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Sunday, 4 October 2020

The Joys of Motherhood is a beautifully tragic, ironic title for Buchi Emecheta's novel surrounding the multi-generational narrative of women in a rural village in Africa. First Ona, then also her daughter Nnu Ego learn to their great dissatisfaction that motherhood, on which their entire lives have rested in anticipation up to the actual event, is another of society's scams. These women are valued upon their ability to produce children. For Ona, this leads to a devastating miscarriage, one healthy baby girl, and then death in childbirth on her next attempt. She was supposed to give her husband an heir. Nnu Ego's situation proves much more complex but equally if not more tragic.

Nnu Ego represents the faithful one. Having failed to give her first husband a child, she is returned to her father. The rejection from this experience convinces the young woman more than ever that she must prove a good wife by giving her the next husband many children, but this time her virginity is gone and her prospects are much lower. She marries a working-class man, Nnaife, and does give him four children. After the children arrive, however, her situation becomes tantamount, in her own consideration, to imprisonment. She works all day every day providing for these children, but she receives no appreciation or provision herself. In fact, as she ages, her husband comes home with a new, younger wife whose eventual children also become Nnu Ego's charges.

When the children grow up, each of the four turns into rebels with little respect for their parents. The elder daughter, Kehinde, runs off with a young man when she is young. Nnaife engages in a fight with the man's father, landing him in prison. Now Nnu Ego is on her own, her other children have also left. She lives with her father until his death but is eventually sent out into the streets. Dying alone, but later memorialized by her adult children in a fertility shrine for the local women, she becomes the epitome of betrayal. All that Nnu Ego believed about the joys of motherhood was systematically deconstructed in the reality of her experience of motherhood, yet her children still egotistically believe that she had achieved the ultimate status desired by women in their culture. Although she had changed her mind about valuing herself according to fertility, Nnu Ego is memorialized among her people for that very principle once again against her will.

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