I Will Marry When I Want

I Will Marry When I Want Summary and Analysis of Act II, Scene I


Kĩgũũnda, Wangeci, Gĩcaamba, and Njooki are sitting in the hut, the women shelling maize grain. It gets dark outside.

Gĩcaamba warns them to leave Kĩoi and his family alone, and points out that the rich couple did not exactly say they wanted their son to marry Gathoni. Njooki comments that the rich only want poor men’s blood. Her husband vilifies religion, naming all the foreign religions in their land brought by the imperialists. When Kenyans tithe it goes back to Europe, then the Europeans bestow a “gift” on them and everyone praises them. Whites used their religion to fool them as they stole Kenyan land. They wanted to soften Kenyan hearts and cripple their minds while they told them earthly things were not important.

The two sing a song, mocking God taking care of all people’s problems.

Gĩcaamba asks them to remember the days of their freedom struggle, and how the religious leaders used to tell them to surrender. They tried to make the great patriot Son of Njeeri surrender as he was being hanged, but like a true hero, Njeeri refused to reveal where the others were hiding, and spit on the priest.

They all join in a song about never betraying their land.

Gĩcaamba continues saying it is the same colonial church that survives today -- nothing is different. Wangeci says they play different music but Gĩcaamba says they are the same words and the same intentions.

He begins a song that Njooki joins about Jesus quenching one’s thirst. Njooki holds up the title-deed and mockingly says people must not care about earthly things. She mocks the idea that they must be content to be hungry and thirsty. She replaces the title-deed and mimes having the big belly of a rich man.

Gĩcaamba asks bitterly why Kĩoi did not come to offer higher wages or more land. He laughs that religion “is the alcohol of the soul” and “poison of the mind” (61). He and his companions work hard but the rich and their foreign partners have taken everything.

Kĩgũũnda responds, saying he does not care about the church but does not want to punish his daughter and perhaps should have his marriage blessed. Gĩcaamba says all marriages are blessed, and that they paid the bridewealth and had the Ngurario ceremony, which is the true ceremony. Njooki adds that people seem to think nowadays that marriage is a case of property marrying property.

Wangeci interjects that no one can say prayers over your body unless you’re baptized. To that, Gĩcaamba responds that the rich don’t seem to be too religious and they have a great deal of people at their funerals.

Wangeci wonders why it is such a problem to get a marriage blessed. Njooki says all marriages are blessed even if they are not in churches, just as hers is.

The wedding ceremony of Gĩcaamba and Njooki is recalled. Women from the bridegroom’s side and women from the bride’s side come in, singing and exchanging gifts and compliments.

The Aagacikũ, the bride’s clan, sing of wanting to give her away not for anyone’s property but for a gourd of honey, which means she will have enough to eat. The groom’s clan, the Aambũi, sing of wanting to find a woman who will “fill my granary with millet grains” (65). The two groups sing their ululations and the bride and groom are given to each other. Everyone sings of wanting to go back to resisting the whites. The dancers and singers depart.

Gĩcaamba continues, explaining that not long after this the colonial government forbade people to sing or dance or gather with more than five people. They still met clandestinely, however, especially during the 1948 general strike.

There is a flashback to workers taking oaths and shouting different political slogans. The leader proclaims a variety of things, such as he will never let the soil go with foreigners, will always hide weapons and serve the organization, will never leave a girl pregnant and alone or divorce, will help the organization in all ways, will never eat alone. Everyone assents. They go through military drills and the leader inspects a guard of honor. They sing of being happy to go to battle.

Gĩcaamba remembers that not long after he fled with the people’s guerrilla army into the mountains. There is a battle between the Mau Mau guerillas and British soldiers. The Mau Mau kill a couple British and exult.

Gĩcaamba continues, saying they were not given freedom but bought it with their blood. This blood was blessed; blessings “come to a people, / When they love their country / And they unite to produce wealth” (71) and when they share without greed or discrimination between sexes.

Wangeci stands up and angrily says that she does not care if Gathoni marries the rich son or not, as long as she is taken care of. She insinuates she wants her guests to leave.

Njooki tells her husband he talked too much but Gĩcaamba is unrepentant, and tells them to think about what he said.

After they leave Kĩgũũnda looks thoughtful and says he was affected by the man’s words. Wangeci is angry and says their daughter will suffer. Kĩgũũnda says Gĩcaamba is honest, but Wangeci does not agree, and calls them drunk and lost. She shakes the title deed and says they must go to Kĩoi’s tomorrow and tell them they agree with his plan. She says he is straight and proper, and the poor political radical speaks out of jealousy.

Her words resonate with her husband, and he proposes going right this instant, but reconsiders once he sees how dark it is, and says they will go tomorrow morning.


One of the most obvious ways to read this text is as a Marxist one. Ngugi very clearly sets out the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, here rendered as the Kenyan upper class with their foreign allies and the Kenyan peasants and laborers. The basics of this struggle entail the constant oppression of the masses on the part of the managerial class, and the need for an uprising to supplant them.

Gĩcaamba is the most articulate voice of this class struggle. In this act in particular he, and occasionally his wife, details the various abuses of the Kenyan elite, especially as manifested by Kĩoi, the fat cat capitalist and Christian. He compares the situation to a cat and mouse game, whereas Njooki tries to implore Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci to consider that the rich and poor are so far apart that the gulf can never be bridged; thus, it would be unwise for them to think that Gathoni could possibly marry John (an opinion borne out by fact later in the text). He wonders why Kĩoi and Jezebel only came to talk about religion and proper weddings rather than give Kĩgũũnda a wage raise, which is what he actually needs. Religion certainly faces Gĩcaamba’s ire, which is part of the Marxist critique as well. Marx famously called religion “the opiate of the masses”, and while Gĩcaamba is not excoriating all religion, he is making a distinction between both religion and spirituality, and Western/foreign influences and native ones. He explains, “Religion is not the same as God” and that “All the religions that now sit on us / Were brought here by the whites” (56). Missionaries preceded soldiers, and religion was used to make Kenyans drunk while Europeans were “mapping and grabbing our land” (57). The goals, as Gĩcaamba sees it, were to “completely soften our hearts / To completely cripple our minds with religion!” (57.) In explicitly Marxist language, he cries, “Religion is the alcohol of the soul! / Religion is the poison of the mind!” (61.)

Furthermore, Kenyan Christians were oftentimes the ones who, during the uprising, advocated “surrender, surrender, confess the oath” (58), preferring to go along with the whites because they were Christian, rather than support their own oppressed brethren who may or may not have converted to Christianity. Gĩcaamba adds that the colonial church is still around, even in a post-colonial world; the version of Christianity that Kĩoi practices is a testament to that.

The religion/spirituality and culture of native Kenyans are in contrast to the foreign impositions of capitalism, Christianity, and European social mores and norms. For example, the wedding ceremony of Gĩcaamba and Njooki, while, in the opinion of Kĩoi et al., is considered to be illegitimate, actually appears to be one deeply laden with import, meaning, and richness. It is reminiscent of Kĩgũũnda’s earlier claims that his small parcel of land is worth more than the thousands and thousands of Kĩoi.

Finally, Gĩcaamba’s monologues on religion segue into his reminisces of his Mau Mau involvement (for more information on the Mau Mau and the uprising, see “Other” in the study guide). The values they upheld are in stark contrast to those of the Kenyan elite and foreigners. The adherents promised to “never let this soil go with foreigners” or follow the missionaries who are “betraying our culture and national traditions” (68). They cared about their community and their fellow men – and women – and vowed to “always help this organization, / With all my strength and property” (69). This meant that they would “never eat alone” or “make a girl pregnant / And then leave her without a husband” (69). They all knew real sacrifice, real hard work, real community, real strife and real support. As Gĩcaamba proclaims, “Blessings come to a people, / When they love their country / And they unite to produce wealth” (71).

All of his words are, at this point, obnoxious to Wangeci, who can only consider her daughter’s future. This will alter by the end of the book, but the coming doom is a reflection on Wangeci’s self-interest rather than an ability to think more broadly about her people and her country.