The Joys of Motherhood written by Buchi Emecheta is an immensely wonderful story and probably the best book that I have read throughout my undergraduate career. And thank myself for registering Female of the Species anthropology class during my third year. It was a wonderful class and I learn so many things in that class from a great professor. The Joys of Motherhood was not a required reading, but instead it was a book that we, students, can choose to write and explore about other culture and to discuss about marriage patterns, gender roles, and plenty more. And, here I share with you my re-edited analytical essay of the book. If you have never read the book or heard about the Ibo tribe, then it is a book that you should read. In fact, this is a well written book that you will regret not reading.
The Joys of Motherhood written by Buchi Emecheta takes place in Lagos, Nigeria. The story focuses on a young beautiful Ibo woman who was brought up with traditional values name Nnu Ego, whom dreams of spending her life as a mother with many children whom will later one take care of her when she reaches old age. However, things turn up the wrong way for her when she has to move to Lagos and married her husband, Nnaife. There traditional values are put aside as Western influences grow. The story opens up with her trying to commit suicide when she finds her first baby dead. It then flashes back to Ngu Ego’s parents.
Her father was a wealthy and powerful village chief, while her mom was a strong male daughter of another village chief. However, when her mom became pregnant she refuses to get married, but promises Agbadi (Ngu Egu’s father) that if the baby is a girl then she would give it to him, in which the baby turns out to be Ngu Ego.
Ngu Ego’s first marriage was a failure as she was not able to get pregnant and her father brought her back to his compound. He then marries her off to another man, Nnaife, who lives in Lagos. Upon arriving in Lagos, she found herself in a place where traditional values are put aside as the Western influences grow. In addition, she also finds it very hard to change her way of viewing her traditional values as she was brought it to cherish them.
The story then shifts back to Ngu Ego after local villagers persuaded her out of it, she returns home and has successful subsequent births. As she always dreamed of being a good mother, she hopes that one day when her children grow up they obliged to her and take care of her. Instead, her children grew up with very different values from her and some of them even move to Western countries.
Buchi Emecheta illustrates the life the Ngu Ego and her dreams while living in Lagos. In which turns out to be much more complicated to Ngu Ego. While reading about the protagonist, Emecheta also draws in the details of how men and women are different in the Ibo society. In addition, to how children are treated differently based on genders from a young age. In this book report it will examine marriage and residence patterns, gender roles between males and females, comparison between of women in the West.
Marriage and Residence Patterns:
The marriage pattern that was found from this book was to be polygny. The men were able to have as many wives as they want, especially if they were well off like Nnu Ego’s father and husband Amatokwu. In addition, sometimes the wives were stolen from neighboring villages during raids. The residence pattern is patrilocal, as the daughter would move out when she gets married to live with her husband’s family, as we saw with Nnu Ego.
Another marriage pattern is levirate, which is when a brother marries his deceased brother’s wives. This was seen in Nnaife, Nnu Ego’s second husband, when he inherited his late brother’s two wives. We can also see that many marriages were arranged due to one or both family being well off or to build strong alliances.
In addition to these arranged marriages, bride prices were also given. These bride prices were given as it was supposed to stabilize a marriage, the higher the bride price the more work a couple or family would give in to make the marriage work out. However, as we saw with Ngu Ego’s father, when he took her back in he had to also returned back the bride price because the marriage fail.
Gender Roles of Females and Males:
In the book the reader was given a clear picture of the traditional roles of both genders. Nnu Ego coming from a rural background has the perfect picture of a woman who is totally enveloped by traditional views. She was brought up thinking that she has no duties to herself and to her society. She grew up thinking that her only duty was that of child bearing and rearing, as a woman’s worth is related to her ability of being able to produce children. If she produces only daughter, she is not seen as a failure, but one without honor. This was seen, when Amatokwu married a second wife, who immediately became pregnant and has a successive birth. Nnu Ego then became more of baby sitter and Amatokwu paid less attention to her. In addition, she was also taught that as a woman she would have to give herself selflessly to her family. And to gain happiness, respect, and love she would have to be self sacrificing.
On the contrary, Emecheta show a powerful woman which is Ngu Ego’s mother, Ona. She was very determined her way of pursuing in life and was unwillingly to get married. In fact, her character is known as a male-daughter, she remains to stay at her home because her family failed to produce a son. She can have intercourse with as many men as she wants and if she produces a son, then that child will take in her father’s name and is the next heir in the family.
The males were show as the dominant one and were responsible in bringing most of the family’s economic income. Nnu Ego’s first husband, Amatokwu physically abused her when he saw her nursing his second wife’s baby. In addition, her second husband, Nnaife was not subjected to physical abuse, but she was abused psychologically and emotionally through the tradition rights of her husband, in which can be seen when he inherited his brother’s two wives. This clearly demonstrates that the feelings and thoughts of a wife (in this case Nnu Ego) are disregarded as it to fulfill the principles of the tradition.
However, as the story unfolded it shows that both men and women also have a hard time to overcome their traditional gender roles, as they were not able to adapt to the new culture that they were exposed to through colonialism. Ngu Ego, even until the end, still did not realize any type of fulfillment and self worth as a mother even though she was pretty much the breadwinner of her family when Nnaife was jobless. On the other hand, Nnaife could not accept the fact that with the new emerging culture it has allow women, especially daughters, to choose whom they would want to live with. In which, led him to kill his daughter’s father in law and result in him being imprisoned.
Importance of Children and Their Sex:
Children play a huge factor in determining a mother’s status. The general rule is that the more babies a she has the more she is respected by the community. However, having more sons can also put her on a higher rank than all the other wives. Sons are to guaranteed their parents a place of security at an old age, so it is more beneficial to produce more males because the daughters will be sent away to be married.
The importance of having a son is reflected on Ngu Ego after the death of her first infant which is a male. She was so depressed and ready to commit suicide without any second thoughts. However, later on when she gave birth to a dead daughter, her reactions were not as dramatic as the first experience. Instead she states, “That it was a girl had lessened her sense of loss” (p.195).
In addition, Adaku who is a mother of two daughters was also under the pressure of bearing a son as well. She finally gives birth to one who shortly dies afterwards. She is then put into deep depression and states, “Oh God, why did you not take one of the girls and leave me with my male child? My only man child” (p. 128). Adaku was ready to give up one of her daughters in return.
Children have different roles in their family which shows the value that they have. Girls are often to do hard labor for the family’s benefit, whereas boys are usually sent to school. Even if girls are needed in a family and to run the household they are still devalued. When Adaku lost her male child and Oshia, the son of Ngu Ego, tried to comfort her by telling her that she still had her daughters, she stated “You are worth more than ten Dumbis” (p.128).
Comparison to Women of the West:
Emecheta gives the audience two different images from that of Ngu Ego’s character. The first image is Ona, who is Ngu Ego’s strong will mother. She refuses to get marry and step into the role of mother. She is also a proud individual that determine her way of how she wants to live.
The other is the image of Adaku who is really independent. After, having enough of Nnaife’s mistreatment and behaviors she decides not to wait for his support. Instead, she becomes a prostitute to raise money for her trade business. In addition, she also educates her daughters to live without men and has no intention of remarrying.
Today in the west, there are many women that depict both images. Women are now seen in taking more leadership role in their career field and are independent base on their own skills. In addition, there are many more women that are graduating college than there are with men. There are also some western women that refuse to get married and would rather live together with a friend, which most of the time is the opposite gender.
The last image that we have of a women that Ngu Ego’s character which is that of a traditional woman, who strongly believes the firm traditional system. She also believes that a woman most important role is being a mother who is able to give to her children. She raises her daughters by constantly reminding them their roles as being ladies whom should behave themselves. Also, she stresses out her son’s role as being important.
Today there are still many traditional housewives from the west that depends on what on the income that their husbands are able to bring in the household. And it is just not Ngu Ego that has the dream of living with her child and taking of her grandchildren at old age. There also many other mothers along with fathers that shared the same dream. Thinking about it now, it is just like our very own grandparents who also had that same dream. In which they lives with us and also helped raised us when we were younger and still continue to look after us.
Ngu Ego’s dream of living with her children at an old age was shattered as her children each went their own separate ways and only came back at the end only when she dies to throw her an expensive funeral and built a shrine for her. When her descendents prays for her to give them children, she refuses. Women have a crucial social role in the Ibo society in which is portrayed through the book, despite the hardships that they have to overcome. At the same time their roles seem to the center of maintenance and reproduction of this society. However, towards the end Emecheta displays the slight changes to women in the generation following Ngu Ego. Both Ngu Ego’s daughters married to the person that they love instead of an arranged marriage and Adaku is left to survive on her own along with her two educated daughters.