In Marriage is a Private Affair, in examining Nene and her reaction to her father-in-law, how can she be similar to women of today's generation?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nene is a very progressive woman.  We understand this from her position as a teacher and the practical attitudes she shows at the start of the story when she indicates that there is little rationale for why Nnaemeka's father would display such antipathy towards their marriage plans.  It is this progressivism that does not cause her to begrudge her husband, even at the most painful of times.  When she receives the mutilated photograph, she weeps while her husband essentially explains how the father is a "good natured man."  She does not spit venom at him for trying to justify Okeke in the face of such inhumanity.  Her progressivism is evident in the letter when she pleads for the grandfather to see his son and grandchildren.  Yet, where she is really distinctive is that she refuses to partake in any form:

I shall remain here in Lagos.

That single line is powerful.  It is powerful enough to be block quoted because it might be where the most amount of insight can be offered into Nene and the modern woman.  On one hand, the line could be seen as her understanding that her father-in-law has been nothing but inhospitable and rude to her, and she, in not wanting to make him angrier, seeks to take a back seat to his son and grandsons.  Yet, I don't see her like that.

I see her as dignified enough to write to the father-in-law in trying to bridge the gulf between father, son, and grandsons.  Yet, I see her statement to "remain here in Lagos" as a stand of dignified defiance.  She has already learned to live without a father, as we learn early on that her father died.  She refuses to indulge this man who has said and done some fairly horrific things to her.  Her stand of dignity does not trade off with what she sees as her obligation to her husband and her children.  Essentially, this is part of her character in that she recognizes injustice and unfairness, and is not deterred by it.  The Ibo in Lagos judge her, but she does not acquiesce to it, rather forcing them to admit that she tends better house than they do.

I think that this progressive attitude is where Nene is very similar to modern women, who recognize that there might be barriers carved out against them, but do not see these as opportunities for oppression.  Nene's willingness to transcend these are where Achebe sees the opportunities for African women who are emerging out of Colonial control.  He sees her as a model for them, in that they cannot structurally change the discrimination that is against them.  Yet, their spirit of progressive resiliency and defiance are key ingredients in making them not become victims to it.  It is here where Achebe might be seeking an opportunity to use Nene as a moment of education, a teachable moment for women in 1952 (when the story was written) and now, a time when globalization has made more women seek to overcome that which might block them from pursuing paths of happiness and contentment.