The short story ‘Marriage is a Private Affair’ by Chinua Achebe is a tale illustrating two stratas of community life. It seems mainly to be delineated in this instance by age, juxtaposing the senior generation with its strict mores and cultural traditions and a younger generation which doesn’t value these ideas, perceiving them to have less value than their ‘elders and betters’ do. Marriage has changed in many societies across the world, and now, in some cultures, people don’t even bother with an expensive ceremony or registering a paper document. They are content, for cultural, economic or social reasons to commit to a ‘partner’ and need no ‘blessing’ (or interference!) from elders, pastors or peers. Perhaps today’s women are more financially independent and that has a bearing - they like to think they can manage relationships for themselves if they have a ‘modern’ helpful and understanding partner. Consequently, these couples believe their marriage or relationship is ‘a private affair.’
In Chinua Achebe’s story the younger generation is illustrated by as Nnaemeka and the elders by Okeke. Traditional cultural views of marriage are shown as being rigidly restrictive and inflexible and are spotlighted against the foil of the much more valuable freedom of the individual. The antidote to all this conflict, hostility and interference is shown to be love, which is more than a match for dictatorial arbitrary social rules and conventions. The ancient theme of parental choice of partner is suggested, and as in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the painful dilemma of the individual’s choice of partner is contrasted. This theme is introduced in the very first lines of dialogue in the short story where the young bridegroom is dubious about the reception his marriage news will get. It is an interesting story because at other times Achebe has stated his respect for the wisdom of older people and highlighted his obvious respect for them ;
‘When old people speak it is not because of the sweetness of words in our mouths; it is because we see something which you do not see.’
One wonders if today’s elders will watch and wait, but still be there with their wise eyes and good advice when the going gets tough for young couples.