Marriage Is a Private Affair

by Chinua Achebe

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In "Marriage is a Private Affair", what is the Okeke's internal conflict?

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Okeke faces an internal struggle that concerns his obedience and compliance to the traditional Igbo culture and his love for Nnaemeka, his son. Okeke is depicted as a traditionalist who obediently abides by the Igbo customs and traditional culture. When Okeke's son Nnaemeka decides to challenge the traditional marriage customs of the Igbo tribe, Okeke is faced with a difficult decision to accept and honor his son's choice or reject and shun Nnaemeka. Okeke's internal struggle concerns the love for his son, which conflicts with the expectations of the traditional Igbo society. Okeke realizes that in honoring his son's decision to marry Nene independently without consulting him or his wife, he will be dismissing the traditional Igbo marriage custom. Given the fact that Okeke is a strict traditionalist, he decides to reject and shun Nnaemeka for deciding to marry Nene. Okeke struggles to repress his feelings of love and affection after the dismissal of his son.

At the end of the story, Okeke reads a letter from Nene asking him to allow his two grandsons to visit him. Achebe illustrates Okeke's internal struggle concerning the love for his family and the respect for traditional Igbo culture by writing,

The old man at once felt the resolution he had built up over so many years falling in. He was telling himself that he must not give in. He tried to steel his heart against all emotional appeals. It was a reenactment of that other struggle (5).

Okeke continues to repress his difficult emotions and spends the rest of the night feeling guilty for shunning his two grandchildren.

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The massive conflict faced by Okeke in this excellent story is between the power and force of the tribe and following tradition, and between the new ways that are springing up and threatening to overwhelm the importance of the tribe and narrow lines of ethnic identity. When Okeke's son says that he will marry from outside of his tribe, he is going against tradition and his own tribe. This greatly angers his father, and Okeke as a result shuns his own son and his family. The cost of this decision is made clear in the following quote:

By a tremendous effort of will he had succeeded in pushing his son to the back of his mind. The strain had nearly killed him but he had preserved, and won.

Note the reference that is made to the "strain" of this conflict and the "tremendous effort of will" that is needed to forget his son. Okeke has to face a brutal choice: either ignore his son and cast him off because of his belief in the importance of tradition, or reject tradition and maintain his relationship with his son. His choice to embrace tradition at the expense of his son is something that has a very high price tag to it, as he discovers when he realises he has wasted his remaining years embracing tradition when he could have been embracing his grandchildren.

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