩoi and Jezebel’s house where they are initially treated very rudely. When they inform them of their intention to marry as Christians, however, they are then welcomed. Kĩgũũnda tells Kĩoi that a wedding will be very expensive and asks for a small loan. Kĩoi refuses but suggests that he can make arrangements with the bank to give them a loan with their land as collateral. Kĩgũũnda agrees. Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci happily spend the money they have borrowed to prepare for their wedding and are excited, imagining the grandeur of the event.
Gathoni arrives in tears, announcing that John has left her upon hearing that he has made her pregnant. Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci go to Kĩoi with this news, assuming he will want his son to marry their daughter, but Kĩoi is cold and insulting, calling Gathoni a whore and insisting that John has done nothing. Kĩgũũnda, enraged, produces his sword and threatens Kĩoi, who becomes very afraid. Jezebel enters holding a gun, accompanied by a security guard, and Kĩgũũnda is shot.
The final scene jumps a bit into the future. Kĩgũũnda has survived the shooting, but Kĩoi caused the loan to be called in early, and the family has lost their land. Kĩoi purchased it cheaply and is planning to build a factory on it. Gathoni has been forced to become a waitress, and now her father is drinking too much, wallowing in depression. Gĩcaamba and Njooki visit, and Wangeci vents her frustration and unhappiness to them. When Kĩgũũnda returns from the bar, inebriated, he is rude and begins fighting with his wife.
Gĩcaamba tries to calm them, telling them that they should not fight each other, but rather they should fight the men like Kĩoi and the powers that have joined with the wealthy to oppress and harm the good people of Kenya. This inspires Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci, and the group begins to sing about waking up and fighting back against those who have hurt the country. They announce that the poor have reached a breaking point and that the “trumpet of the masses has been blown.” The revolution is near.
The politics on display in the play are not subtle and decry the foreign influence that was seen to be changing Kenya, turning it away from its traditional roots. Similarly, the ruling class is portrayed as capitalist vampires living off the poor. The clear call for a revolution at the end of the play prompted the authorities to arrest the authors. The use of traditional Kenyan culture as well as allusions to Christianity—Kĩoi’s wife is named Jezebel, echoing the biblical character who asked her husband to kill one of his subjects for personal gain, for example—underscore the point in stark, unambiguous terms.