At the end of "Marriage Is a Private Affair," what does Okeke's decision reveal about Achebe's thoughts on African traditions?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Through the end of the story with Okeke, Achebe is suggesting that African traditionalist notions of the good must be integrated within modern conditions of change.

Okeke is shown as insistent on his traditional notions of the good.  Okeke believes that the traditional ways are the best, and he believes that Nnaemeka should marry as culture dictates.  When Nnaemeka does not adhere to custom, Okeke is intensely focused on marginalizing his son and his daughter- in- law.  Very little changes in his demeanor and position.

However, the ending is reflective of how Okeke must change if he wishes to be a part of the future.  Clinging to past conditions do not help Okeke embrace what might lie ahead.  At the end of the story, Okeke is scared at the fact that he is not going to be able to see his grandsons.  Culture does not help avert the fear that begins to dominate his mind.  Okeke recognizes that in order for him to embrace the future, he must learn to move from the past.

Achebe might be suggesting that Africa can only embrace the future when it learns to place the past in its proper context.  When Okeke clings too tightly to the past, he closes himself off to the future. His fears at the end of the story are that he has lost something because of his adamantine ways. Through Okeke, Achebe might be suggesting that Africa will gain much more when it can see the past in its proper context, and integrate it into a future vision.

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