Marriage Is a Private Affair

by Chinua Achebe

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What are Okeke's objections to his son's marriage in "Marriage is a Private Affair"?

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Okeke objects to his son’s engagement because (1) she is not the wife he has chosen for him—Okeke had negotiated Nnaemeka‘s engagement to a neighbor’s daughter, who has been “trained” to be a good wife by living with a Pastor; (2) Nene is not of the Igbo tribe—not only is marriage outside the tribe forbidden, it has never occurred before; and (3) there is a sense that Nene, as a teacher, is less Christian since, as Okeke puts it, St. Paul commanded that women “be silent.”

On a more basic level, Okeke objects because his son’s disobedience is evidence of how his city life has made him more worldly and cosmopolitan. His choice of wife is also a choice of a westernized life in Lagos over a traditional life in the countryside.

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In Chinua Achebe's short story "Marriage is a Private Affair" Nnaemeka, who is from the Ibo ethnic group, lives in the modern Nigerian city of Lagos where he is engaged to Nene, an Ibibio woman. In the opening of the story, Nnaemeka hasn't yet told his father, who lives in a rural village, about his upcoming marriage to Nene. He is hesitant to do so because he believes his father will object. In fact, his father, Okeke, has three major objections to Nnaemeka's choice of a wife. His biggest concern is that Nnaemeka has broken tradition by marrying outside their ethnic group. Okeke and the other village men claim that no man from their village has ever "married a woman who spoke a different tongue." The men also say that Nnaemeka must be sick and he needs to take an herbal remedy called Amalile. Secondly, Okeke is upset with his son for not marrying a village girl named Ugoye. It was typical of Ibo fathers to arrange the marriages of their offspring. In this way, Nnaemeka is also breaking tradition. Finally, when Okeke learns that Nene is a school teacher, he argues that the Bible prevents women from being teachers. He cites the letter of St. Paul to prove that women "should keep silence." The clash between father and son doesn't prevent Nnaemeka from marrying Nene.

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Okeke's objections to Nnaemeka's marriage to Nene are all based on Ibo tribe tradition in his native Nigeria. The Ibo tribe tradition is that the woman should be chosen by the father, be a "good" Christian, have training as a homemaker and, above all, be of the Ibo tribe. Nene partially fits only one of these criteria, which is not enough for Okeke. First, Nnaemeka rejects the wife Okeke has chosen and wants to marry Nene only due to Nnaemeka's love for her. Next, even though Nene is a Christian, she is a schoolteacher, which Okeke believes is prohibited by the Bible. In this way, Nene is accused of not having the training to be a good homemaker. Worst of all (according to Okeke), Nene is not of the Ibo tribe. With each of these bits of information, Okeke becomes more and more enraged and eventually forbids the marriage. Because Nnaemeka goes against his father's wishes and marries Nene, it is not until the end of the story that Okeke relents and agrees to see his grandsons.

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