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Themes

(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...

(The entire section is 2,144 words.)