Originally written in Gĩkũyũ, I Will Marry When I Want is a play authored by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo’o and Ngũgĩ wa Mĩriĩ. The play portrays life in pre- and post independence Kenya, and brings out the suspicions local people held towards the missionaries and imperialists, whom they saw as wielding the Bible in one hand and the gun in the other. While the missionaries brainwashed and caused the local people to be drunk with religion, they purloined their land and heaped up riches for themselves.
At the center of the play is Kĩgũũnda, a farm laborer, who lives in a mud-walled, one-roomed house with his wife, Wangeci and their daughter, Gathoni. His most highly-prized possession is a one-and-a-half acres piece of land whose title deed he keeps carefully and often fingers gingerly and tenderly. The family are expecting a rare visit from the wealthy farmer and businessman, Ahab Kĩoi wa Kanoru and his wife, Jezebel. Kĩgũũnda works on one of Ahab’s farms. The aim of this visit is a puzzle as it is unprecedented and they belong to different social classes. But on recalling that the Kĩois’ son, John Mũhũũni, has shown some amorous tendencies towards their daughter, they surmise that the purpose of the visit could be either to warn that the two don’t see each other again, or to ask for Gathoni’s hand in marriage. When it occurs to the two that the purpose of the visit could be to ask for Gathoni’s hand in marriage, they reminisce of the days of their youthfulness and courtship, teasing each other in the process. But Kĩgũũnda recalls also that both Ahab and his business partner, Ikuua wa Nditika are local directors of an international company that manufactures insecticides and Ikuua has written to ask Kĩgũũnda for his one and a half acres land in order to build a factory. This, he thinks, could also be the reason for this visit.
While waiting, Kĩgũũnda tries to mend the chair on which his guests will sit. Wangeci, meanwhile, prepares a meal. But Gathoni rather plaits her hair. In the process, a drunk comes into their courtyard teasing and inviting Kĩgũũnda for a drink, and singing, “I Shall Marry When I Want.” Wangeci drives him away and just then a group of singers come into the courtyard singing. They belong to the sect of the destitute and are trying to raise funds to build a church. Kĩgũũnda turns them away with the explanation that they can hardly feed their bellies let alone have money for fund-raising.
Eventually, the Kĩois and the Ndugĩres arrive. Their mission turns out to be to try to convince Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci to stop living in sin, as they put it, by getting married in the church. Having married his wife I the traditional way, Kĩgũũnda is sizzled because his marital relationship is described as sin. He reaches for his sword, and angrily drives them away.
Just then Gathoni enters looking particularly sizzling in her new dress, her pair of new platform shoes, and slinging a new hand bag over her shoulder. Her flaunting of her new apparel causes eye brows to be raised. When she gives out that her new look is due to the generous purse of John, the son of Kĩoi, her parents raise objections, brand her a whore, and order that she return them to his beau and be content with her lot.
“And I go back to my rags?” she shoots back. Her father counsels, “A man brags about his penis however small. A poor house, but mine!” He warns her not to overstep the boundaries. But she pooh-poohs this warning and accompanies her boyfriend John to Mombasa for a week against her parents’ expressed wishes.
Not long after Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci decide to have a church wedding, but realizing the heavy financial burden entailed they turn to their newly-found family-in-Christ, the Kĩois, for financial assistance. In order to give this assistance Kĩoi induces Kĩgũũnda to use the title-deed of his one-and-a-half acres land as security so that he, Kĩoi, would vouch for him at the bank. Things work out well and Kĩgũũnda obtains the loan.
There’s a turn-around in their material life and Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci refurbish their home and acquire a few modern items. Just as Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci are reveling over their impending wedding, matters turn sore and sour. Gathoni returns home in tears and with a tattered soul. John has jilted her! But worse than that, he has impregnated her but refused responsibility for the pregnancy.
Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci stomp to the Kĩois and present this problem. The Kĩois defend their son and call Gathoni a whore. An altercation ensues and Kĩgũũnda is shot and wounded. Kĩoi sacks Kĩgũũnda and the bank demands that Kĩgũũnda repay the loan. He reneges in his commitment to the bank, and a series of adverse events culminate in mayhem, loss of his land to Kĩoi, and his wallowing in drunkenness.
The play was first published in 1980 by Heinemann Educational Publishers, and in 1982 it was published among the African Writers Series.