Themes

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 802

Marriage and Tradition
This story explores the perspective of the narrator, an "outsider," a Westernized African woman referred to as Chicha, on the marriage traditions of a small Fanti village. Maami Ama explains to Chicha that she has been unhappily married for seven years to a man named Kodjo Fi. Although she is his first wife, he has completely neglected her, as well as their son, and has allowed the rest of his family to shun and isolate her. In addition, Kodjo Fi is described as "a selfish and bullying man, whom no decent woman ought to have married.’’ Maami Ama's ‘‘formal divorce’’ from Kodjo Fi exposes the narrator to traditional attitudes and practices of her culture which she had either not known or forgotten. The divorce proceedings take place at the home of one of the women of the village, and other members of the community attend for the sake of entertainment. When Chicha arrives on the scene, it has been decided that Kwesi will be taken away from Maami Ama, who has raised him, and given into the custody of his father, who has neglected him up to this point. In addition, Maami Ama is expected to pay a variety of fees to her husband which she cannot afford to pay. Finally, Kodjo Fi manages to shirk the paying of a fee he should traditionally have been required to pay to Maami Ama. Chicha observes the extent to which all of these traditions are unfair to the woman in the divorce. Maami Ama accepts the outcome passively, not even attempting to fight for the right to keep her son. As these various traditional rules of marriage and divorce are explained to her, Chicha recalls, "I sat there listening to these references to the age-old customs of my people of which I had been ignorant.’’ The entire divorce process reminds Chicha of the distance between the traditional culture from which she comes and the Westernized perspective she has acquired through her higher education.

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Gender and Beauty Standards
Chicha's admiration of Kwesi, the ten-year-old schoolboy, focuses above all on her observation of his sheer physical beauty. This highlights the teacher's outsider status to her own culture, in which it is considered inappropriate to dwell upon male physical beauty. The theme of male beauty thus develops Aidoo's central themes of gender roles in traditional culture and the perspective of the Westernized African on her own society. The story opens with a developed discussion of this theme: "He was beautiful, but that was not important. Beauty does not play such a vital role in a man's life as it does in a woman's, especially if that man is Fanti. If a man's beauty is so ill-mannered as to be noticeable, people discreetly ignore its existence. Only an immodest girl like me would dare comment on a boy's beauty.’’ The narrator again dwells on the physical details of the boy's beauty, acknowledging once again the extent to which such observations are contrary to traditional notions of gender: "His skin was as smooth as shea-butter and as dark as charcoal. His black hair was as soft as his mother's. His eyes were of the kind that always remind one of a long dream on a hot afternoon. It is indecent to dwell on a boy's physical appearance, but then Kwesi's beauty was indecent.’’

Maternal Love
The central relationship of the story is that between Maami Ama and her son Kwesi. The mother's love for her beautiful son is emphasized throughout the story, making his death all the more tragic. Kwesi is Maami Ama's only child and only real family, as she has been isolated from that of her husband. When Chicha jokes of kidnapping Kwesi to take him with her, Maami Ama expresses her ‘‘gnawing fear’’ of losing him: ‘‘'Please, Chicha, I always know you are just making fun of me, but please, promise me you won't take Kwesi away with you.' Almost at once her tiny mouth would quiver and she would hide her eyes in her cloth as if ashamed of her great love and her fears.’’ Maami Ama goes on to plead, '"What will I do, Chicha, what would I do, should something happen to my child?' She would raise her pretty eyes, glistening with unshed tears.’’ Maami Ama then insists that, should Kwesi misbehave in school, she herself would ‘‘willingly submit’’ to the punishment of caning in place of her child. These expressions of maternal love in the beginning of the story make all the more poignant and significant the mother's mourning of her son's death in the end. After Kwesi's funeral, Chicha finds Maami Ama in her hut, "kneeling, and like one who catches at a straw, she was clutching Kwesi's books and school uniform to her breast.’’

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Characters