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Achebe's story reveals how marriage is seen in fundamentally different contexts through the lens of generation and condition of life. In the young and urban world of Nnaemeka and Nene, marriage is private. It exists between two people that can come from different social settings and build a life between them distinctly separate from public judgment. In Okeke's condition, marriage is public, a legacy that the elders hand down to the younger generation. Both visions believe that they are accurate in their understanding of marriage. In the end, one vision has to give way to the other, or some type of negotiation has to be present because there is a competing reality between both.
I think that the ending of the story reveals that marriage is private. This is shown to a great extent. Marriage can be publicly brokered and remain a public property. Yet, the sentiments of husbands and wives and how they live their lives is something that Okeke realizes he, as a member of the public, cannot control. When he receives the letter about his grandchildren wanting to see him and reflects on the time lost, Okeke experiences immediate dread and fear. He realizes that marriage is an institution that moves on without him. Fears of his own mortality enter into this equation. Marriage is affirmed as a private matter because of the desire to see the family progress. It is a private matter because Nene ends up controlling whether Okeke is able to be a part of his grandchildrens' lives. The woman that he scorned and insulted becomes his key to the future. The fact that she allows him the opportunity to connect with his past and future is what convinces Okeke that marriage is a private affair. While there are competing elements to marriage that are offered, the end result is that it is private because marriage is rooted in the emotional sensibilities of human beings. The desire to publicize this and make it almost a commodity temporarily obscures this emotional reality.
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