Nnu Ego starts out as an innocent, somewhat naïve girl filled with hope and anticipation of the joys and rewards motherhood will bring her. Unlike her mother, Ona, Nnu Ego is not a radical or antagonistic presence, and she dutifully accepts and fulfills her role as a woman in Ibo society. Her initial quest is for justification and validation. When she cannot conceive with her first husband, Amatokwu, the marriage is dissolved and she is filled with apprehension and shame. When her second marriage, to Nnaife, produces a highly prized son, she realizes the happiness denied her, only to have her joy shattered when Ngozi dies in infancy. The death of the child becomes, by extension, the death of Nnu Ego. She sees no reason to live if she cannot succeed in the single role of bearing and rearing children. Slowly, she comes to new realizations about what is truly important to her, and these epiphanies force her to re-examine her role and function as a woman in Ibo society.
Though she is distraught over the death of Ngozi, Nnu Ego feels guilty relief when, later, a daughter arrives stillborn. She begins to examine her essential worth as a woman. Although she becomes a vital economic force in the community, essentially setting up her own business to help her family survive, she is seen as merely an economic unit, a machine for producing and rearing male heirs. Nnu Ego comes to believe that aspirations of being solely a mother and provider are too limiting and dispiriting. Rather than looking forward to a quiet life where she will be well provided for by her sons and daughters, she is a victim of her times, caught at a critical turning point in West-African social history. Rather than serving the collective unit of the family, her children pursue their own courses and seek to place their own self-fulfillment and individual destinies before their family responsibilities. Nnu Ego’s hope and joy become disillusionment as she dies, alone, at the side of the road, an ambivalent figure with little to show for her years of selflessness and sacrifice.