‘Motherhood’ can be viewed as a double-edged sword in Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood. With reference to the development of the characters of Ona and her daughter Nnu Ego, discuss the...

‘Motherhood’ can be viewed as a double-edged sword in Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood. With reference to the development of the characters of Ona and her daughter Nnu Ego, discuss the traditional role of motherhood as it conflicts with modernity. 

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

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Emecheta shows motherhood to be a complex reality.  It is Emecheta's genius to illuminate the intricacy in a condition that has been around since the beginning of time.  Motherhood is shown to be that double- edged sword, something intrinsically beautiful and yet corrupted by a world that treats it as a means to an end and not an end it itself.  It is shown to be one of sacrifice that can be far from rewarding.

Ona recognizes the emotional and physical brutality in motherhood. Ona's need to deliver a son is where motherhood is seen as a complex reality.  The social burden placed upon women to deliver a son is something that makes motherhood complex.  Ona gives birth to a son, a process that sees her die and her son die later.  The "joy" of motherhood is difficult to fully justify in the midst of so much in way of death and suffering.  Ona is forced to engage in a practice of childbirth that is easily sanctioned and almost commissioned by social orders.  Emechata shows that what society so easily dismisses as part of a "woman's job" contains so much in way of risk and struggle.  Each child birth has the potential for death.  In order for life to be delivered, it is shrouded in the spectre of death.  The social expectation that women give birth to healthy children, and boys for that matter, is a "joy" that ends up killing Ona.  This is a double- edged reality.

Nnu Ego certainly speaks to the reality of the double- edged nature of motherhood.  In her narrative, the social pressure to give birth is compounded by her own dream of giving birth.  In this element, one can see how social expectation and personal ambition have colluded to make women feel successful and failures in one fell swoop.  Nnu Ego ends up having children and experiences the pain and suffering of both childbirth and raising children.  Being situated in the modern context of Lagos, the traditional concept of motherhood is shown to be even more brutal when pitted against competing cultural realities.  Motherhood for Nnu Ego requires her to fight the battle of of cultural realities while doing what she can to sustain the role of a providing, nurturing maternal figure.  Her predicament in Lagos reveals motherhood to be a double- edged sword:

It was not fair, she felt, the way men cleverly used a woman's sense of responsibility to actually enslave her.… [H]ere in Lagos, where she was faced with the harsh reality of making ends meet on a pittance, was it right for her husband to refer to her responsibility? It seemed that all she had inherited from her agrarian background was the responsibility and none of the booty.

The closing line to the passage is where the double- edged sword of motherhood is evident.  Motherhood in the modern context is something that Emechata sees as possessing all of "the responsibility and none of the booty."  Nnu Ego recognizes this as she suffers and struggles to provide for her children, a modern enslavement.  She raises her children only for them to reject her and her ways, experiencing rejection from her husband, as well.  In dying alone, Nnu Ego's life is one in which motherhood has come to represent complete suffering and little in way of reward.  The temple built in her honor does not change the fact that Nnu Ego's curse on her children to not have children themselves might be retribution or a blessing, truly reflective of the double- edged sword of motherhood.

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