Marriage Is a Private Affair

by Chinua Achebe

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What beliefs cause moral dilemmas for Nnaemeka and Okeke in "Marriage Is a Private Affair"?

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In "Marriage Is a Private Affair" by Chinua Achebe, the beliefs that cause moral dilemmas to develop for Nnaemeka and Okeke have to do with tribal customs and Christian traditions. Okeke believes that Nnaemeka should not marry out of love but accept the marriage he has arranged. Otherwise, he is a son rebelling against his father, which the Bible condemns. Okeke also objects to Nnaemeka's fiancée Nene being a teacher, because he believes that the Bible forbids women to teach.

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In the short story "Marriage Is a Private Affair" by Chinua Achebe, a young man from the Ibo tribe named Nnaemeka has come to the city of Lagos in Nigeria and fallen in love with a woman named Nene. He is concerned that his father will not approve, and when he comes to his village on leave and explains the situation to his father Okeke, his apprehension is justified.

Okeke will not listen to his son's reasoning about why he should marry Nene, and when Nnaemeka insists that he will marry Nene anyway, Okeke refuses to have anything more to do with him. This rejection persists until the end of the story when Okeke hears that his two grandsons insist on meeting him.

The beliefs that cause moral dilemmas in this story are partially due to the strict Christian backgrounds of the characters and partly due to tribal customs. In Ibo culture, it is traditional for marriages to be arranged. Okeke has already found an Ibo wife for his son Nnaemeka, and he argues that love has nothing to do with a marriage match. Nnaemeka insists that his love for Nene is the preeminent consideration and that for this reason, he cannot marry anyone else.

This is a cultural impasse, but it becomes linked to moral arguments when Okeke is discussing the matter with his friends. One of them brings up a Bible verse about sons rising up against their fathers. This is a suggestion that Nnaemeka is in moral rebellion against Okeke.

In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus says in Matthew 10:35, "I am come to set a man at variance against his father" (KJV). The way that Jesus phrases it in Luke 12:53 makes it more of a dilemma on both sides: "The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father" (KJV). We see how the tribe's strict adherence to the Bible creates this moral division between father and son.

The other major moral dilemma that divides Nnaemeka and Okeke is the fact that Nene is a teacher. In refusing to accept that a woman should be allowed to teach, Okeke refers to another passage from the Bible. He says that St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says that women should keep silence. This is a reference to Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 14:34, which says: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience" (KJV). Paul here is referring to church services, but evidently the tribal Christian culture has expanded the interpretation to include any form of teaching, even at schools.

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