Marriage Is a Private Affair

by Chinua Achebe
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Why does Nnaemeka want to tell his father about their engagement in person?

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Nnaemeka wants to tell his father about his engagement to Nene in person because he knows that it is a sensitive issue that is bound to disturb his father. He hopes that a one-on-one dialogue with his father can help him explain his decision to marry Nene, thus resolve any...

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Nnaemeka wants to tell his father about his engagement to Nene in person because he knows that it is a sensitive issue that is bound to disturb his father. He hopes that a one-on-one dialogue with his father can help him explain his decision to marry Nene, thus resolve any opposition that his father might have toward their marriage.

At the beginning of the story, when Nene suggests that it would be more appropriate to convey the happy news of their engagement via a letter, Nnaemeka states that perhaps their engagement is not “happy news” to his father. He goes on to say this: “It would not be wise to break the news to him by writing. A letter will bring it upon him with a shock. I’m quite sure about that.”

Nnaemeka knows that his engagement will upset his family because it has not been “arranged by them.” According to the traditions of his Ibo tribe, a marriage is arranged between a man and a woman, and the two have little say over the issue; in fact, they do not even have to love each other. Also, it is expected that the two speak the same tongue, or rather, come from the same tribe. True to Nnaemeka’s prediction, his father does not receive the news of his engagement kindly. He tries to discourage Nnaemeka from going ahead with his plans but fails. Finally, he chooses to obliterate Nnaemeka from his mind and only reconsiders this decision when he receives a letter from Nene requesting him to allow their two sons to visit him.

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At the beginning of the short story, Nnaemeka attempts to explain to his fiancée that his father will not be pleased that he is marrying her. According to Ibo tradition, the parents decide who their son will marry. However, Nnaemeka is determined to marry Nene and wishes to break the difficult news to his father face to face. When Nene suggests that Nnaemeka simply write his father a letter explaining that he is choosing to marry her without his permission, Nnaemeka refuses. Nnaemeka tells Nene that a letter will shock his father and decides to travel home to tell his father the news in person. Unfortunately, Nnaemeka's father does not receive the news well and shuns his son. Nnaemeka's father is not shocked when his son tells him the news but is hurt and conflicted. Nnaemeka's father is an austere traditionalist, who does not believe his son is making the right decision. He does not honor his son's marriage and quits speaking to him altogether.

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