“The greater my wisdom, the greater
My stupidity ...”
As with his other works, Witold Gombrowicz himself offered a summary of The Marriage. His presentation of the text can be found in A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux:
In his dream, Henry sees the house where he was born in Poland, his parents, and his fiancée Molly. The house has gone to a seed. It has now been transformed into an inn: Molly is a serving maid working at the inn, and the father is an innkeeper.
The father is pursued by drunkards. This is the key scene. In order to defend his human dignity before the drunkards’ onslaught he claims that he is ‘untouchable.’
“Untouchable—like a king!” laugh the drunkards.
And Henry pays homage to his father, while his father becomes king. And not only does that father-king elevate Henry to the rank of prince, but he also promises him, by virtue of his royal power, a worthy religious marriage which will restore the purity and former integrity of Molly, the maidservant. […]
In the second act we see preparations for this worthy and religious marriage, which must be celebrated by a bishop. But doubts begin to pervade Henry’s dream. This whole marriage ceremony begins to vacillate, as if threatened by stupidity—as if Henry, aspiring with all his soul to goodness, dignity, purity, lacked confidence in himself and his dream.
The drunkard-in-chief again enters the room, as tight as a tick! Henry is about to come to blows with him when suddenly (as happens in dreams) the scene changes into a court banquet. The drunkard has become the ambassador of a hostile power. He incites Henry to treason. […]
This is the key to the metaphor of The Marriage, the transition of a world based on divine authority, divine and paternal authority, to another world, where Henry’s own will must become the divine, creative will ... like the will of Henry or Stalin.
Henry yields to the drunkard’s insistence. He deposes the father-king and becomes ruler himself.
A scene follows in which the drunkard asks Johnny, Henry’s friend, to hold a flower over Molly’s head. Then he suddenly conjures the flower, leaving them in a false position, which no flower can justify. And a ghastly conjecture forms in Henry’s mind that Molly and Johnny... .
“Priest-pig, you have bound them in a base and ignoble marriage!” he exclaims. […]
In the third act Henry is dictator. He has dominated the whole world, including his parents. And once again the marriage ceremony is prepared, but it is a marriage without God, with no sanction other than that of Henry’s absolute power.
But he feels that his power will have no real validity as long as it is not confirmed by someone who voluntarily sacrifices his blood. That is why he urges Johnny to volunteer to kill himself for him.
This sacrifice will both appease his jealousy and make him powerful and formidable enough to perform the marriage ... and reassert Molly’s purity (as well as to make the dream come true ... which is his purpose from the start). Johnny agrees.
In the last scene Johnny kills himself. But Henry steps back. He recoils, horrified by his act.
The marriage will not take place.