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1. Her love and duty for her children were like her chain of
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Joys of Motherhood!