Marriage is a Private Affair
- Chinua Achebe
Nnaemeka was in love with Nene. Nene was from the city and Nnemeka had come to Lagos from the village. Nene suggested Nnaemeka write a letter about their relationship with his father who was living in the village. But Nnaemeka did not want to inform about their relation to his father from the letter. He wanted to tell everything after meeting his father in the village on his vacation. So, he told his beloved that his father would not be happy knowing their plan of marriage without taking his permission. Nene was surprised by Nneameka's saying. But he convinced her that people who were living in his culture would carry the concept that the parents had to arrange the marriage for their children.
His father had sent him a letter. Father had written that he had selected the girl for his son. She was Ugoye who was Nnaemeks's friend in their childhood. But he did not tell anything about it to Nene. On his vacation, Nnaemeka went to his village and he asked forgiveness from his father that he could not marry the girl whom his father had chosen. He told his father that he was in love with a girl in the city. She was a teacher. She was Nene Atang who was from a different tribe. When his father listened to all those things about his son, He was very much angry and upset. But Nnaemeka was not ready to change his mind.
Then he went back to Lagos. The villagers suggested Okeke treat his son by a native doctor. But Okeke did not even want to listen about his son. He said that his son was dead for him.
Nnaemeka married Nene and he wrote a letter and sent a photo to his father but his father return the letter as well as the photo by mutilating the picture of Nene. When Nene saw her photo, she became very sad but Nnaemenks convinced her that his father was not a bad person and he would accept their relation one day. Villagers knew that Nnaemenka was living a happy married life in Lagos. But nobody told Okeke about it because they knew that Okeke did not want to listen to anything about his son.
After eight years of their married life, they had two sons. But they could not inform Okeke in the village. And at last, Nene wrote a letter to her father-in-law. She wrote that when their sons knew that they had a grandfather in the villages, they were eager to see him. So, she requested him to allow Nnaemeka to visit him with two sons for a short time on vacation when Okeke read the letter he knew that he had two grandsons in the city and wanted to meet him. He felt himself to be very selfish. He thought that how he could shut the door for them. That night he hardly slept. He was afraid that he might die with night correcting his mistake.
Even though the change was tough for Okeke, he still manages to move on and accept the change. Okeke is shown here that he is totally against his son doing and thinks that he is brainwashed. He shows this when he says, "I can't have you in my house." Okeke replies "I shall never see her. These changes are usually not bad, but because people are set in their traditional ways it can be a tough change. "As Okeke thinks about the grandchildren the author then pretty much leaves you with the question "How could he shut his door against them?"
Thus Okeke finally does change when realizes that he has neglected his grandsons and the relationship a grandfather and grandchildren should have. Okeke is a stubborn father because even when Naemeka says, "You will change your mind, Father, when you know Nene. As you can see, Okeke is a man that goes through a change in his life. Eventually, Okeke even becomes resentful towards his son. It can be of no interest to me where or how you spend your leave- or your life, for that matter. Okeke shows this when he says, "I owe it to you, my son, as a duty to show you what is right and what is wrong."
Nnaemeka's decision to marry Nene was made with specific intent. While Namesake and Okeke are in agreement that his wife should have a Christian background, Okeke takes great offence to Nene's teaching. Tradition is an aspect of Ibo life that transcends all other obligations. Likewise, Okeke embraces tradition to such a degree that he neglects his family. Namesake realizes this before he even confronts his father about the marriage, which explains his hesitancy and apprehension to inform Okeke at the beginning of the story. Because Okeke is so dogmatic, this decision was not made without regard to its consequences or Okeke's reaction.
However, Nnameka's unique character has an effect that is calculated and tactical. Likewise, Nnaemeka's less literal translation of the Bible allows him to marry Nene and abide by a set of standards that set his future at odds with Okeke. Namesake tries to appeal to his father through reason and persistence, neglecting any personal sacrifice to appease Okeke.
Okeke values Ibo tradition to such a degree that he negates his familial ties in order to retain a pure, untainted sense of integrity. The crux of their disagreement revolves around the emphasis placed on tradition. Okeke's refusal to yield or concede anything to Namesake has an effect that permeates all his future actions. When Namesake tries to justify his reasons for not marrying Ogee, he says, "Marriage today is different"
The story basically presents the burning social problems found in the rural areas where the majority of the people are superstitious and uneducated. Okeke living in a village doesn’t like his son marrying a city girl of a different tribe. It presents thus the conflict between father and son, one representing the traditional values and the next modern and changing values.
The next important point in the story is that it has shown the fact that marriage must be a private affair in everyone’s life. One must be free to choose his/her life partner according to his/her wish. It helps them to lead a very happy life and also it helps to avoid social discrimination to a great extent.
Though the story presenting a burning social problem deserves a good response and appreciation from the reader’s side, yet, on a deeper level, there are many points in which they may not be satisfied. Now people aren’t as they were in the past because of changing social values and education. People aren’t stuck to the old values, traditions and systems. So far marriage is concerned; people are enjoying it as a private affair rather than the means to protect the culture. Inter-cast marriage has become the fashion among the youngsters of the time. So, the present storey captures the interest of the people.
This story took me back to an event that occurred in the life of my close friend Gagan. Gagan is the only son of his parents. He belongs to a Brahmin family. He is quite modern but his parents are conservative. Once, his parents chose a girl of their caste for Gagan. But Gagan had fallen in love with a girl of lower caste. So, he refused to marry the girl his parents had chosen.
He requested them to allow him to marry the girl he loved. His parents became very angry and abandoned him when he married the girl. But Gagan had a son after one year. His wife was tactful and one day she wrote Gagan's parents if they did not like to see the face of their grandson. Their heart melted and one day Gagan's father wrote him to come home with his family.