Sunday, 8 March 2020

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Nigeria is a country with more than 250 ethnic groups. These groups have different languages and they often differ in religion, customs, and traditions. The Ibo and Ibibio both live in south-eastern Nigeria but traditionally they did not intermarry. As we can see in the story, a young Ibo man and an Ibibio woman have moved from their native regions to Lagos, a large and modern city in South-western Nigeria. But they encounter unexpected decision from the father of an Ibo young man who does not agree with their decision to intermarry. As cultural interactions intensify and become less significant the father’s resolution fails to work and he finally comes to realize that marriage is really a personal and private thing.
  • The title
  • The setting
  • Style and other Literary Techniques
  • The plot
  • Characterization
  • Language
  • Theme
  • Conflict
  • Message
  • Lessons (Morals)
  • Philosophy
  • Relevance of the story

The tile “Marriage is a Private Affair” is symbolical. It represents the truth that marriage issues should be personal or privately decided. It is realistic when it comes to be decided privately by his son.
The story is set in Nigeria. It starts at 16 Kasanga Street, Lagos.
The author has applied several writing styles in this story. Some of the styles are: Use of third person narrative style, flashback, and Use of letters.
The story starts with Nene asking Nnaemeka if he has written a letter to his dad (father). Nnaemeka says he hasn’t written to him; he is thinking to write to him when he gets home on leave but Nene insists on writing to him immediately.
Really, Nnaemeka and Nene Atang are partners who wish to get married soon. They live in Lagos city. However, there are tribal differences which become a great problem to their marriage. Nene is persuading Nnaemeka to write a letter to his father informing him that he has got a girl to marry. Emeka says the people of his tribe believe that parents are only responsible for choosing a girl for their son, but because he has lived in the city for a long time, then he doesn’t know the people in remote parts of the country. Thus, he must marry a girl he knows very much about her just as he knows Nene.
Nnaemeka is from Ibo tribe but Nene is from Ibibio tribe. This creates fear in them especially to Emeka whose father is still alive. Nene says;
You don’t really mean that he (Emeka’s father) will object to your marrying me simply on that account? I had always thought you Ibos are kindly disposed to other people”.
Emeka replies;
So we are. But when it comes to marriage, well, it’s not quite so simple. And this is not peculiar to the Ibos. If your father were alive and lived in the heart of Ibibio-land he would be exactly like my father”.
Emeka has told Nene that most parents become unhappy if the marriage is not arranged by them. And, in her own mind, Nene thinks that it is a joke that a person’s tribe could determine whom he married. Nene finally insists Emeka to write a lovely letter to his father and he will be forgiven and agreed at once.
As Emeka walks back home that evening he is filled with several thoughts about the situation. He always had a letter from his father; and there is one that mentioned a girl his father has chosen for him. He had thought of showing his letter to Nene but decided not to do so. At home, he read it again and smiled to himself. He remembered a girl mentioned in a letter. Her name was Ugoye. He remembered her well, as an Amazon girl who used to beat up all the boys, himself included, on the way to the stream, a complete dance at school.
This letter from his father reads as follows:
I have found a girl who will suit you admirably – Ugoye Nweke, the eldest daughter of our neighbor, Jacob Nweke. She has a proper Christian upbringing. When she stopped schooling some years ago her father (a man of sound judgment) sent her to live in the house of a pastor where she has received all the training a wife could need. Her Sunday school teacher has told me that she reads her Bible very fluently. I hope we shall begin negotiations when you come home in December”.
Emeka visits his father in December as letter says. An on the second evening of his return from Lagos, he sat with his father under a cassia tree. Then Emeka opened a discussion with his father by asking for forgiveness from him when his father wonders forgiveness for what, Emeka says;
I can’t – we must – I mean it is impossible for me to marry Nweke’s daughter”. Hearing that, his father objects to the idea strongly. But again Emeka says:
Moreover, I am engaged to marry another girl who has all of Ugoye’s good qualities, and who…”
His father does not believe his ears. He finally tells Emeka that no Christian woman should teach. He reminds him on St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (a reference to a passage in the Bible’s New Tastement; Corinthians 14: 34) that women should keep silence. Okeke, Emeka’s father is now totally confused. He rises slowly from his seat and paces forward and backward. He condemns those church leaders who encouraged women to teach in their schools. When he demands he name and place, Emeka mentions and he say she is from Calabar; the seaport city in Southern Nigeria in the Ibibio-land, the land/tribe of Nene. His father decided to walk away into his room silently. Emeka is then perplexed for now. During the night, his father could not eat. However, Emeka is hoping that his father will change his mind. Okeke swears not to see her (Nene) in his life. From that time, Okeke scarcely spoke to his son. He still puts him in his prayers despite the danger his son was heading for. Emeka is still hopeful. The writer says;
If it has occurred to him that never in the history of his people had a man married a woman who spoke a different tongue he might have been less optimistic”.
Some men, his fellow old men, come to sympathize with Okeke after news went around about his one’s behavior. By that time, his son has gone back to Lagos. One old man says;
It has never been heard”.
Another old man says;
What did our lord say? Sons shall rise against their fathers; it is there in the Holy Book”. Another old man says;
It is the beginning of the end”.
Their discussion is too theological. Then, Madubogwu, a highly practical man brings the discussion down once more to the ordinary level. This old man advises Okeke to consult a native doctor. Okeke replies that Emeka is not sick but Madubogwu says that the boy’s mind is diseased and only a good herbalist can bring him back to his right senses. The old man goes on saying;
The medicine he requires is Amalice, the same that women apply with success to recapture their husbands’ straying affection”.
Okeke refuses the idea of applying superstitious charms to his son. He objects by saying;
I will not be another Mrs. Ochuba. If my son wants to kill himself let him do it with his own hands. It is not for me to help him”. Mrs. Ochuba referred here by Okeke, is a woman who mistakenly killed her husband when she took medicine to a dishonest herbalist.
Six months later, Mnaemeka shows his young wife a short letter from his father. This is the letter that Okeke replies after Emeka sends him a wedding picture. The letter says;
It amazes me that you could be so unfeeling as to send me your wedding picture. I would have sent it back. But on further thought I decided just to cut off your wife and send it back to you because I have nothing to do with her. How I wish I had nothing to do with you either”.
As Nene reads a letter and looks at the piece of picture, her eyes become filled with tears, and she begins to sob. Emeka tells her not to cry because his father will one day understand.
Eight years later, Okeke still have nothing to do with his son. He does not want to communicate with his son. But Emeka has written to him three times only when he went to spend his leave. However, at one occasion, Okeke becomes not interested in him and says; “I can’t have you in my house”.
The wives of other people from Ibo tribe who work in the city too meet at their village meeting. They are not hostile to Nene, although they pay her such excessive deference as to make her feel she is not one of them. Gradually, Nene begins to make friends with some of them. Slowly and grudgingly, they begin to admit that she even keeps her home much better than most of other Ibo women.
In that little village in the heart of the Ibo country, it becomes known that Nnaemeka and this young wife are a most happy couple. But Okeke was one of the few people in the village who knew nothing about this. Okeke always display so much temper whenever his son’s name is mentioned that everyone avoids it in his presence. He finally manages to push his son to the back of his mind. The strain now nearly kills him but he has persevered and won.
Then one day Okeke receives a letter from Nene, and he begins to glance through it seriously until all of a sudden the expression on his face changes and he begins to read more carefully. The letter says;
“…Our two sons, from the day they learned that they have a grandfather; have insisted on being taken to him. I find it impossible to tell them that you will not see them. I implore you to allow Nnaemeka to bring them home for a short time during his leave next month. I shall remain here in Lagos…”
The old man feels his former resolution falling. He learned against a window and looked out up the sky there was heavy black clouds and a high wind begins to blow, filling the air with dust and dry leaves. It is one of those rare occasions when even Nature takes a hand in a human fight. Very soon it begins to rain, the first rain in the year. It marks a change of season. Okeke tries not to think of his two grandsons. But he knows he is now fighting a losing battle. He tries to hum a favourite hymn but the pattering of large raindrops on the roof break up the tune. His mind immediately returns to the children. By a curious mental process, he imagines them standing, sad and forsaken, under the harsh angry weather.
That night he hardly sleeps, from remorse – and a vague fear that he might die without making it up to them.
  • MAIN CHARACTER: He is a main character.
  • YOUNG: He is a young man from the IBO tribe.
  • EDUCATION: He lives and works in Lagos. He is educated.
  • HERMIT: He has stayed long in the city such that he can't remember the people of remote parts in the IBO country.
  • AGAINST TRADITIONS: He is against the traditional views that parents should determine the spouse of their sons.
  • AGAINST TRIBALISM: He goes against his father on the issue of marrying a partner from Ibibio tribe.
  • ALSO KNOWN AS: He is also called Emeka, as his father calls him.
  • OPTIMISM: He is well-behaved and optimistic.

  • GIRLFRIEND: She is Nnaemeka's girlfriend and later his wife.
  • HOSTILITY: She is an Ibibio tribe girl, the tribe that is hostile yo IBO tribe.
  • INTERMARRIAGE: She is also against the issues of objecting intermarriage.
  • NO FATHER/FATHERLESS: Her father is dead.
  • WORK/OCCUPATION: She also lives and works in Lagos at her room in 16 Kasanga Street.
  • TEACHER: She teaches at girls' school in Lagos.
  • RESIDENCE: She is from Calabar; the seaport city in Southern Nigeria where her tribe is situated.
  • EDUCATED: She is educated and well-cared.
  • MOTHER: Later, she bears Emeka two sons.
  • CONFLICT: She quarrels with Okeke after reading his letter.

  • FATHER: He is Nnaemeka's father and Nene's father-in law.
  • VILLAGE DWELLER: He lives in one of the IBO villages.
  • TRADITIONALIST: He believes that he should choose spouse for his son.
  • TRADITIONALIST: He is very traditionalist.
  • CHRISTIANITY: He is a Christian.
  • MEN’S DOMINANCE: He doesn't believe in empowering g women especially being church leaders.
  • CONFLICT: He quarrels with his son and daughter -in law.
  • PRIVATE AFFAIR: He finally realizes that marriage is a private affair.

  • GIRLFRIEND: She is the girl whom Okeke chose for Emeka to marry.
  • NEIGHBOUR: She is the daughter of Jacob Nweke, who is Okeke's neighbor.
  • FAMILY: She lives with his family in the same village.
  • CHRISTIAN: She is a good Christian girl who fits to be a good wife. She reads Bible very often.
  • AGGRESSIVENESS: She is tall, strong and aggressive woman as seen how she used to beat even the boys. She is called an Amazon, the race of female warriors in Greek history.
  • FAILURE: She finally fails to be named by Emeka as Okeke had wished.

  • FATHER: He is Ugoye's father.
  • TRADITIONALIST: He is traditionalist and abides very much to the tribal values and issues.

  • HERBALIST: She is a woman whose husband's name was referred by herbalist.
  • IGNORANCE: She took a medicine and gave it to her husband simply because during preparation of the medicine, her husband was mentioned. The medicine then killed her husband.
  • TRADITIONS: She was then blamed for not going to a harvest herbalist.

  • SYMPATHY: These are the old men who went to sympathize with Okeke when they heard the news of Okeke's son's decision of marrying a woman from another tribe.
  • SUPERSITION: Madubogwu is superstitious.
  • Okeke and Jonathan are not superstitious.

  • These are women of the village.

The language used in the story is simple, although there is use of some tribal terms. However, the following figures of speech may be noticed from the story.
Metaphor. “He remembered Ugoye quite well, an Amazon of a girl who used to beat up all the boys, himself indeed on the way to the stream, a complete dunce at school”.
It is Satan’s work”.
Exaggeration. “His father’s silence was infinitely more menacing than a flood of threatening speech”.
Symbolism. The Rain= The author has used starting of the rainy season at the time Okeke is changing his views over his son, to symbolize the change or the start of the new look and new attitude over intermarriage for Okeke and other people like him.
Dramatic irony. The author has used dramatic irony. He lets us know that Nnaemeka has a letter from his father that mentions Ugoye Nweke, but Nene herself doesn’t know that Emeka has such letter.
Situational irony. Nene happens to meet a strange situation in her life she never expected. She believes that Ibo are more advanced to let such Okeke’s ideas grow. She also wonders how the society can still be stuck to such idea.
Allusions. Biblical allusions. “….St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says that women should keep quiet." (1 Cor. 14:34). Amazon= Ugoye is called an Amazon because she is tall, strong and aggressive. The term is taken from the name for Amazons, a race of female warriors in Greek mythology. Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. Calabar, seaport city in Southern Nigeria.
Anecdote. Okeke uses anecdote when he tells a story of Mrs. Ochuba. A story reveals that teaches a certain lesson. His fellow elders also help in telling it.
Flashback. Okeke uses anecdote when he tells a story of Mrs. Ochuba. A story reveals that teaches a certain lesson. His fellow elders also help in telling it.
Use of letters. The letters are used very much by the author. Some of them are that Okeke wrote to inform his son over Ugoye and that written to Nene. Also that written to Okeke from Nene.

The story has several themes/issues that result from various generational and cultural differences. The following themes can be found in the story:
Tribalism. Okeke, Nnaemeka’s father believes in tribalism. He believes that people of different cultural backgrounds cannot intermarry. That’s why he disagrees with Emeka marrying Nene. Even his fellow villagers, Madubogwu and Jonathan are all tribalists.
Superstition. This author describes this society that it strongly believes in superstition and witchcraft. For instance, Mrs. Ochuba kills her husband because she took a medicine to dishonest herbalist. This leads her to kill her own husband. Madubogwu is also superstitious for advising Okeke to take Emeka to the herbalist.
Irresponsibility. Okeke, Nnaemeka’s father is irresponsible for not playing a parental role. He does not play his fatherly role to his son, Emeka and he does not play his role to his grandsons. So, he is not a good parent.
Religious beliefs/Christianity. The people like Okeke, Emeka, Jacob, Nene and others strongly believe in religious/Christian teachings. This belief has influenced their daily lives. For instance, when Okeke refers to the Bible passage of 1 Cor. 14:34.
Marriage. The author also portrays marriage as one of the issues in this society. The author shows couple like Emeka and Nene who are from different cultural backgrounds who live together as husband and wife.
Culture. culture is a total ways of life of a particular society. Culture is being discussed in the story. It tells of two different cultures: an Ibo culture and Ibibio culture.
Position of women. Women in the story are portrayed as the ones who cannot participate in decision making and who take care of the family. They have also been portrayed as one who works like men like teaching as Nene does at girls’ school in Lagos. They are also displayed as disunited when the village women fail to cooperate fully with Nene.
Education. The influence of education is seen in this society. For others like Emeka and Nene, education has opened their minds and buried all their cultural differences. They look themselves as sharing common human goals rather than tribal qualities.
Disillusionment. Nnaemeka is disillusioned by his father who does not support him when it comes to his marriage. Nene is also disillusioned by Okeke, her father –in law, for not accepting her at first time.
Awareness. This is the situation of becoming aware of something. In the story, at last Okeke becomes aware that marriage is a private affair. It should be decided by the people who are going to live together, not by parents. He finally realizes the possibility of intermarriage in the society.
African traditions. This issue has also been discussed by the writer. Okeke, for example, is the one who observes traditions. However, in the end he realises that marriage and love are just private affairs which cannot be easily interfered by outsiders.
Conflict. This story bursts with conflicts among people and ideas. The following conflicts have been portrayed by the author in the story:
  • Mnaemeka vs Okeke. Emeka marrying Nene, an Ibibio woman. Nene’s letter to Okeke resolves the conflict.
  • Nene vs. Okeke. Okeke writing unpleasant letter to Nene and Emeka.
  • Okeke vs Madubogwu. Madubogwu’s bad advice to take Emeka to the herbalist.
  • Emeka vs. Ugoye Nweke.
  • Okeke vs Church leaders for encouraging women to be leaders/teachers.
  • Jonathan vs other old men including Okeke.
  • Mrs. Ochuba vs her husband on the medicine she gets to the herbalist, then killing her husband.
  • Okeke vs new generation on why the younger generation is violating the old traditions.
  • Okeke vs the people in the village for supporting Emeka and his wife.
  • Intrapersonal conflict: Nnaemeka on why parents should choose wife for their children.
  • Intrapersonal conflict: Nene on why people object people who love themselves not to marry each other.
  • Interpersonal conflict: Okeke on why children of new generation violate the traditions.

The author of the story passes the strong message on the respect for the personal decisions on marriage as well as respect for some of the traditional beliefs. The author urges the society to respect marriages even if the couples are from different backgrounds. He beliefs that love comes naturally without regarding anything that can stand between the people who love each other. The writer also encourages people to stop spreading the elements of tribalism among themselves.

The story provides plenty of teachings (moral lessons) to the society. One of the moral teaching is that the society should learn that intervention in one’s marriage is not good because marriage is a private affair, not a public affair. Another lesson we can get from the story is that respect does not cost a thing. The third lesson is that tribalism is not the best way of life. People should live together without labelling them or segregating them.

Diversity is the philosophy of the writer of this story. The world is big. Some people are unable to understand that simple truth. They want the world on their own definition. They don’t want to believe that its people are just like them and their friends. But this is a foolish and blind wish. Diversity is not an abnormality but the very reality of our planet. The human world manifests the same reality and will not seek our permission to celebrate itself in the magnificence of its endless varieties. Civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of world we have; narrowness of heart and mind is not a good idea to take.

The story is relevant to the contemporary society. In the societies we live now, there are a lot of people who do not accept the diversity. These kinds of people want to define everything on their own terms. They do not want to accept the viewpoints of others.

Achebe, C (1968) Girls at War and Other Stories, Heinemann, Nigeria.

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