Marriage Is a Private Affair Questions and Answers
by Chinua Achebe

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What do pieces such as “Marriage Is a Private Affair” and Nectar in a Sieve demonstrate about the influence of modern ideas and modern ways on traditional cultures? How are the characters in these works affected by the modernization of their respective societies?

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Among the topics that both works address are arranged marriages, women working outside the home, and the impact of urbanization and industrialization. In some ways, in both works it is modernization that takes a son from his parents.

In “Marriage Is a Private Affair,” Nnaemeka and his father disagree vehemently about the son’s marriage plans. In part because the son has moved from the village where he grew up to the city of Lagos, he has been exposed to many new ideas. There he met Nene, who works as a teacher. His father disapproves of his son choosing his own bride, as he believes in that arranged marriage is the only correct kind and has already selected a bride for him; he also believes that women should not have jobs. There is also a tribal difference in that Nene is not Ibo, a fact that the father finds disturbing. In this story, the son disobeys his father and marries the non-Ibo professional woman he loves. Religion enters the picture in that the family has already converted, and an argument Nnaemeka uses to try to convince his father is that Nene is a good Christian woman, one of the father’s criteria. Their difference of opinion causes a long-term, nearly permanent rift because the father breaks with his son over his rebellion.

Nectar in a Sieve has a female protagonist who does enter an arranged marriage. Rukmani has some education, as she is literate, but after marriage to Nathan, she does not have a paid job. Rather, she works in farming alongside her husband. Modernization primarily affects the next generation. Rather than the protagonist going to the city, she stays in their rural area, and a factory is built there. It is an industrial tannery, which Rukmani opposes primarily on ecological grounds. Her sons, however, get jobs there. The unjust labor practices as well as the pollution the processing causes are two of the negative influences of the tannery. Religion enters the picture because the tannery owners are outsiders and Muslims, while Rukmani, her family, and the local people are Hindu. Rukmani ultimately loses her son when tannery workers kill him.

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