Nnu Ego struggles with infertility in her first marriage, and then loses her first child in her second marriage. She begs her chi (personal god) for mercy and asks for more children. She soon starts having more children but struggles to provide for them in Lagos, especially when her husband ends up working at sea.
When Nnaife comes home, he inherits his deceased brother's wives. Life grows even more crowded in their one room apartment. Both Nnu Ego and her junior wife, Adaku, having children. Nnaife is conscripted into the military. While he's gone, Nnu Ego suffers even more poverty while Adaku is able to successfully grow her trading business. After a conflict between the two wives, Adaku decides to leave Nnaife's household and be an independent businesswoman. When Nnaife returns home, he is wounded by Adaku's defection and he returns to Ibuza to get his brother's eldest wife pregnant. He returns home with yet another wife. Nnu Ego is despondent. How will she ever adequately provide for all her children when her husband keeps accumulating more responsibilities?
Nnu Ego's children fail to follow the lives their parents want them to lead. The oldest living son, Oshia, fails to get a good job after graduation. Instead, he leaves for America, for yet more schooling. One of the daughters, Kehinde, marries a Yoruba man against her parents' wishes. Nnaife is so enraged over Oshia's defection and Kehinde's rebellion that he attacks the Yoruba family into which Kehinde marries. Nnaife is sent to jail, but not before making it clear that he blames Nnu Ego for everything that has turned out badly in his life. Nnu Ego returns home to Ibuza, where she eventually dies, alone. Her children return to give her an elaborate funeral, and to build a shrine so that descendents can pray for her to bless them with children. Nnu Ego never answers those prayers.