What is the relationship between father and son in Achebe's "Marriage is a Private Affair?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is a difficult relationship that exists between father and son.  Okeke has faith in his son and believes in his son until he chooses a bride that the father did not select.  This arouses an intense schism between both father and son.  Nnaemeka does not seem angry at his father.  In fact, the opening of the story has him speaking in hushed and scared tones to Nene about his impending marriage to her and his father's reaction to it.  Okeke cannot comprehend the perceived insult of his son choosing a bride on his own and wishes to have nothing to do with his son or his marriage.  When Nnaemeka tries to reach out in letters, he is rebuked by the his father, including a desecrated picture of Nene as a bride.  The relationship is restored only through Nene's dignified stance of seeking reconciliation between father and son.

Achebe brings out how the intense reverence of tradition at all costs can impact the relationships in families.  This is certainly the case between father and son, between Okeke and Nnaemeka.  One can presume that Okeke is angry because his son has sought to break tradition of the Ibo, has gone against his father's wishes.  This relationship is impacted through the upholding of tradition at the cost of familial bonds.  It is for this reason that there is such an intense fear that Okeke feels that his upholding of tradition will permanently impact the relationship between father and son with his death.  This fear, almost an impending sense of doom, is the closing image of the story, where a father seeks to run back to the son he has abandoned.  This is a touching image for all who have experienced a sense of abandonment in the hopes that the wrongs that have been perpetrated by family members can be rectified without a permanent end being dictated.