The Wrestling Match Essays and Criticism
by Buchi Emecheta

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Essays and Criticism

(Novels for Students)

Buchi Emecheta’s The Wrestling Match is notable for its clear, simple language and vivid sensory and cultural details, which bring this tale set in a Nigerian village to life. However, behind its deceptively simple façade, the novel considers deeper questions about intergenerational understanding and the nature of war.

One prevalent theme, running throughout the story, is that of intergenerational conflict versus intergenerational understanding. Okei believes that his uncle and aunt, as well as other adults, are hopelessly out of touch, have no idea what he’s going through, and have no sympathy for his problems.

He has suffered the loss of his family, and is further confused because he and his friends, unlike previous generations and unlike many of the other people in the village, have experienced a few years of schooling. Thus, he is unsure of what he will do in the future, unlike his uneducated and more traditional counterparts, who run their lives according to well-worn customs and are secure about their place in the world.

Although Okei believes his uncle has no idea what he’s thinking or going through, the narrative reveals that his uncle does understand him, and has compassion both for his loss and for his confusion about his role in life. As he explains to his younger son Onuoha:

He is troubled about something, Onuoha. We don’t know what it is. And he did not dream that he would ever be asked to come and work on the farm. That Awolowo free education has given him and his agegroup airs. They will grow, never mind. They will all grow.

Although he is sometimes exasperated with Okei’s adolescent disrespect and apparent laziness, he realizes that what Okei and his friends need is something productive to do—some cause into which they can hurl their considerable energy and ability. Thus, he and Obi Uwechue come up with a scheme to provoke a conflict between their two villages. Because his scheme involves conflict, both within and between the two villages, in some sense, Obi Agiliga could be viewed as a troublemaker. However, he believes that the conflict is in the service of a higher goal: teaching a lesson and helping the young men to grow up.

Interestingly, the adults don’t seem bothered by potential trouble they could cause if the mass brawl gets out of control. It does get out of control, and everyone in it gets soundly thrashed and humiliated, but the elders are able to restore control by beating drums and yelling. No one is seriously injured in the fight, which seems somewhat unrealistic, and the elders never consider what they would have done if someone had been injured or if they were unable to stop the fighting. In addition, when Kwutelu’s ear is cut off when her father mistakes her for a robber, the two elder men, Obi Agiliga and Obi Uwechue, simply shrug and remark that it could have been worse—she could have been killed. They have no apparent compassion for her disfigurement, and the narrator also seems to approve of it because it has stilled Kwutelu’s “sharp tongue.”

The two elders don’t let anyone know that they’re ultimately responsible for starting the hys- teria that made Kwutelu’s father think Okei was going to rob him. They are sorry, but they keep their regret to themselves, an act that seems surprisingly irresponsible. They are more interested in the successful continuation of their plan, and a few paragraphs later, they “chuckle knowingly at their cleverness” in creating problems for the “know-all” adolescents.

It’s also interesting that instead of creating a positive cause for the young men to become involved in, the elders create a negative diversion— spiteful gossip and conflict between the two neighboring villages. One might think that Obi Agiliga, knowing the pointlessness of conflict, would shy away from creating it, but perhaps he knows that each generation only learns from its own experiences, not from the philosophical talk of those who are older. Thus, the boys...

(The entire section is 1,650 words.)