When the conflict between father and son first erupts, it is December, and the weather is hot and dry, the sun ‘‘parching.’’ Many years later, just before Okeke realizes the error of his ways, the weather is very different. There are black clouds, and soon the rain begins. This is the first rain of the year, and it soon develops into a thunderstorm that marks the change of the season. It also marks a change in the old man’s heart. As the narrator says, ‘‘It was one of those rare occasions when even Nature takes a hand in a human fight.’’ The harsh weathermakesOkekethinkofthegrandchildrenhe has not yet met, and he imagines them shut out from his house in the rain. In that moment he knows that he must relent; he cannot reject his own grandchildren. The storm jolts him into repentance and forgiveness. It is as if a natural process has taken over that overcomes his stubborn resistance. The season is changing, and so must Okeke; the angry storm brings with it a message that finally he is able to hear. Notably, when the rain is coming down and he is trying not to think of his grandchildren, he attempts to hum the tune of a hymn, but ‘‘the pattering of large rain drops on the roof supplied a harsh accompaniment.’’ The fact that the hymn tune is drowned out by the storm is symbolic. It shows that the stern religious ideology that Okeke has for so long used to justify his rigid position is being eclipsed by nature, which is always obliterating the past and making things new.
In his mature work, Achebe is known for incorporating words and expressions from the Igbo language (Igbo is an alternative spelling of Ibo), as well as pidgin English (a simplified form of English spoken in many of the countries that were part of the British Empire). Achebe’s purpose is to convey the flavor of the African cultural setting even though the language used is English. However, ‘‘Marriage Is a Private Affair’’ is an early work by Achebe, written when he was still an undergraduate, and he had not yet developed his mature style. It is noticeable that all the characters in the story speak in perfect British English. There are no Igbo expressions or pidgin English. From the way the characters speak, the reader would not be able to guess that the setting is in Africa. Also, the language is rather literary throughout, reflecting a dignified, formal way of speaking associated with the English upper classes. For example, the narrator, after quoting one villager’s comment, describes it as being ‘‘vouchsafed [by] a gentleman of quality who rarely argued with his neighbours because, he said, they were incapable of reasoning.’’ When Nene asks Nnaemeka whether she can do anything to change his father’s harsh attitude, he says, like an educated English gentleman of a certain class, ‘‘Not yet; my darling. . . . He is essentially good-natured and will one day look more kindly on our marriage.’’ This use of language suggests that the African writer Achebe, at this very early stage in his career, before Nigerian independence, was content to write in the style of the literature of the colonial power rather than in a language adapted so that it would resonate with the specifically African experience.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Chinua Achebe, Published by Gale Group, 2010