The play The Old Maid depicts the successful insistence of Mary on the realisation of her ideals of love and marriage.
According to the age-long tradition of her native village, thirty-year-old spinsters are objects of abomination. Thus, maidens whose thirtieth birthday sees as single women are subjected to stringent penalties: prohibition from participating in the sacred traditional festivals, severance from the protection and favour of local gods and goddesses, and a humiliating banishment from the village.
Now, the protagonist, Mary, the only daughter of Shade is a blonde, spotless-faced maiden, favoured with a well-proportioned willowy physique, with refined manners and cultivated personal culture, her large, penetrating, clear cobalt-blue eyes spelling the innocence of a pure child. The innocence of eyes, however, contains evidence of a clear-headed maturity of thought and temper, far from credulity and naivety. She is coveted by most eligible bachelors and by monogamic and polygamic family men, rich and poor, young and old. In vain, however, do they all seek for her hand, because, contrary to the values of the generality of her peers, she looks for more in a would-be husband than wordly achievements and eminence. She will have a lover of insightful and exemplary love, one who could be involved not only with her body but also with her soul, because she believes genuine love to be too all-encompassing to exclude anything appertaining to its object. Unfortunately, neither do the generality of her admirers know her beyond her physical appearance nor have they an inkling of the existence of a soul.
Therefore, her criterion naturally excludes from the outset those who, ensnared merely by her outward charms, try to lure her with their power, wealth and influence - with their deceptive gestures and declarations of love.
But her family members, conscious of what wealth and influence her agreeing to the proposals of the money-bags will mean for them, think her more of a sick day-dreamer than an eccentric. They in vain seek to dissuade her into "reality".
Unknown to them, however, is the fact of her secret relationship with one soldier, Ayotunde, who is believed to have been claimed by a war in which he had to participate. Only her bosom friend, Bunmi, is in the know about this secret relationship with the young man; and in Ayotunde, Bunmi tends to see the personification of Mary’s ideals of a lover and a husband. Either by factual assessment or exaggeration, Bunmi tends to see Ayotunde as a demure, unassuming, genuinely compassionate and empathetic gentleman during his lifetime; dynamic in the generality of his thinking. Bunmi’s obstinacy therefore appears to the reader as "Another Ayotunde or none"!
Now, the final word of warning comes to Mary from the village elders who are by her grandfather led to believe that it is three days to her twenty-fifth birthday. She is therefore warned to do a rethink within three days. Should she remain adamant, then she will be given the last grace of five additional years to come to her senses. In other words, her thirtieth birthday as a single woman will see her out of the village, burdened with not only with curses from young and old, but also with the dreadful traditional sanctions.
At this juncture, however, in vain are all admonitions from far and near, in vain all threats from her grandfather and her bosom friend - all apprehensions fall on her deaf ears!
Soon comes the d-day. She is summoned to the village centre, and asked to state her mind. Adamant as ever, she stands! And all spiritual investigations as to her sanity confirm her to be perfectly fit in mind and soul. To crown it, her true age also comes to light: this day is her thirtieth birthday! Therefore, she is ordered forthwith out of the village, amidst the curses and foul-mouthed ill-wishes of fellow-villagers, traditions on such grisly occasions. In front of the procession of villagers, she is walked ouut of the village, tears coursing down profusely from her eyes.
But a few kilometres into her indefinite journey, she sights a young man heading for the village. This young man…sharply resembles him, evoking live memories of him, bringing her back into her moments with him!
He turns out to be Ayotunde! Believed to be dead, but only taken prisoner!