The Joys of Motherhood is the story of a young Ibo woman who dreams of living a traditional life as a mother of many children. Instead, she spends her life in Lagos, Nigeria, watching as traditional values are eroded and destroyed by Western influence. The hope she puts in having many children turns out to be misplaced, and her entire life is simply a struggle for survival, with no reward in old age.
Published in 1979, The Joys of Motherhood was Buchi Emecheta's fourth novel, and one of her most popular. It is the third book Emecheta wrote about the role of women in Nigerian society, following The Bride Price (1976) and The Slave Girl (1977), and subsequently followed by Destination Biafra (1982), and Double Yoke (1982). Each of the five novels explores women's struggles within a patriarchal society.
The protagonist of The Joys of Motherhood, Nnu Ego, is a traditional woman living in a rapidly changing world. The life that she grew up expecting for herself does not come to pass. She expects to become a wife and mother, working hard in her youth for her family, but being taken care of and honored by her children in her old age. However, her children grow up in the city of Lagos with very different values than she was raised with. Several of her children even move away to Western countries, and feel little obligation toward their mother.
Though Nnu Ego lives in early 20th century Nigeria, where colonialism and industrialization are rapidly changing the world in which she lives, we can still relate to her today. All over the world, the way we live is changing. Think about your grandparents. When they were just starting to have children, how do you think they expected to spend their old age? Did it turn out that way? Think also about immigrant families. In so many cases, the children of immigrants grow up with very different values than their parents, much like Nnu Ego's children. Will these children, raised in a different culture, provide their parents with the futures their parents grew up expecting? Now think of yourself. How do expect to spend your old age? Do you think your future will turn out that way?