Study Guide

Nnaife Owulum in The Joys of Motherhood

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Nnaife Owulum

Nnaife acts tough, but underneath, he struggles with feelings of inferiority. Though he takes pride in his job as a washer man for a white man, and later as a grass cutter for the government, he is honest about the fact that his employers believe they are superior to him. In fact, he agrees that they're superior. He always wants to move into higher positions of power, and that may be in part because his wife has little respect for a man whose job in life is to be a servant to other people. To make himself feel bigger, Nnaife refuses to be on the bottom rung. If he has to be subservient to other men, he'll make sure his women are subservient to him. Nnaife's actions and reactions are classic examples of how oppressed men turn around and oppress their wives.

Nnaife's feelings of inferiority continually surface. To make himself feel like more of a man, he seizes each opportunity to take a new wife. His ability to impregnate women is his greatest accomplishment. Unlike his wife, Nnu Ego, Nnaife never recognizes that his traditional values haven't transferred over from rural Ibuza to urban Lagos very well. He maintains a traditional outlook in life, only adopting certain modern values (like Christianity) when it serves his purpose (e.g., keeping a job at the Meers' house.) Modern values are a veneer over a strict adherence to tradition. Nnaife expects the life his father enjoyed, and the life his father's father enjoyed: many wives and many children, all serving him throughout life and then taking care of him when he's old. His resentment grows as he realizes he's being cheated out of these expectations.

Nnaife is never able to recognize that his own behavior contributes to his children and wives' failures to meet his expectations. He consistently blames others (in particular, Nnu Ego) for his problems. His anger is so great that it turns whatever love he had for his wife and children to hatred. He is sent to prison and, after his release, returns to Ibuza to die in peace. He never reconciles with Nnu Ego or the other people in his life.

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