Marriage Is a Private Affair Short story

Title: Marriage Is a Private Affair Short story, 1973 Author(s): Chinua Achebe

Nigerian Writer ( 1930 – 2013 )

Other Names Used: Achebe, Albert Chinualumogu; Chinualumogu, Albert; Source: Girls at War and Other Stories. Chinua Achebe. New York: Fawcett Premier, 1973.

p22. Document Type: Short story


“Have you written to your dad yet?” asked Nene1 one afternoon as she sat with Nnaemeka in her room at 16 Kasanga Street, Lagos. “ No. I’ve been thinking about it. I think it’s better to tell him when I get home on leave!”

“But why? Your leave is such a long way off yet—six whole weeks. He should be let into our happiness now.”

Nnaemeka was silent for a while, and then began very slowly as if he groped for his words: “I wish I were sure it would be happiness to him.”

“Of course it must,” replied Nene, a little surprised. “Why shouldn’t it?”

“You have lived in Lagos all your life, and you know very little about people in remote parts of the country.”

“That’s what you always say. But I don’t believe anybody will be so unlike other people that they will be unhappy when their sons are engaged to marry.”

“Yes. They are most unhappy if the engagement is not arranged by them. In our case it’s worse—you are not even an Ibo.” This was said so seriously and so bluntly that Nene could not find speech immediately. In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city it had always seemed to her something of a joke that a person’s tribe could determine whom he married.

At last she said, “You don’t really mean that he will object to your marrying me simply on that account? I had always thought you Ibos were kindly disposed to other people.”

“So we are. But when it comes to marriage, well, it’s not quite so simple. And this,” he added, “is not peculiar to the Ibos. If your father were alive and lived in the heart of Ibibio-land he would be exactly like my father.”

“I don’t know. But anyway, as your father is so fond of you, I’m sure he will forgive you soon enough. Come on then, be a good boy and send him a nice lovely letter . . .”

“It would not be wise to break the news to him by writing. A letter will bring it upon him with a shock. I’m quite sure about that.”

“All right, honey, suit yourself. You know your father.”

As Nnaemeka walked home that evening he turned over in his mind different ways of overcoming his father’s opposition, especially now that he had gone and found a girl for him. He had thought of showing his letter to Nene but decided on second thoughts not to, at least for the moment. He read it again when he got home and couldn’t help smiling to himself. He remembered Ugoye quite well, an Amazon of a girl who used to beat up all the boys, himself included, on the way to the stream, a complete dunce at school. I have found a girl who will suit you admirably—Ugoye Nweke, the eldest daughter of our neighbor, Jacob Nweke. She has a proper Christian upbringing. When she stopped schooling some years ago her father (a man of sound judgment) sent her to live in the house of a pastor where she has received all the training a wife could need. Her Sunday school teacher has told me that she reads her Bible very fluently. I hope we shall begin negotiations when you come home in December. On the second evening of his return from Lagos, Nnaemeka sat with his father under a cassia tree. This was the old man’s retreat where he went to read his Bible when the parching December sun had set and a fresh, reviving wind blew on the leaves.

“Father,” began Nnaemeka suddenly, “I have come to ask for forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness? For what, my son?” he asked in amazement.

“It’s about this marriage question.”

“Which marriage question?”

“I can’t—we must—I mean it is impossible for me to marry Nweke’s daughter.”

“Impossible? Why?” asked his father.

“I don’t love her.”

“Nobody said you did. Why should you?” he asked.

“Marriage today is different . . .”

“Look here, my son,” interrupted his father, “nothing is different. What one looks for in a wife are a good character and a Christian background.”

Nnaemeka saw there was no hope along the present line of argument.

“Moreover,” he said, “I am engaged to marry another girl who has all of Ugoye’s good qualities, and who . . .”

His father did not believe his ears. “What did you say?” he asked slowly and disconcertingly.

“She is a good Christian,” his son went on, “and a teacher in a girls’ school in Lagos.”

“Teacher, did you say? If you consider that a qualification for a good wife I should like to point out to you, Emeka, that no Christian woman should teach. St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says that women should keep silence.” He rose slowly from his seat and paced forward and backward. This was his pet subject, and he condemned vehemently those church leaders who encouraged women to teach in their schools. After he had spent his emotion on a long homily he at last came back to his son’s engagement, in a seemingly milder tone.

“Whose daughter is she, anyway?”

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