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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
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Joys of Motherhood!