Ever read a book and you felt like not coming to the end of it, or felt you could read it over a thousand times and more? We hold such books dear to our hearts, never letting go of the lessons they’ve taught us. One of such books, for me, is Buchi Emecheta’s 1979 classic, The Joys of Motherhood, a book written to let the readers into the world of African parenting, especially the struggles African parents go through in the process of training the girl child. The Joys prods the issues of early marriage, the troubles of infertility and ultimately the culture of polygamy.
The memory is still fresh, I was in JSS2 and I’ve found the book in one of the old bags lying idly around the corners of the house and the bibliophile in me couldn’t resist the urge to check it out. The book title poked my curiosity, I was so excited and looked forward to knowing what the joys of motherhood were. It took me close to a week to finish reading the book.
Reading The Joys of Motherhood, one would wonder if the content of the book deserves the title. IMHO, I would say yes, the content does deserve the title.
Going through Buchi Emecheta’s life and history, one would realize that she’s an exceptional feminist, in her own word, a feminist with a small ‘f’.
Emecheta is of African origin; feminism as a movement started from the western world and she realized that western feminism can never thrive in Africa. So, rather than go all aggressive as is the style of western feminism, she posited her own style of feminism, stood by it, and humbly wrote books satirizing the matriarchal society of Africa. Thus, when an African man picks up her books, he’s eventually brought to the realization that some things are outrightly wrong in the way the society is run.
Nnu Ego, The Joys of Motherhood’s protagonist had to go through hardships the society had set for her as well as bear the reproach that followed. She is designated to be a womanist with no choice but to follow the rules. Her inability to bring forth a child led to the failure of her first marriage. She moves on to the second marriage in which she eventually got pregnant, but the child’s death brought a turning point to her life.
Nnaife, Nnu Ego’s second husband, brings in another wife. At this point you wonder what the author is trying to do but then Adaku, the second wife remained unnoticed in the house because she gave birth to girls. Emecheta posits here that no matter how much you try to make a difference, without involving the man-influence, then you are seen as an outcast and treated without regards.
Towards the end of the book, we discovered that not giving birth is not actually the problem, but the polygamous nature of African men.
Nnu Ego suffered in the hands of same children she suffered for and eventually died a heart-rending death. We are then left with the question, what then is the joy of motherhood?
Talking about things that change one’s life, things that change one’s perspective about life and things that help one develop over the years, The Joys of Motherhood is it for me. It has built the feminist in me, not in the usual complicated and excessive way, but through clear understanding of how nature distributes, and how we shouldn’t accept every norm that the society throws at us. Sometimes you just have to bark back.
Who is the society anyways? The society is us and what we have made of it—obligations, dogmas and strict rules by which we must abide or be considered abominable and thus banished.
Conclusively, sometimes when I’m in pain or when I’m having these awkward feelings about situations and happenings, I wonder if there’s someone else in the world who feels the same way. How else can we connect if not by writing?
The world reads, and if there is anything to be changed in the society, we can go a long way by constantly writing about the subject because writing is a major weapon of change.