Study Guide

Nnu Ego in The Joys of Motherhood

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Nnu Ego

Nnu Ego has one great desire in life: to have children. From the time of her birth, we learn that her chi (personal god) is the slave woman forcibly buried with her father's senior wife. It is implied early on that Nnu Ego is going to be unlucky in life. According to Ibo traditional religion, a person's chi can help or harm her. Sometimes the spirit of another person comes a chi. In this case, the spirit of the slave woman becomes Nnu Ego's chi. The slave woman didn't want to die. Out for revenge, Nnu Ego's chi at first refuses to give her children, but then gives her a child only to take child away.

At last, Nnu Ego's chi offers Nnu Ego as many children as she wants, but the catch is that they are all dirty, uncared for children. Nnu Ego does have child after child, but she is unsuccessful in caring adequately for them. They are constantly malnourished, and sometimes verge of starvation. Nnu Ego gets what she has always wanted – numerous children – but discovers that children are a chain around her neck.

Nnu Ego believes her problem is that she is a traditional woman, with traditional values, trying to raise her family in Lagos (a non-traditional city). As a traditional woman, her children are her highest priority in life, and she sacrifices everything for their future, assuming that they will, in turn, sacrifice for her when she is old and needs help. Instead, her children absorb urban values. Two of her sons see no reason why they should fulfill the duties that traditional culture outlines for them, and both leave to live in far parts of the world. Oshia (the oldest son) moves to America, and Adim (second oldest son) goes to Canada. Nnu Ego's daughter Kehinde marries a Yoruba, a rebellious union that is only possible in an urban setting when people of different ethnic heritages come into frequent contact with each other. Although we don't know how her other children behave, we do know that Nnu Ego passes her last days alone, back in Ibuza, on her father's compound.

Nnu Ego's husband Nnaife blames her for their children's defection from traditional values, failing to understand his own role. Much to Nnu Ego's frustration, Nnaife does not acknowledge that his own drinking, lack of financial support, and selfishness contributed to the children's selfishness. Nnu Ego suffers most of all, working day and night at her thankless task of helping her children have all the best advantages and succeed in life.

In the end, Nnu Ego realizes that children she desired all her life have enslaved her. Her love and care for them has meant that she worked her fingers to the bone to provide for them. Sadly, her constant self-sacrificing has even proven to be inadequate. When she dies, her children build a shrine to her so that women can ask her to bless them with children. But in death, Nnu Ego refuses to bless others with children. Perhaps she is making them suffer because she suffered. Or perhaps she's blessing them more than they realize, knowing what she knows after a long, hard life.

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