Study Guide

The Joys of Motherhood Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

A Man Needs Many Wives

  • Now that Nnaife is back, Nnu Ego and her children forget all about their suffering while he was gone.
  • Nnaife and Nnu Ego throw a big party for the naming of their second son.
  • Nnaife secretly buys the local alcohol, which is illegal, but explains that the reason is because they want all the profits.
  • Nnaife pours the alcohol into bottles labeled "Scotch Whisky," so everybody thinks he's spent a lot of money on the naming ceremony.
  • Although he didn't actually import European alcohol there for the party, he does spend a lot of money on the party. He and Nnu Ego have been without for so long, he doesn't even think of saving the money for the hard times ahead.
  • Nnu Ego also spends money, buying herself four different outfits for the party.
  • A month after Nnaife returns, Oshia starts school at the Yaba Methodist mission school. Nnaife spent his days playing the guitar and, though Nnu Ego worries about him finding another job, Nnaife says that he was assured the ship wouldn't sail without him.
  • Nnaife had changed over the course of his time away. He had become arrogant. He thought he was better than Nnu Ego and many times wouldn't answer her questions when she asked them.
  • Nnu Ego urges him to go look for work.
  • Nnaife says he deserves a rest after working so hard for eleven months, and she replies that surely, three months is a long enough time for rest.
  • Nnu Ego lets up. She has enough for rent, and enough for Oshia's next term school fees. And she's still doing the petty trading, which Oshia continues to help her with.
  • One day, Nnaife brings a party of people home, including Ubani (Nnaife's good friend). Nnu Ego runs to welcome them and to show off her children.
  • Nnu Ego realizes there's something not quite right, but she ignores it and invites them in.
  • The other men are also from Ibuza, including Nwakusor, (the man who helped Nnu Ego when she wanted to commit suicide) and they seem solemn as Nnu Ego bustles around giving them kolanut and cigarettes, and Nnaife gives them some alcohol. Nwakusor says the prayers, and then offers Nnaife and Nnu Ego some alcohol.
  • Nnu Ego realizes that they are here to give bad news, but she maintains the ritual, waiting for them to say what they have come to say.
  • It turns out that Nnaife's elder brother has died. Nnaife throws his guitar on the ground.
  • Nnu Ego is so shocked and wonders how they will take care of the wives and children of Nnaife's brother. (It is Nnaife's responsibility to look after his brother's wives and children after they he dies). She looks around and realizes that all the men have realized the problem and are there to help.
  • Nnu Ego runs outside, looking for comfort from her friends. She finds Mama Abby and blurts out the news that Nnaife may soon have many more wives. The other women are nearby and they join with Mama Abby, offering Nnu Ego advice.
  • Before he leaves, Ubani asks Nnaife if he plans to go back to farming in Ibuza, and Nnaife says no. He thinks he can better help his brother's wives if he stays in Lagos and sends money back home. Ubani says he can fix Nnaife up as a grass-cutter at the railroads.
  • Nnaife does get a job as a grass-cutter. The work is tiring but because he is now bringing in money, he has Nnu Ego's respect and her fear.
  • Adaku, his dead brother's newest wife, was coming to Lagos to join them and to be Nnaife's second wife. The oldest wife, Adankwo, might also join them.
  • One afternoon when she comes home from the market, Nnu Ego finds Adaku sitting by the doorstep with her four-year-old girl. She is very attractive and introduces herself as "your new wife."
  • Nnu Ego is jealous, angry, and frustrated within seconds of meeting her. This would be the type of woman to flatter Nnaife and make him prefer her.
  • Adaku calls Nnu Ego "senior wife" as she tells her to go inside, that she will carry in the things from the market.
  • Nnu Ego resents it. She has grown used to life in Lagos, where there is no senior or junior wife, and she is not sure what to do with another wife. But she must deal with the situation because this is the custom.
  • And though Nnu Ego had always treated Nnaife with scorn, he was her husband. With his new outdoor job, he is losing weight and looking young and handsome, while Nnu Ego looks old and haggard.
  • Suddenly, Nnu Ego also resents Christianity. Because she and Nnaife had gotten married in the church, she had been pretty sure she would be the only wife. But Nnaife will justify his decision to become polygamous by saying that now he doesn't work for the Meers, and doesn't need to abide by their religious rules.
  • Even as all these thoughts pass through her head, she invites Adaku inside.
  • Adaku is frustrated – she should be welcomed more graciously. But what choice does she have? Back in Ibuza, there would be suffering and hardship.
  • Nnaife is excited and shows off his new wife to everybody. He introduces Adaku's daughter, Dumbi, to Oshia as his new sister. Oshia wonders when they'll go back where they came from.
  • Nnaife scolds him. He tells him about a white man he knew on the ship who died alone because he didn't mind his own business.
  • Nnu Ego, overhearing the story, is angry. The story is only half true, and Nnaife is just showing off his experience and knowledge to impress his new wife.
  • Nnu Ego realizes that she has to be careful. She can't put herself in the position where Adaku is the favorite. In less than five hours, Nnaife had become the most desirable item, which she must share with Adaku.
  • Nnu Ego also worries about Oshia –she tells him that he mustn't talk to Adaku like he would his own mother.
  • Nnaife said that sons are mother's sons, meaning that Oshia behaves just like his impertinent mother.
  • Adaku says that in Ibuza, sons help their fathers more than their mothers. A mother has joy only in her title as mother. The children actually belong to their father.
  • Nnu Ego interrupts her, asking Nnaife if he won't tell his brother's wife that they are in Lagos, not Ibuza.
  • They eat in silence.
  • After they eat, Nnaife thanks Nnu Ego for the meal, calling her his senior wife and mother of his two sons.
  • Nnu Ego is surprised, since Nnaife has never thanked her for cooking before. Everything is changing so quickly.
  • Then Nnaife reminds Nnu Ego that if the situation had been reversed, if Nnaife had died, wouldn't his brother have taken care of Nnu Ego?
  • She begins to wash up as she thinks about the changes, but Adaku comes behind her and says that she should be doing that. Nnu Ego tells her to go get to know her husband.
  • Adaku laughs and Nnu Ego realizes that they will be "sisters in this business of sharing a husband" (10.70).
  • Mama Abby comes in and remarks that Adaku seems to be happy and confident. Nnu Ego is angry as she says that a happy senior wife makes for a happy household.
  • Nnaife tells Oshia to go to bed before the last guest leaves, and Oshia protests that they always stay up late, later than this.
  • Everybody takes the hint and leaves.
  • Nnu Ego wonders why Nnaife had to make himself so obvious. As they get ready to go to bed, Nnaife tells Nnu Ego to try to get some sleep herself.
  • Adaku behaves like a "shameless woman" (10.78), enjoying sex so much. Nnu Ego tries to block it out but Adaku carries on loudly. Finally, she yells at Oshia to stop snoring, and that's when there's silence from the bed. Then Adaku or Nnaife or both burst out laughing.
  • Nnaife tells Adaku that his senior wife can't go to sleep. Adaku must learn to "accept your pleasures quietly."
  • Nnu Ego bites the baby's night clothes to keep herself from screaming out loud.

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