How do notions of time and place figure into the story of the play?
While some of the story is compelling enough in any place or context (the storylines concerning Gathoni or the struggles of the poor against the rich), it gains richness in its being situated in this very particular point in history. Not ten years after the Kenyans got rid of their colonial rulers, the British, they are now faced with growing pains in their new(ish) nation. They must find a way to have an equitable economic system, negotiate relations with foreigners, embrace the perils and pleasures of modernity, and find a way to reconcile their history with their future. The frequent mentions of the Mau Mau and their earlier independence struggle give deeper meaning to the struggle they are experiencing now.
Is Gathoni a sympathetic character in the story?
On the one hand, Gathoni comes across as petulant, rude, and lazy. She seems to only care about frippery and social status. Ngugi gives very little space in the text for her to speak for herself, and her fate is almost a footnote. On the other hand, Gathoni's desire to feel pretty and loved is sympathetic. Her fate at the hands of the callous and conniving John is terrible. Her parents are incredibly traditional and want her to marry someone not of her choosing, which is not something modern audiences are apt to agree with. In fact, Gathoni is a sympathetic character to modern audiences even if Ngugi doesn't entirely intend her to be.
How did the play's first staging reflect its theming and message?
Ngugi did not create a play to simply show in a British theater or on Broadway; rather, his initial staging was an attempt to incorporate village Kenyans into the work. It was held in the Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre, an open-air theater in Kairiithu, Limuru, Kenya. Actors did not evince a perfect understanding of their character or their lines; the process was much more open. Interaction with the audience was encouraged. Peasants were invited to come, and Ngugi's support of them was enough to get him detained by authorities not long after the 1977 staging. This staging is thus in line with the message of the play itself, which supports and acknowledges the rights and significance of working-class and peasant Kenyans.
What do Wangeci and Kĩgũũnda’s different reactions to the drunk man reveal about their characters?
When the drunk man comes stumbling into their yard, the characters have two very different reactions. Wangeci yells at him and shames him, ordering him away. Kĩgũũnda, by contrast, says nothing negative about the man and rebukes Wangeci, telling her that she needs to understand why he is drunk before lobbing insults. He is drunk because he has lost his job on account of the rapacious tactics of the rich men in their village, so it is understanding why he would be depressed. Wangeci comes across as ignorant and judgmental, while Kĩgũũnda seems wise and fair. As the events of the book play out, both characters largely adhere to these character traits found in this scene with only a few variations. Ironically, it is Kĩgũũnda who ends up very much like this man for a short time, but he does come out of it to foment his rebellion.
Why does Ngugi feel more irate towards the Kenyan elite than he does towards the foreigners?
The foreigners alluded to are certainly obnoxious in that they want to buy up land, take over the Kenyan economy, convert everyone to Christianity, etc. However, this is to be expected. What is not expected nor welcome are rich Kenyans working with the foreigners in order to line their own pockets. This is not just unfortunate but is a complete betrayal. They are ignoring their own countrymen, their own people. They are ignoring their shared history and heritage all in the pursuit of money.