Marriage is a Private Affair by Chinua Achebe is a poignant tale about two young people in love who try to break away from social traditions and pressures. The story will give you a deep insight and understanding into the traditions and beliefs of the people of Africa where the society is divided into ethnic groups and tribes.
The story opens in the city of Lagos with Nene and Nnaemeka talking over the issue of their recent engagement. Nene wants him to write a letter to his father and inform him about it but Nnaemeka wants to do it personally when he goes to his village during the vacation because he is sure that his father will not like this news. Nene has lived in Lagos since her childhood and so she doesn’t know much about people in remote parts of the country. Nnaemeka is aware of the fact that just like elsewhere, in his village also a person’s tribe determines whom he married that too only with the consent of his parents. He tries to explain things to Nene but she doesn’t understand and leaves it to Nnaemeka.
On his way back Nnaemeka again reads out the letter he has recently received from his father stating that he had chosen a girl Ugoye Nweke for him. Nnaemeka has known this girl since childhood and he smiled as he thought of this naughty girl Ugoye Nweke who used to beat boys in the school. His father was happy with his choice because Ugoye had a proper Christian upbringing and good character.
The story then takes a leap as Nnaemeka has come to his native village during the vacation. He asks for forgiveness from his father as it is impossible for him to marry Ugoye. He discloses to his father his relationship with NeneAtang with whom he plans to marry. His father is so shocked by this news that instead of bursting out in anger as is his nature he becomes absolutely silent.
The next day the father tries to make him understand the ill effects of marriage outside one’s tribe calling it devil’s work. Nnaemeka comes back with a sad heart hoping that one day his father’s traditional views will change. Nnaemeka was the first in his village to marry a girl from a different tribe and that is why his father gets concerned even though he himself doesn’t believe in the superstitious beliefs like other villagers.
All the villagers gathered around Okeke and expressed concern over this strange act of his son, which they considered ‘the beginning of the end’. They were sure that the boy’s mind was diseased and must be treated by a herbalist. But Okeke did not believe in the superstitions prevalent in the village. The villagers discussed their local herbalist who was killed by his own medicine.
Despite all this Nnaemeka and Nene got married. The story moves further six months and they receive a letter from Okeke in which he shows his annoyance and anger by cutting the wedding picture sent by his son. He declares his rejection of Nene also. This letter hurts them terribly but Nnaemeka is still hopeful that his father’s basic good nature will change his views one day.
As time passes by the Ibo friends of Nnaemeka realize that their married life is very good. They now understand that for marriage, love and understanding are required and not the same tribe. News of their being one of the happiest couple’s reaches the village also. But no one dares to talk to Okeke about it. He had made great efforts to forget Nnaemeka although it had been very painful for him.
Then one day Okeke received a letter from Nene. Unwillingly he reads it. Nene informs him that he has two grandsons and both are now grown-up. Every day they ask for their grandfather and Nene writes that she doesn’t know what reply she must give to them. She earnestly requests him to allow them to meet him along with Nnaemeka during the coming vacation and that she herself would not come.
This letter greatly moves Okeke. All these years he had hardened himself but today at the thought of his grandsons his heart melts. He feels that he had done great injustice to them and now he must open the door of his house for them, in a way open his heart for them.