4. On her way back to their room, it occurred to Nnu Ego that she was a prisoner, imprisoned by her love for her children, imprisoned in her role as the senior wife.
This description appears in Chapter 11. As an Ibo woman, Nnu Ego can pursue only one life path: she must produce children, preferably boys. As Nnu Ego gets older and becomes more deeply involved in her role as a mother, she sees more clearly the restrictions and limitations of this set course. She also feels she is society’s scapegoat. When the children bring honor or fulfill their duty to their family, they are a reflection on their father. When they tarnish or shame the family name or fail to live up to their responsibility to their parents, the failing is placed squarely on the mother’s shoulders. This double standard saddens Nnu Ego. She is trapped in this role, and her destiny and reputation are commingled with those of her children—no matter what the outcome. This restrictive arrangement extends to the hierarchy of multiple wives, or plural marriage, which is common in West-African society. As the senior wife, Nnu Ego is expected to endure the humiliation when Adaku, Nnaife’s crafty and attractive second wife, arrives in Lagos and becomes part of the Owulum family. Rather than being an object of respect and veneration, Nnu Ego is expected to calmly accept the slights and insults her husband and family visit on her. She is even subjected to the sounds of Nnaife and Adaku having sexual relations in the same room in which she herself sleeps.