Marriage is a Private Affair

Marriage is a Private Affair Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Chinua Achebe's Marriage is a Private Affair. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Chinua Achebe

The fifth child of Isaiah Okafor Achebe, a Christian catechism teacher, and Janet Ileogbunam, Chinua Achebe was was born into a privileged and educated family. He was christened Albert as an homage to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. Nevertheless, Achebe’s first language was Ibo, and he did not start learning English until about the age of eight, despite the fact that Nigeria was still a British colony and would be until 1960. Growing up listening to the traditional Ibo language and stories from an early age allowed him to develop a strong affinity to his culture, which he continued to appreciate as he learned and became fluent in English. Though he excelled in his secondary studies and studied medicine at the University College of Ibadan, he ultimately switched to a liberal arts curriculum and studied history, religion, and English instead. Around that time, Achebe, stirred up by the growing nationalist sentiment and calls for independence, began to go by his Ibo name “Chinua,” a name whose long form “Chinualumogu” means “My spirit come fight for me.” It was also in college where he began to publish stories like “Marriage is a Private Affair,” which explores the community upheavals and cultural tensions that occur as a result of the colonialism on African societies. Although his earlier works are less known than his 1958 classic, the acclaimed novel Things Fall Apart, many of the themes are similar and deal with colonialism, Christianity, and traditional culture. Achebe also worked as a senior broadcasting officer in the 1950s. However, as his writing career took off, he began to work as a professor in Nigerian and American schools. He published his last novel in 1987, three years before a car crash in Lagos left him paralyzed from the waist down.
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Historical Context of Marriage is a Private Affair

Chinua Achebe wrote “Marriage is a Private Affair” in 1952, eight years before Nigeria won its independence from the British Empire. Consequently, the short story should be read with the understanding that Achebe was very much interested in the growing independence movements that were percolating in Nigeria and other nearby African nations. Ghana was the first African country to gain independence, six years after he published “Marriage is a Private Affair,” but Nigeria would follow soon after. “Marriage is a Private Affair,” anticipates some of the cultural and political issues that the newly independent Nigeria would face a few years later. Tensions between ethnic groups, the impact of Christianity, and the conflict between a modern, urban Nigeria and a rural, traditional Nigeria were central to Nigeria’s post-independence path. Ethnic and political tensions eventually created the impetus for the Biafran War (1967-1970), in which the Ibo community of Nigeria tried to form a separate state. This is just one example that shows how the issues Achebe discusses in his work have large stakes, not just for the small community he writes about, but for the new nation he is anticipating.

Other Books Related to Marriage is a Private Affair

Achebe’s work often deals with the conflict that arises within indigenous African cultures as a result of colonial influences. Sometimes these influences are explored through religious conflict, and other times through tense interactions among community members caught between traditional and modern, westernized values. Other works by Achebe that explore similar themes. Another short story of his, “Dead Men’s Path,” is a testament to his ability to weave nuanced issues that touch on history, colonial legacy, and the conflict between old and new within a nation on the brink of independence. Additionally, his first novel, Things Fall Apart, is not only his most important contribution to African Literature, but also encouraged other African writers to write about issues unique to them. Other African authors like Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have written works that explore similar issues. Death and the King’s Horseman by Soyinka, for example, also deals with the cultural upheavals provoked by colonialism and the pull towards western culture, while Adichie pays direct homage to Achebe by referencing the title of his acclaimed book, Things Fall Apart, at the beginning of one her most distinguished novels, Purple Hibiscus. Unsurprisingly, Achebe continues to be a source of literary inspiration for a new vanguard of writers in Africa and beyond.
Key Facts about Marriage is a Private Affair
  • Full Title: Marriage is a Private Affair
  • When Written: 1952
  • Where Written: Ibadan, Nigeria
  • When Published: 1952
  • Literary Period: Postcolonialism
  • Genre: Short story
  • Setting: Lagos and an Ibo village in Colonial Nigeria
  • Climax: Okeke dismisses Nnaemeka and refuses to talk to him for eight years because of Nnaemeka’s refusal to marry Ugoye, the woman Okeke has chosen for him, instead of Nene.
  • Antagonist: Okeke
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for Marriage is a Private Affair

Working Title. Achebe originally published “Marriage is a Private Affair” as “The Old Order in Conflict with the New.”

Brit Lit. Two of Achebe’s major literary influences are Charles Dickens and W.B. Yeats.