Marriage Is a Private Affair - Part 2
Marriage Is a Private Affair
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Marriage is a private affair - Marriage Is a Private Affair introduction. Probably, as for most of us, we would take it for granted. But as for some people, this is not a common idea at all. The idea that individuals have the right to decide on their own about their marriage can be even considered rebellious to the tradition of the country and the people. And this is what Okeke, the main character in the short story “Marriage Is a Private Affair” of Chinua Achebe, thinks about his son’s marriage when the son decides to choose his own wife, instead of his father’s choice. Okeke, as it seems to us, is definitely a strong devotee of his people’s traditions. However, he is at the same time an ordinary father who can hardly resist the love of his family’s members.
Okeke was first introduced to the readers through the talk between a man- Okeke’s son- and his fiancé. From that very first beginning, though little has been revealed about him, we might think of him as an authoritarian father. And, as a traditional Ibo, he won’t accept the couple’s engagement for sure. Details like: “I wish I were sure it would be happiness to him” (Achebe 56), “They are most unhappy if the engagement is not arranged by them. In our case, it’s worse – you are not even an Ibo” (56), or “A letter will bring it upon him with a sock” (57) are hints of a stormy angry when ever Okeke knows about his son’s private affair of marriage. Moreover, through his letter for his son, he has already chosen a girl for him, which sounds like a firm final settlement for his son’s marriage. However, the talk between him and his son turns out to be not as violent as we and the son have expected. Instead of getting mad, Okeke just keeps silent and “merely walked away into his room” (58). This seems to be a mild reaction, it’s in fact “more menacing than a flood of threatening speech” (58) because it shows both Okeke’s deep disappointment and firm objection. Since that day, “the father scarcely spoke to his son” (58) for eight years, and “he always displayed so much temper whenever his son’s name was mentioned” (59). Up to this point, we’re definitely sure that Okeke is a very loyal and steadfast follower of his people’s tradition, and he has finally decided to reject his son instead. Certainly, the intention of accepting his son’s wife will never be brought up to his mind once he has clearly stated: “It is Satan’s work,” and “I shall never see her” (58).
Okeke’s reactions make him seem to us a very rigid, rude, and even cold-blooded father whose mind can’t be changed. However, this would be a very superficial judgment to make upon him. Yet heartless as he seems, he’s at the same time a normal father whose love for his son can’t be denied.
Although he’s against his son’s marriage, Okeke strongly protects him when he’s among other Ibo old men: “I shall not call in a native doctor…. If my son wants to kill himself let him do it with his own hands” (59). This proves his confidence about his son, and somehow, his open mind about his son’s privacy upon other matter than marriage. Indeed, Okeke has never tried to interfere with his son’s life. All he does is that “Day and night he put him in his prayers” (58), and he still keeps the hope that his son will change his mind some day. What makes him keep on hoping and praying if it’s not his love and care for his own son’s sake? Another interesting detail that really shows Okeke’s affection toward his son is when he receives his wedding pictures. He decides “just to cut off your wife and send it back to you because I have nothing to do with her. How I wish that I had nothing to do with you either” (59). This apparently childlike action reveals how much he’s still love his son, and how much he still has to struggle when comes anything related to his son’s issue. The truth is that “By a tremendous effort of will he had succeeded in pushing his son to the back of his mind” (59), but “The strain had nearly kill him” (59). Indeed, he must be extremely tortured when refusing his son’s love and denying his care for him. Though “he had persevered, and won” (59), it’s not an easy task for him at all. However, this wall that he has tried so hard to build up around him finally fails “to steel his heart against all emotional appeals” (60). And the reason is he knows he now has two grandsons who are so eager to meet him. The sky overcasting with heavy black clouds and a high wind blowing are just like what’s happening inside Okeke now. He has been living under grief and sorrow for so long, and now the news of his two grandsons is like a strong wind that shakes his persistent mind so hard. “He knew he was now fighting a losing battle” (60), and “That night he hardly slept, from remorse – and a vague fear that he might die without making it up to them” (60). Even though he has never met his grandsons before, his love for them now awakes and creates a real big storm inside his heart. What will happen after the heavy clouds and strong wind if it’s not a fresh rain and a bright rainbow right afterward? “The lightening and thunder which mark a change of season” would probably mark the change in Okeke’s soul as well.
Okeke, a man of tradition and persistent mind at last fails to pass the test of love even when it seems he has succeeded for eight years. This clearly proves that family’s affection is much more important than anything else and that family’s love has the power to change even the hardest heart.
Charters, Ann, Samuel Charters. “Marriage Is a Private Affair.” Literature and Its Writers. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 56-60.