The Joys of Motherhood

by: Buchi Emecheta

Nnaife

Characters Nnaife

Nnaife, Nnu Ego’s husband, is the chief male presence in The Joys of Motherhood, the counterpart and mirror reflection of his wife. The two stand on opposite sides of a similar conflict. While Nnu Ego must reconcile her own disillusionment with motherhood, Nnaife faces his own struggles in the wake of evolving tradition and the slow dissolve of their family structure. Nnu Ego calls Nnaife’s masculinity into question from the early days of their marriage. Nnaife is filled with pride at the responsibilities he has as a launderer in the Meers household, a role no Ibo man would have filled in previous generations. Nnaife is forced to compromise in a world where capitalism reigns and where power is in the hands of white colonialists. Still, despite changing with the times, Nnaife retains his traditional notions of his role as father, husband, and man. But in his modern urban context, he is viewed more as a functionary, a mere figurehead of a family that is mostly supported and held together by the efforts of Nnu Ego.

Nnaife is a passive, ineffective figure whose lack of ambition or connections does little to further the livelihood of his family. He allows others to control or intercede for him, all the while believing he is a figure of power, strength, and action. As traditions and times change, they render Nnaife increasingly ineffective in his role as a male authority figure. In the end, he simply playacts at the part of the blustering patriarch rather than truly embodying or living up to the duties he is expected to fulfill. He emerges as an emasculated figure and is unmasked as a poor provider and a drunk, the equivalent of a deadbeat dad. As Nnaife’s traditional male identity grows weaker and more threatened, he descends deeper into alcoholism and an aloof, willful detachment, both of which serve as safeguards and antidotes to reality. In a final act of desperation, he threatens to kill his own daughter and her new father-in-law. In his skewed vision of the world, individual lives and the happiness of his daughter are secondary to more abstract notions of family reputation, honor, and tradition. His subsequent imprisonment serves as symbolic punishment for a man who has grown so out of step with the world around him.