Study Guide

The Joys of Motherhood Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

First Shocks of Motherhood

  • The journey to Lagos is long and the elder Owulum brother doesn't know the way any better than Nnu Ego.
  • When they arrive and Nnaife hears that his wife has arrived, he is excited and passes the news to all the servants, who know there will be a party that night.
  • Nnaife asks Dr. Meers and his wife (his employers) if he is finished and can go now. They tell him good night and Dr. Meers calls Nnaife a "baboon," which makes Mrs. Meers angry. She scolds him.
  • Nnaife hurries away, wondering what "baboon" means, but the narrator tells us that if he had known, he would have taken it philosophically. After all, the Meers paid his salary. If they wanted to call him a baboon, that was fine with him.
  • Nnu Ego is not impressed with her first vision of her new husband. She thinks his fat belly makes him look like he's pregnant, and she has never seen men dressed in khaki shorts and an old white shirt.
  • Though Nnaife can tell that Nnu Ego doesn't approve of him, he knows the situation could be worse. He ignores her disappointment and grows enthusiastic over having a wife.
  • The servants come and declare that Nnu Ego is beautiful. Nnu Ego grows increasingly frustrated with Nnaife's appearance. He doesn't look at all like the tall, thin farmers she's used to at home. In other words he is the opposite of her ideal man.
  • Nnaife "demands his marital right" the first night, though Nnu Ego feels violated. And she can't stand the way he smells – soapy and not like the men in Ibuza who smell of burning wood and tobacco.
  • The next morning, as he prepares for work, Nnaife tells Nnu Ego that he will ask the next-door woman to take her to the market so she can get food for cooking.
  • Nnu Ego wants to go home. But then she wonders if this man could make her pregnant. She begins to pray to her chi, to say that if she will just let her get pregnant, she will respect Nnaife and call him her husband no matter how he looks and acts.
  • She falls asleep and dreams that her chi is handing her a baby boy, but laughs mockingly at her.
  • As Nnu Ego tries to take the baby from her chi, across a stream of water, the water swells and Nnu Ego begs the woman to give her the child.
  • The elder Owulum shakes her awake.
  • Nnu Ego confides in him her fear that she will want to take another woman's baby in Lagos, but he reassures her that she will soon be "mad." What he means is that she will be madly in love with her own child. The elder Owulum predicts that she will surely get pregnant soon.
  • She soon realizes that he's right. She is indeed pregnant.
  • At first Nnu Ego is disappointed that her husband earns his living as a washer man.
  • Nnaife tells her that it's a good, honest way to make a living, but Nnu Ego feels it isn't manly. Nnaife, however, is proud of his work.
  • But he doesn't earn much money, and Nnu Ego has to pinch pennies carefully.
  • One Sunday, as she contemplates telling her husband that she doesn't want to go to church with him, she watches him eat.
  • Nnaife gets offended and tells her to stop watching him. A wife isn't allowed to do that. Nnu Ego tells him that the rules that govern wives in Ibuza don't govern wives in Lagos.
  • Nnaife replies that he paid her bride price so he owns her. She must accept his work and his way of life.
  • Nnu Ego gets upset and tells him he isn't much of a man and if he had come to ask for her hand in marriage himself, her father would have sent him away.
  • Nnaife is hurt but as he looks at his angry wife, he realizes how beautiful she is. And pregnant. He tells her it's too bad her Amatokwu, her ideal of a man, couldn't get her pregnant.
  • Then he explains another problem to her. If she's pregnant, they must get married in the church, and quickly. He could lose his job if they don't. Mrs. Meers won't like it.
  • Nnu Ego could have handled it if Nnaife had told her that Dr. Meers would insist on it, but Nnu Ego can't believe that a man takes orders from a woman, and a woman like Mrs. Meers. She tells Nnaife that he behaves like a slave. She will never marry him in a church and if he loses his job, she'll go home to her father.
  • Nnaife laughs and says her father won't accept her home when she's pregnant.
  • Nnu Ego realizes that she has been given her dream, becoming a mother, and she can't risk her husband losing his job. She begins to cry.
  • Later, she confides in Cordelia, the wife of Ubani (the Meers' cook and Nnaife's friend). Cordelia tells her that men in Lagos are too busy to be like men in Ibuza. Though their manhood has been taken away from them, they don't see it because all they see is money.
  • Nnu Ego asks Cordelia thinks that the white man treat them like slaves. Cordelia agrees, but doesn't know if it will ever stop.
  • Meeting other Ibuza wives teaches Nnu Ego some important things, namely, how to deal in petty trade selling cigarettes. They give her a loan to do it.
  • Nnu Ego is able to make enough money to buy herself some clothes and to pay back the loan.
  • Nnu Ego and Nnaife begin to occupy very different worlds. Nnaife is s a servant of the white man, and Nnu Ego, as a petty trader in the marketplace. She doesn't have the time she would have back in Ibuza because she has to work.
  • Nnu Ego gives birth to a son. Nnaife sleeps through the entire labor, and Cordelia tells Nnu Ego that once again men in Lagos stopped being men; they are machines.
  • The men celebrate the birth of Nnaife's son with cigarettes and palm wine. When Mrs. Meers hears about the birth, she gives old baby clothes to Nnu Ego.
  • Nnu Ego is grateful, even if she never would have accepted used clothing in Ibuza.
  • As a mother, Nnu Ego now feels fulfilled for the first time in her life. This is why it is such a shock when Nnu Ego finds her baby lying there, dead.
  • She leaves the room and runs.

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