The Bride Price Themes
by Buchi Emecheta

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(Novels for Students)

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.

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.

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...

(The entire section is 2,144 words.)