2. Men here are too busy being white men’s servants to be men. We women mind the home. Not our husbands. Their manhood has been taken away from them. The shame is that they don’t know it.
Cordelia, Ubani’s wife, speaks these words in Chapter 4, and they underscore the blurring of gender roles that many Ibo families face in Lagos. Colonialism and the modern world, with its capitalist-based labor systems, leave their mark on the novel’s male characters and help erode the traditional role of men in twentieth-century West-African society. While the men still see themselves as the heads of their households, the women view their husbands’ evolving economic roles differently. The need to work, specifically in the service of white colonialists, has compromised the men as figures of authority and drained them of their once-unquestioned power as the dominant member of the family. Ubani and Nnaife are diminished in their wives’ eyes by their service to the Meers family, which casts them in a subservient role. In making this statement, Cordelia indicates that she agrees with Nnu Ego, who has little respect for her husband and the pride and delight he takes in laundering Mrs. Meers’s linens and underclothes. Nnu Ego compares the early days of her marriage to Nnaife to being with a middle-aged woman instead of a man. These sentiments echo the novel’s pervading sense that Lagos perverts and permanently alters tradition, robbing the individual of identity or, in this case, manhood.