Marriage is a Private Affair


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It is strange how people sometimes relate to the characters in the story. They analyze the heroes carefully trying to understand their fears and desires, motives, and beliefs. This way, readers become closer to the characters they are reading about, and it makes it easier for people to relate to a certain story. People may not necessarily like the character, but the fact that he or she possesses something attractive for readers is very important for successful story. This is what attracts readers to the story “Marriage Is a Private Affair” written by Chinua Achebe. This short story includes many characters. It is easy to relate to them as readers find something very special in their thoughts and behavior. That is why the characters play a huge role and bring success to a story. Analysis of the characters and understanding of author’s true intentions while creating the story will help readers determine the main ideas the story represents. This topic is a part of my methodology section

The story is about a young man called Nnaemeka. He belongs to Nigerian tribe of Igbo. His father is called Okeke. Okeke is very strict and rather authoritarian because he believes that his son has to listen to him no matter what. That is why, when Nnaemeka falls in love with a girl from another tribe, he understands that Okeke will not support him, but will rather get very angry. Nnaemeka decides to marry the girl called Nene despite the fact that she is from another tribe. He tells his father about it only to upset Okeke since he has already chosen his son a partner - a girl called Ugoye. The father and the son argue about Nnaemeka’s marriage because the latter defends his right to marry the girl he loves. Meanwhile, his father tries to persuade him to change his mind since Okeke expects Nnaemeka to listen to him like he always does. In the end, Nnaemeka still marries Nene despite the great disappointment of Okeke who distances himself from his son. In course of time, Nnaemeka has two sons, Okeke decides to reconcile with his son and his family.

One can say that this is a heart-touching story which speaks about conflicts within a family when two generations clash, and when parents are unable to realize that their children are adults and can decide for themselves. The characters are very realistic because they represent typical feelings and issues which can be found almost in every family.

Nnaemeka, for example, represents a typical son who has a hard time dealing with father’s strict demeanor. He wants to be a good son and follows the rules of his father. Nevertheless, he knows his father very well to hope that Okeke will understand and support him and his love choice. That is why Nnaemeka faces a lot of inner struggles. He has to decide what is more important to him. Although he makes the right decision to be with the woman he loves and wants to be happy with, he still struggles with the fact that his father opposes such a choice. Therefore, it is very difficult for Nnaemeka to deal with the existing situation because he is torn between two people dear to him. Nevertheless, Nnaemeka understands that Okeke is being unjust and that it would be ridiculous to agree to his absurd demand. The young man realizes that it is his fate his father is deciding on, but it is up to Nnaemeka to make such important decisions. That is why he disagrees with Okeke and defends his own decision. Nnaemeka breaks free from his father’s influence showing that he has become an adult who is able to stick for oneself as well as make conscious and fateful choices.

This situation represents Nnaemeka’s development as a person. He becomes a man who keeps his word and determines own priorities. In this situation, readers may also identify man’s bravery. Nnaemeka demonstrates bravery while dealing with Okeke because it requires a strong will and determination to discuss such affairs with an authoritarian father. It also shows that Nnaemeka is very caring. He does not simply walk away from his father; the son tries to keep his relations with Okeke. The young man is a person who understands own responsibilities toward his father. Nnaemeka understands that good sons listen to their parents, but great men listen to their hearts and make conscious choices they are responsible for.

The fact that Nnaemeka decides to write to his father after long years shows that he is, in fact, a great person who is able to forgive. It also shows that Nnaemeka is a wise man who is able to forget. He still worries about Okeke despite the time and offenses, and he wants to reconcile with Okeke. This situation illustrates the importance of father for Nigerian families. Father is a figure that is deeply valued despite all the conflicts within a family.

In the story, the figure of Okeke is extremely important. He is not a bad person, but he is too strict and conservative to be likable. The father disregards son’s desires because he is convinced that he knows everything better than Nnaemeka. His motivation is not bad. He wants his son to have a good life of a typical Nigerian man, and that is why Okeke is looking for a good wife for Nnaemeka. He acts like every loving parent, whose main motive is happiness and respectable life of his child. Nevertheless, this motivation does not justify the actions of Okeke. He simply cannot accept the fact that his son is an adult man who can take care and decide for himself. Nnaemeka does not need his father’s advice all the time, especially in romantic affairs. Nnaemeka demonstrates good personality traits because he seems to be a polite and decent young man, but his father is unable to recognize these qualities. Okeke is convinced in the rightness of own decisions, and it makes him blind when it comes to people closest to him. That is why he is unable to recognize the man in his son and keeps on pressuring.

Okeke’s stubbornness leads to the fact that he opposes his son. He uses Bible to defend his views only to show that he is authoritarian enough to use religion in order to convince others. In this case, it is also important to analyze both father’s and son’s personalities from the historical and cultural perspectives. Okeke acts as typical Nigerian wanting his son to marry a girl from his tribe. This way, the son would remain close to him leading a decent life the father wants him to have. It is something very realistic and close to Nigerian realities where fathers play a key role in marriage, and where brides and grooms often do not know each other before getting married. It is typical for families to arrange marriages for their children. In this case, the father’s figure is very realistic because he represents conservative side of Nigerian population. Nnaemeka, in this case, is also realistic and behaves as a typical son who has to obey the father and also wants to have a more liberal life choosing the wife he truly loves.

The story contains a certain symbolism in characters of father and son. The father represents the past, history, old order. Okeke opposes progress because he simply does not understand it. One can say that it shows that the father is unwilling to accept changes because he is stuck in the time he used to be living. It could be the reason why Achebe chose a specific setting to speak about the father and his son. The writer portrayed the tribe, which was the main basis for conservatism. It focused on the necessity to stick to traditions as the main basis of Nigerian society, but it did not always keep up with time. Traditions are great for keeping people close and making them remember their background, but they still have to transform depending on time challenges. It is something essential for a modern society, which undergoes many changes. In the story, the son symbolizes progress and a way forward. He wants his father to love him, but he also wants to be able to decide for himself. The conflict between the father and the son symbolizes the conflict between the past and the present as well as the past and the future. The fact that Okekehas transformed by the end of the story accepting his son and his family as well as blaming himself for previous actions shows that the past has finally come to accept the future and given it its way.

The character of Nene is also quite important while speaking about symbolism of characters. Nene represents a typical Nigerian woman. She is kind and caring, but she has little influence over men, and the only way she can impact on the decisions is by encouraging men to make them. The fact that she belongs to another tribe makes a story a little bit similar to Nigerian Romeo and Juliet, because two lovers have to overcome the obstacles of different upbringing. Nene is a symbol of a female in the story. She shows that a woman always has to struggle and cannot determine much in such a surrounding. For example, no one has asked Ugoye whether she wanted to marry Nnaemeka. Nevertheless, if he has agreed to marry her, she would not be able to rebel like a son but would simply obey her parents’ wishes. Nene also had to deal with the fact that Okeke did not want to accept her despite the fact that he did not know her, and the only objection was that she belonged to another tribe. It showed how crucial cultural background and tribal upbringing were for Nigerian people.

One can say that characters represent many stereotypes, beliefs, and ideas which are spread not only in Nigerian but also in American society; and this fact makes them very realistic. The author uses the characters to show the conflicts, which exist in families, and portray them from a perspective of conflicts between generations when the past does not want to accept the future. They also show inner struggles people face while making important decisions that may change their lives forever. For instance, the son decides to marry Nene no matter what, and the father decides to isolate from son’s family. The transformation father experiences at the end of the story is very symbolic, because it shows a change of heart as a person realizes that his/her actions were wrong. It is a symbol of a transformation and illumination a person may have after analyzing one’s actions carefully. Situation with Nene also symbolizes the division of society, which has created tribes in order to distance people from one another. 

One can say that “Marriage Is a Private Affair” is a great work filled with amazing characters. They are realistic and easy to relate to because they possess qualities typical for many people. For example, Nnaemeka is a typical son rebelling against authoritarian father represented by Okeke. Nene is a loving but helpless girl who has little influence; she represents a lack of equality in society. The characters have symbolic meanings. They are based on the background of the author as well as his development throughout the time. The characters represent an important part of Nigerian history filling it with emotions and vividness; and that is what makes the story and the characters so appealing and memorable.

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