full title · The Joys of Motherhood
author · Buchi Emecheta
type of work · Novel
genre · Bildungsroman
language · English
time and place written · Late 1970s, London
date of first publication · 1979, London
publisher · Allison & Busby
narrator · Anonymous
point of view · The narrator speaks in the third person, focusing mostly on the actions and experiences of Nnu Ego but also referencing the many characters who surround her. The narrator’s descriptions are at times objective, told from the position of an outsider or observer of this world. Throughout, however, the narration becomes omniscient, revealing and analyzing the private thoughts and motives of various characters.
tone · The narrator’s tone is mostly detached, attempting to simply report the characters’ thoughts and actions and not trying to pass judgment on the proceedings. At times, however, sympathy for the plight of Nnu Ego does infuse the narrative’s tone.
tense · Past
setting (time) · Early twentieth century (1909) to the 1950s (opens in Lagos in 1934)
settings (place) · Ogboli, a village in Ibuza; Lagos, Nigeria
protagonist · Nnu Ego
major conflict · Nnu Ego struggles to fulfill her destiny as an Ibo woman and provide her husband with many sons. As traditions erode, Nnu Ego’s role grows increasingly at odds with society and the evolving sense of duty that her children have to the family.
rising actions · Nnu Ego is unable to provide her abusive first husband with children; her first child dies in infancy; Nnu Ego attempts to commit suicide as a result.
climax · Nnu Ego realizes her sacrifices as a wife and mother have all been for nothing.
falling actions · Nnu Ego has no choice but to continue her course as provider for her family; she returns to Ibuza and dies alone along a roadside; her two eldest sons go on to better lives in the United States and Canada; Oshia, the eldest, eventually returns to provide his mother with an elaborate funeral.
themes · The influences of colonialism; the individual vs. the collective; the danger of resisting change; the ambiguous rewards of motherhood
motifs · Blurred gender roles; language barriers; vision
symbols · The child; palm wine; Carter Bridge
foreshadowing · Agunwa’s death in Chapter 2 anticipates Nnu Ego’s life of self-sacrifice and her eventually dying alone; Agbadi loudly making love to Ona foreshadows Nnaife’s first night with Adaku as Nnu Ego lies close by, listening.