Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1114
The name Aku-nna literally means "father's wealth." It is Aku-nna who personifies the central theme of the novel, the tradition of the bride price. Though she is in many ways a "daddy's girl," her real wealth is the bride price she will demand and that her father will collect. Even upon her father's death, her uncle-turned-father Okonkwo sets his sight on her bride price. Aku-nna as wealth signifies girls as possessions, first of their fathers, then of their husbands. Chike makes his intentions known when he calls Aku-nna "Akum," meaning "my wealth." But as the heroine of the novel, Aku-nna also heralds new possibilities for girls and women. Her humility and deference to authority demonstrates her respect for tradition and elders. Still she recognizes early on that she has a mind and feelings of her own and she starts to resent the inability to make her own decisions. Aku-nna also hates her mother's passive acceptance of a woman's fate and wishes her mother were a source of support for her.
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Ma Blackie, a giant woman with glossy black skin, enters the tale with a "family problem"—she is slow in getting pregnant again. Ma Blackie became a bride at a young age, demanding both a hefty bride price and an Anglican wedding to boot. The least she can do is grant Ezekiel another son, "Aku-nna [knows] she [is] too insignificant to be regarded as a blessing to this unfortunate marriage. Not only [is] she a girl but she [is] much too thin for the approval of her parents, who would rather have a strong and plump little girl for a daughter." Perhaps Ma Blackie's reluctance to bond with a child as fragile as Aku-nna—a potential ogbanje, "living dead"—is that Aku-nna, according to tradition, can die at any time.
Ezekiel Odia feels sorry for his thin, frail daughter who resembles him more than his wife. "Aku-nna [knows] that there [is] a kind of bond between her and her father which [does] not exist between her and her mother."
Ezekiel Odia, as evidenced by his name, is a "typical product" of cultural syncretism. He belongs to the Christian church, but also relies on folk medicine and respects the taboos and superstitions of his native tradition. Ironically, the cause of his death is an injury acquired from his participation in a war that he fought on behalf of his colonizers. It seems appropriate that "he was buried in the same way that he had lived: in a conflict of two cultures."
It is up to Nna-nndo to decide which group of mourners will stand by his father's dead body. Like his father, Nna-nndo is impressed with the celestial images of angels and heaven. Though Nna-nndo is only eleven when his father dies, he is promoted to manhood and expected to take on a leadership role in his family. Nnanndo is a flat character in the text whose purpose is to serve as a foil for Aku-nna. It is Nna-nndo who is the most desirable offspring, whose school fees are secure, who will carry on the family name, and ultimately who will assume leadership in the Odia family. The characterizations of Nnanndo and Aku-nna symbolize the disparity in the ways in which boys and girls are treated in Ibo culture. Aku-nna's cousin, Ogugua, likewise serves as somewhat of an oppositional character to Aku-nna. Through Ogugua's character, Emecheta contrasts the upbringing of a rural Ibo girl to that of an urban one.
Ogugua and Aku-nna are age mates, born in the same week, but the geographical situation of their births steers their lives in dissimilar directions. Ogugua is more connected with Ibuza customs and she has already become a "woman," having begun her menstrual cycle. Ogugua knows what is expected of her as an Ibuza girl. Not formally educated, her world does not present many options for her. Aku-nna's exposure to traditional Ibo culture is limited to what she has gleaned from her family's household. She has not been exposed to women who farm the land, carry heavy loads atop their heads, and bathe naked in the river. Moreover, she has tasted knowledge. She appreciates the significance of education for girls and concedes that female autonomy and freedom may require defiance of tradition and even death. Still she tries to circumvent her duties and remain respectful to her people until she if left with no other option but rebellion.
Though Aku-nna does exhibit a quiet strength, her rebellious spirit is obvious. Yet Chike Ofulue is attracted by her vulnerability. He watches his lonely pupil, the only girl in her class, and yearns to reach out to her and fulfill some unspoken need she has. Chike falls in love with her, though he knows that as a "son of slaves," his pursuit of her will spark controversy. But Chike is a rebel in his own right. In a culture that expects their educated men to become doctors and lawyers, Chike commits himself to sociology and the improvement of his people. He also does not allow the oshu stigma to crush his confidence. A ladies man, Chike has had his share of affairs with local girls in the village and even the younger wives of chiefs. But he only has the best of intentions for Aku-nna—he wants to make her his wife. Although Chike's father, the elder Ofulue, warns his son against pursuing Aku-nna, his son's love for the girl eventually garners Ofulue's support. Ofulue even funds Chike and Aku-nna's elopement and—though in vain—he offers twice the required bride price to Okonkwo.
Okonkwo does not resemble the protagonist in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart in name only, though the nomenclature does suggest "stubborn male pride." His thirst for power evidences itself in his desire for a higher title and more wealth. The addition of his brother's wife strengthens his standing in the community and since his own daughter, Ogugua, and Aku-nna will be courted at the same time, he has the potential to amass a great deal of wealth from their bride prices. Okonkwo's plan is foiled when Okoboshi kidnaps Aku-nna and his family pays only the minimum bride price for her. But the kidnapping does not infuriate Okonkwo half as much as Aku-nna's ultimate escape into the arms of a "slave." Even more emasculating for the proud Okonkwo, the Ofulues have English law on their side and there is nothing Okonkwo or Ibuza can do to repair the rupture of tradition triggered by Aku-nna and Chike. Publicly humiliated and his title averted, Okonkwo enacts vengeance on Ma Blackie and Aku-nna. A more superstitious reader may attribute Aku-nna's death to Okonkwo's supernatural assault on her spirit.