Study Guide

The Joys of Motherhood Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Babies by the side of the stream in Nnu Ego's pregnancy dreams

Nnu Ego has two dreams about babies. In the first, before Ngozi is born, her chi (personal god) offers Nnu Ego a beautiful baby. But as Nnu Ego tries to get across the stream to take the baby in her arms, the stream starts to swell and rise, while her chi mocks her. Nnu Ego gives birth to Ngozi soon after, but he only lives two months.

Before she is pregnant with Oshia, Nnu Ego has another dream. This time, she sees a dirty baby abandoned by a stream. He's so dirty that Nnu Ego shudders. But she picks him up, thinking she'll clean it in the stream. This time, her chi tells her to take this baby. According to her chi, Nnu Ego can have as many of the dirty babies as she likes. Her chi laughs again as she disappears.

These two dreams suggest that the chi was willing to offer Nnu Ego children, but only if Nnu Ego suffers – only if she struggles her entire life to keep her children clean, well-fed, and clothed. This is precisely what happens. The more children Nnu Ego has, the harder it is to feed them. The dreams reveal the kind of life Nnu Ego will live, and suggest that the chi isn't being generous in giving her babies, even though Nnu Ego for a time interprets her many children as a blessing.


Children are supposed to represent a woman's highest achievement. As such, each Nigerian woman longs for children. The more children a woman has, the richer the people see her. But we learn that children are a double-edged sword. In order to be taken seriously in society, a woman must have children. Without children, she is deemed a failed woman. Yet once she has children, her life becomes an unending drudgery. So children represent joy and happiness, yet also pain and sorrow.

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