Marriage is a Private Affair

Marriage is a Private Affair Study Guide

Written in 1952, Chinua Achebe's short story "Marriage is a Private Affair" is about a Nigerian father who rejects his son's decision to marry for love instead of accepting an arranged marriage. While arranged marriages are traditional in the father's Ibo village, the son chooses to marry a non-Ibo woman he meets while living in the city of Lagos. The son holds out hope that his father, Okeke, will learn to accept his decision. However, years pass with Okeke obstinately refusing to have anything to with his son and daughter-in-law. It is only once Okeke learns he has two grandsons who want to visit him that he realizes the error of having hardened his heart against his family. After his revelation, the old man goes to sleep full of fear that he will die before he has the opportunity to make it up to his grandsons.

Exploring the conflicts between tradition and modernity, "Marriage is a Private Affair" uses the example of Okeke's obstinate insistence on arranged marriage to show the divide between the values of those living in cities and those living in villages in mid-century Nigeria. While Nene and Nnaemeka represent a youthful embrace of cosmopolitan ideals that prize individuality and love, Okeke represents a stubborn attachment to tradition. Ultimately, Okeke's refusal to adapt to the changing attitudes that arise alongside modernity leaves him isolated and embittered, and perhaps unable to pass on any of his culture and wisdom to his grandchildren.

Written less than a decade before Nigeria declared independence from Britain, "Marriage is a Private Affair" illustrates some of the cultural, political, and ethnic tensions that characterized Nigeria as it sought to establish its post-colonial national identity. The clash between Nnaemeka's newfound identity in Lagos and his Ibo roots speaks to the animosity between the Ibo people and northern Nigeria in the mid-twentieth century, a conflict that led to the Nigerian Civil War of the late 1960s, which saw the Ibo attempt to establish the independent secessionist state of Biafra.