One of the most important things in life is the relationship that exists between parents and their children. This is a relationship based on unconditional love and which never ends. For there to be peace in this relationship, there has to be mutual respect between the child and the parent. The two must also value each other. In the short stories Marriage is a Private Affair by Chinua Achebe and Everyday Use by Alice Walker, the characters make this point very clear. Chinua Achebe’s Marriage is a Private Affair is majorly centered on the relationship between father and son. The father does not approve of the son’s fiancé. Alice Walker’s Everyday Use is a short story that explores all a mother does in order to ensure that her two daughters have a promising and a safe future. These two stories explore a number of themes and they use characters to advance these themes. The main theme in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use is unity’s representation and the conflicts and struggles in African-American culture. In Marriage is a Private Affair, the recurring theme is the oppression of women. Although the families described in the two stories are completely different and have different issues, ultimately, both stories serve to show how important a healthy relationship between parents and their children is.
The parents portrayed in both stories are very religious people who strongly hold on to their traditions. The father of Nnaemeka is an old man with a deep faith and care in the customs which were passed down throughout the generations in the family. This drives him to arrange for Nnaemeka’s marriage with a girl he is not in love with despite Nnaemeka telling him this. “It is impossible for me to marry Nweke’s daughter…I don’t love her” (Achebe 47-50). The father wonders why it is impossible for his son to marry the girl he wants him to marry and when Nnaemeka says he does not love the girl, the father asks why he should love the girl. The father is a very religious man. He feels it is very important that his son marries a woman who has strong believes like the family. He says that all one should look out for in a wife is “a good character and a Christian background” (Achebe 52). In Everyday Use, the mother of Dee and Maggie is a “large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (Walker 18). From the way she speaks, the reader can perceive that she is a strong woman. Her statement that she” can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man” tells the reader that she is tough and strong and can do anything. The parents shown in both stories are religious. They have s Christian backgrounds and very much rely on God.
Nnaemeke is in love with Nene with whom he is engaged. However, he knows that his father is conservative and values traditions. Therefore, he fears letting his father now of his affair with Nene. The reader can infer from this that Nnaemeka cares less about his happiness than about the approval of his father. Dee and Maggie are two completely different sisters. Whereas Maggie has had to struggle with life, Maggie has always had life easy, with everything she wants given to her. Dee knows that she has some scars which she sustained from a fire in the house where she lived. These scars make her ashamed as the author states, “ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs” (Walker 6-7). The two stories depict parents who want their children to have the best and children who are afraid of speaking up to their parents.
The only problem in the strong relationship between Nnaemeka and his father is the fear Nnaemeka has for his father. Respecting and caring about one’s father’s opinion is different from doing what they want and allowing it to overshadow one’s happiness. Nnaemeka fears that his father is not going to approve of his engagement with Nene and so he does not tell him about it at first. Although there is no wrong he has done, he asks his father to forgive him when he finally decides to tell him about his engagement with Nene. This shows that Nnaemeka has a lot of respect for his father and that he looks up to him. Although the father does not accept the son’s decision, Nnaemeka believes that his father will think beyond his culture and tradition and at least change his mind for his son to be happy. In Everyday Use, it is the child who disapproves. Dee despises the way Maggie and their mother live. She feels Maggie should try to define herself. She says, “You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie. It’s really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live you’d never know it.” While it is the parent (father) who disapproves in Marriage is a private affair, the person who disapproves of the others’ conduct in everyday use is a child (Dee).
Nnaemeka’s father cannot see that Nnaemeka is happy. This is because he is stubborn and conservative, and this is a very sad state of affairs. Although the mother of Dee does all she can to send her to a good school, she never appreciates her mother’s efforts and is quite unthankful to her. She disapproved of the way her mother and sister lived their lives. Like Nnaemeka’s father, she is stubborn, believing that their way is the best way of doing things. The two stories have a number of similarities. Every relationship has someone disapproving of what the other(s) do. However, the disapproval comes from different sides in the two stories.
- Achebe, Chinua. ‘Marriage Is a Private Affair.’ Girls at War and Other Stories: London: Heinemann (1982).
- Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning, 1992. Print.