Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1428

Gender Roles
One of the main themes in Emecheta's The Bride Price is the difference, in the Nigerian culture, between the roles of women and men. There are many incidents in this story concerning the gap between the privileges of men compared to those of women. It is taken for granted that if a boy wishes to go to school and his family can afford it, he will go. It is an exception, especially in the Ibuza village, for a girl to go to school. Even if she does attend, her education stops when she is married, usually around the age of fourteen.

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The greatest difference between men and women, however, concerns the act of marriage. If a bride price, for instance, is accepted by the father of the girl, the young woman would have to go to the suitor's home and be married no matter whether she knew the suitor, liked the suitor, or had fallen in love with another man. Her father's decision is final. Also, a man who could not afford a bride price might "sneak out of the bush to cut a curl from a girl's head so that she would belong to him for life," and he would be able to "treat her as he liked, and no other man would ever touch her."

Sexuality is another area where the customs dictate different rules for both sexes. Young single men who have affairs with married women are tolerated through an intentional blindness on the part of an aging husband. If an old husband cannot satisfy the sexual needs of his many wives, "they knew better than to raise a scandal. In Ibuza, every young man was entitled to his fun." On the other hand, "A girl who had had adventures before marriage was never respected."

The most devastating inequality between men and women, however, is the lack of self-worth. "Aku-nna knew that she was too insignificant to be regarded as a blessing." She is a girl, and a marriage is not considered fortunate unless a man has sons. A woman's worth is measured only in the amount of money she might bring to her father in the form of a bride price.

Slavery and Oppression
Slavery is depicted straightforwardly in the character of Chike, who comes from an oshu family, a slave family. Although his grandmother had been a princess in a neighboring village, she was kidnapped and enslaved. After the Europeans came to Nigeria, slavery became illegal. The freed slaves were sent to missionary schools where they were educated. Although the freed slaves and their descendants eventually earned high professional salaries and owned big European-style homes, they were never accepted into the village. A father would rather kill his daughter than have her marry an oshu.

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Emecheta uses the theme of slavery, however, not just in terms of the oshu. She also portrays women, in a sense, as slaves to men. A woman is bought and sold through the bride price. She is looked over, by her new owners, like a slave trader might look at his new slave. Her body becomes a commodity that will bring wealth to the family in the form of many children. After being kidnapped, Okoboshi's father "poured chalk, the symbol of fertility, on her breasts and prayed to his ancestors that Aku-nna would use it to feed the many children she was going to have for his son."

Defiance and Resistance
Defiance of the rigid rules of society rises slowly in this novel through the character of Aku-nna. It comes to her in small steps and bolts out of her in fits of fear or embarrassment. First, out of fear she speaks her mind and very decidedly refuses to accept a ride on a bicycle. Next, out of embarrassment she refuses to take off her clothes and bathe in public. Little by little, she builds up her resistance until she finds herself involved in a relationship with Chike, the descendent of slaves, a relationship that is strictly forbidden. By encouraging this relationship, Aku-nna defies her mother and her stepfather, as well as the social laws of her entire culture. But even though she encourages the relationship, her defiance is passive, as if the relationship were growing on its own with Aku-nna tagging along behind it. She moves closer to Chike almost involuntarily. In one incidence, she wants to stop him from saying that their relationship is impossible, and she covers his mouth with her hand "not knowing where the boldness which was working inside her came from."

As the story builds to a climax, so does Aku-nna's courage build. Her courage, in turn, builds her defiance. After Aku-nna's menstruation has become public knowledge, she refuses "point-blank" to eat the chicken that has been slaughtered in her honor. At this point in the story, Aku-nna registers what very well might have been her first defiant thought. "She was beginning to feel that it was unjust that she was not to be allowed a say in her own life, and she was beginning to hate her mother for being so passive about it all." Her mother's passivity seems to awaken Aku-nna's defiance, and from this stage in the story, Aku-nna moves toward the climatic scene.

As she stands in front of Okoboshi, the young man who has kidnapped her as a potential bride, Aku-nna loudly and forcefully speaks out in an attempt to save herself. It is out of fear of not only being raped but also of being deprived of ever seeing Chike again that she finds her voice and creates a story so vile that Okoboshi leaves her alone. The vile story that she creates is a lie, but the lie represents the epitome of her defiance. She tells Okoboshi that she is not a virgin; and, furthermore, she lost her virginity to a descendant of a slave. In so doing, Aku-nna risks everything, possibly even her life.

Her uncle would surely kill her on sight ... but if she was forced to live with these people for long, she would soon die, for that was the intention behind all the taboos and customs. Anyone who contravened them was better dead ... and when you were dead, people would ask: Did we not say so? Nobody goes against the laws of the land and survives.

That is how much courage it takes for Aku-nna to be defiant.

Culture Clash
The clash of culture is first seen in the funeral scene in the opening chapters of the novel. Ezekiel, Aku-nna's father, lives somewhere between the two cultures, and, upon his death, his son must decide whether Ezekiel will go to the European (Christian) heaven or to the ancestral earth gods of the Ibo people. When his son chooses heaven, the narrator explains that the mourning women approve of the decision because "the heaven of the Christians was new, and foreign; anything imported was considered to be much better than their own old ways."

An even more significant, as well as more serious, clash in cultures is the infirmity that causes Ezekiel's death. Ezekiel was called to do his duty in the European war, during which he performed menial and dangerous tasks that the Europeans "could not bear." While standing for countless hours in the swampy fields of Burma, something happened to Ezekiel's foot. Although the cause is unknown, his foot never heals and eventually causes his death.

Europeans, at one time, encouraged slavery in Africa, but "suddenly stopped buying slaves and turned into missionaries instead." The missionaries, in turn, took in the former slaves and educated them. These slaves, much to the disdain of the traditional villagers, eventually went on to become the doctors, lawyers, and teachers in the community. They gained power, if not in the traditional hierarchy of the village, at least in the village's economy. Toward the end of the novel, Chike's father, a former slave whose wealth was based, in part, on a large plantation of cocoa beans and coconuts, wakes up one morning to find that all his plants have been cut down. With European law on his side, the courts find the guilty parties, who turn out to be the traditional villagers, retaliating against the marriage of Chike and Aku-nna. Despite the fact that "the whole of Ibuza came forward as witnesses against" Chike's father, the European law forces the village people to compensate the former slave. "The free men had to plant new cocoa for the slave." This does not improve relationships, the narrator states, and curses are "heaped on the family."

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716

Emecheta's The Bride Price explores the conflicts between tradition and modernity, each seeking to dominate both land and woman. The land has served as a site of war and resistance as well as political, economic, and social upheaval. Emecheta contrasts the urban center of Lagos to rural Ibuza. In Lagos, many of the Ibo have succumbed to modern "European" ways or at least a fusion of the modern and traditional: "Lagos was such an unfortunate conglomeration of both [European and African] that you ended up not knowing to which you belong." Emecheta's text also displays a certain sense of nostalgia for the old ways, illuminating how Ibuza has not shifted from tradition. She notes, "There was something else different about the people here; they seemed more relaxed, more naturally beautiful than their relatives in Lagos. The women all had such long necks and carried their heads high, like ostriches, as if they had a special pride in themselves . . . " Ibuza "was on the western side of the River Niger" and Emecheta points out:

However much the politicians might divide and redivide the map on paper . . . the inhabitants of the town remained Ibos. History—the oral records, handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next—said they migrated from Isu. . . . The traditions, taboos, superstitions and sayings of Ibuza were very similar to those still found at Isu.

Still, the traditions and mores—controlled by and most often beneficial to men—create a tragic dilemma for women and girls.

Perhaps one of the most pronounced themes in Emecheta's text is the condition of girls and women and the way in which their desire for autonomy forces them to relinquish tradition. The education of girls is a principal concern of the text. In Ibuza, the Odia family accepts that Nna-nndo continues his education, but they scoff at the idea of Aku-nna, a girl, gaining so much schooling, especially since neither Okonkwo's sons nor his daughter attends school. Residents of Ibuza remember the days when only slaves were sent to the European missionary's schools for spite. Moreover, none of Okonkwo's sons fancy school. Aku-nna's education, however, gives her a degree of power over her new brothers and an overwhelming message of the text is that education will ultimately pave the way for women's freedom. Okonkwo assuages his sons' contempt by pointing out that an educated Aku-nna will demand a higher bride price.

While Ibuza tradition allows Aku-nna to celebrate her development into womanhood with her age mates and provides a collective women's community for her and Ma Blackie, most of the cultural mores and taboos serve to keep women in submission. Women are expected to be chaste brides— and have the bloody sheet to prove it—yet they can be raped and ruined by any lustful man who deems it his right. Men can also take ownership of women they desire by cutting a lock of their hair or kidnaping an unsuspecting bride after she has started her menstrual cycle. Though Aku-nna's education does not prevent her from being a kidnapped bride, her wit overpowers Okoboshi enough for him not to have sex with her on their "wedding night." Having already shamed her family by feigning impurity, she does not have much more to lose by taking her fate into her own hands.

The Bride Price takes on the Shakespearian trope of "star-crossed" lovers through the unconventional romance between Akunna and Chike. Chike's family, the Ofulues, not only represent historical caste divisions in Nigeria but also "the lasting effects of such old-fashioned ideas about slavery." Though Chike is educated and his family can provide the necessary bride price, outdated ideas about caste eclipse Okonkwo's desire for a hefty bride price. But in line with most tales of forbidden love, Chike and Aku-nna defy tradition and escape Ibuza to be together.

Yet tradition and taboo continue to haunt the couple. Okonkwo uses traditional magic to taunt Aku-nna's spirit. Notwithstanding Okonkwo's deliberate taunting, Aku-nna's awareness of taboos surrounding the bride price could have attributed to her death. Whether by magic, madness, or anemia, Aku-nna's fate "substantiated the traditional superstition they had unknowingly set out to eradicate." At the same time, her girl child represents the potential for a new generation of females who will not be slaves to tradition.

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