1. Her love and duty for her children were like her chain of slavery.

This comment, appearing in Chapter 10, summarizes one of the novel’s main themes: that motherhood brings ambiguous joys. While the title of the novel promises a warm portrait of the joys and rewards of motherhood, the novel itself charts a much different course for Nnu Ego and many of the other women who make up her Ibo community. Rather than a self-fulfilling and life-giving role, motherhood and the responsibilities it creates become a form of enslavement. For Nnu Ego, her life, hope, and identity depend on her ability to bear children. In the eyes of society, she has no other primary function and no other means of achieving rank and respect.

Nnu Ego’s struggle is twofold. First, she fears she will face the fate of a barren, cast-off woman when she does not become pregnant after her marriage to her first husband, Amatokwu. Later, when she is blessed with several offspring, she is ill-equipped to feed and clothe them, and the family slides deeper into poverty. Finally, when Oshia, Adim, and Kehinde turn their backs on their familial responsibilities and pursue lives of their own, Nnu Ego questions the point of all the sacrifices and self-denial she has endured, for her children’s sake, through the years.