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Achebe Portrayed Ekwefi’s Relationship

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The relationship between Okonkwo and his second with Ekwefi come across in various chapters of the novels; snippets of their relationship make a clearer picture as the novel progresses. Looking at Achebe’s language choices and narrative viewpoint their relationship shows a mixture of both anger and caring which comes apparent in the few scenes where Okonkwo lets his guard down around her.

The fist glance at their relationship is a negative view as we see Okonkwo beating then shooting at his wife for going out “Okonkwo heard it and ran madly into his room for the loaded gun, ran out again and aimed at her” Okonkwo is easily angered this is apparent in all of his relationships with people but it also give Ekwefi a sense of character, strong willed as “the wife who had just been beaten murmured something about guns that never shot” showing a defiant streak then again resurfaces when she goes to look for her daughter and showing when she needs to be she possess a fiery spirit.

In spite of this we learn there was a strong bond between them “many years ago when she was the village beauty Okonkwo had won her heart… a few years later she ran away from her husband and came to live with Okonkwo” It shows there certainly was a mutual feeling between them as time has passed we see that it is not as apparent.

Okonkwo’s reputation as a cold and fearless warrior plays a large part of his apparent detachment from Ekwefi and as such we get the sense that he does not care about her greatly however rare moments in the book give an alternative idea. In chapter 11 when Enzima is taken and Ekwefi follows we see Okonkwo come to find her “tears of gratitude filled her eyes”. Okonkwo has always considered showing emotion to be weak but this shows us that beneath his exterior he does care.

The narrative defining their relationship is somewhat fractured; switching between the past and present day. Achebe hints that Okonkwo has the closest bond with Ekwefi opposed to his other wives “he knew it must only be Ekwefi. Of his three wives Ekwefi was the only one who would have the audacity to bang on his door” thus giving us the impression he knows her best.

The two characters are fairly alike in subtle ways put across by Achebe “Ekwefi had become a very bitter woman…. Was the only person in the happy company who went about with a cloud on her brow” while Okonkwo describing his father “his love of talk had grown with age and sickness. It tried Okonkwo’s patience beyond words” Both have become somewhat cynical of others and it can be a common grounding point in their uneven relationship.

Their relationship was founded upon physical intimacy “even in those days he was not a man of many words. He just carried her into his bed and in the darkness began to feel around her waist for the loose end of the cloth” Achebe uses this to suggest their relationship has become more confrontational with age as Okonkwo has taken more wives and children and in several instances simply lashes out at her “a little more…I said a little. Are you deaf? Okonkwo roared at her”.

Achebe’s narrative technique is more observatory than judgemental telling there relationship without leaning in favour of one or the other, without clouding the issue and as such Achebe gives a raw and honest sense to there relationship; seeing both the bad side and the good.

Achebe’s description of their relationship gives a clearer understanding of the characters as individuals through how they act towards one another both caringly and aggressively and as such is an exploration into the Ibo culture itself.

Ekwefi is Okonkwo’s second wife. Once a village beauty, she ran away from her home and husband to marry Okonkwo. She was smitten with Okonkwo when he beat the notorious Cat in a legendary wrestling match. Though it’s kind of romantic the Ekwefi ran away and eloped with Okonkwo, it turns out he’s not Prince Charming. Ekwefi, like Okonkwo’s other two wives, suffers quite a bit under his forceful and aggressive rule of the household. At one point, just because he was in a bad mood, Okonkwo beat Ekwefi badly and even threatened to kill her with his gun. Regardless, Ekwefi is the most spirited of Okonkwo’s wives and frequently stands up to him and talks back.

Ekwefi’s life has been full of sadness. She has bad luck with bearing children; despite giving birth to ten children, only one has survived. Thus, she nurtures a deep bond with her single daughter, Ezinma. Achebe paints Ekwefi as an extremely devoted mother. Her pain and bitterness in losing nine other children leads her to treasure her one daughter even above life itself. She dotes over and spoils her child, allowing her treats forbidden to other children and building a deep relationship of trust.

Ekwefi’s history of loss and bitterness renders her a strong woman, capable of withstanding much pain and disappointment. This also leads to a sense of boldness in her, a rather unfeminine characteristic that sometimes annoys Okonkwo. She has the audacity to knock on his door at night and to talk back to him when he accuses her of killing a banana tree. But she also takes her punishment with gritted teeth and without complaint. This kind of strength and boldness has something masculine about it, which emerges even more strongly in her daughter, Ezinma. Though not explicitly stated, we think Ekwefi might be Okonkwo’s favorite wife, just like Ezinma is his favorite daughter.

Achebe has portrayed the relationship between Okonkwo and second wife, Ekwefi, throughout various chapters in the novel. Achebe uses several language features to emphasise their relationship or lack of it in some cases. Achebe uses narrative viewpoint and choice of language to help demonstrate the contrast of anger with love and affection they share between them.

Okonkwo and Ekwefi share a daughter called Ezinma. They don’t really share a love as such for each other most of the time because Okonkwo constantly beats his wives for every time they do something wrong. However, I think, in a strange sense, that this might be a way that they show their love for each other, seeing as the wife usually doesn’t retaliate. However, in Chapter 5, Okonkwo nearly shoots Ekwefi, so this could most likely disprove my theory: “…ran out again and aimed at her as she clambered over the dwarf wall of the barn.” Although Ekwefi is able to confront Okonkwo on rare occasions, she is still a bit intimidated by his violent reactions.

Achebe exaggerates the point of manipulation throughout the novel between Okonkwo and Ekwefi. Ekwefi is painted as being extremely devoted to her daughter and Okonkwo but is unable to see that she is being taken advantage by him: Okonkwo only takes notice of her when he is after something: “…he asked his second wife, Ekwefi, to roast some plantains for him.” Achebe also suggests the idea that Okonkwo relies on his wives more than we are made to believe. He needs his family just as much as they need him.

In Chapter 9, Okonkwo and Ekwefi attend to their sick daughter, who is near to death. Okonkwo really cares for his children and it shows in this chapter, when Achebe tells us about Ekwefi’s unfortunate luck with children. He tells us that Okonkwo goes to see the medicine man when she mourned the death of her second child to see why this was happening.

The story shows that Okonkwo shares the closest relationship with Ekwefi, out of the three wives, as she is the wife that Okonkwo knows the best: “Of his three wives, Ekwefi was the only one who would have the audacity to bang on his door.” The quote suggests that Ekwefi is a bit more confident and willing to stand up to Okonkwo no matter how many times she may get beaten. It shows that Ekwefi is not threatened or intimidated by Okonkwo’s regular violence. Ekwefi is treated like a bit of a slave (as well as the other two wives) but I don’t think Okonkwo sees it that way because in those days, the wife served the husband as if it was a kind of particular law.

There are rare occasions where Okonkwo and Ekwefi do actually show their affection towards each other when it matters. Although I think Ekwefi cares more for Okonkwo than vice versa, as she was-and still is-deeply in love with him: “…she ran away from her home and husband to marry Okonkwo.” When reading through some aspects of their relationship, I feel that Okonkwo sees his wives as just trophies he has collected, as he expects them to serve him and do anything he asks them to do. This idea is also proved by the fact that Achebe expresses how much Okonkwo is waited on and just how much he takes his wives for granted.

“Ekwefi was first drawn to Okonkwo during a legendary wrestling match where he beat the notorious ‘Amalinze the Cat'”. Their relationship began on an extremely physical level of intimacy, but has now grown into something a little bit tenser over the years. This is due to Achebe’s constant interrogation of the characters, showing us that they are anything but intimate these days. Okonkwo is not the man Ekwefi thought he was when she first layed eyes on him. She is now part of an unequal companionship where the man is the king of the obi who doesn’t treat his wife as his equal. When I read the novels perception of their relationship, I feel that Ekwefi feels like being married to Okonkwo is becoming to feel like a chore because she cooks and cleans not because she wants to, but because she has to otherwise she will get a severe beating from the man who, at first, was her prince charming! On the other hand I do feel as if Ekwefi is Okonkwo’s favourite wife because she has the boldness and courage to stand up to him, although he dislikes it, he can see that she is a strong and fiery character. We are also made to believe that Ezinma is also Okonkwo’s favourite daughter.

I think after seeing all the downfalls in the relationship, there is something beneath Okonkwo’s surface which shows he does care, but he is not known for showing any open emotion: he thought all emotions were a sign of weakness and femininity, especially if they were shown by a man. I think that Okonkwo’s reputation as the greatest wrestler in the village has certainly added to the distance between Ekwefi and himself. Whereas normal couples draw closer as the years go by, Achebe shows how Ekwefi and Okonkwo have travelled further and further apart partly due to Okonkwo’s beliefs in right and wrong: Wives are supposed to stay at home and look after the children whilst taking care of the cooking and cleaning, and their purpose in life is to serve under their husbands.

Achebe has given us an insight into the roles that Okonkwo and Ekwefi play in their relationship as well as an in depth look at them as individual characters. Through various parts in the play, aspects of their relationship can be interpreted in a number of different ways to show their love or their frustration to one another.

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