Marriage is one of the central themes in many literary works that makes them interesting and exciting for reading as it provokes conflicting situations, debates between couples, life challenges, and solutions to them. Without a doubt, literature tends to idealize marriage and its meaning, but anyway, this topic catches readers’ attention. The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis is a short novel that is rich in many problems, but marriage remains the essential one as all the issues discussed here are the consequences of marriage. Another literary work that depicts marriage challenges is Growing My Hair Again by Chika Unigwe that reveals negative sides of marriage related to females' suffering from violence and abuse. Consequently, these literary works explore the problems of marriage, different related issues, its impact on people’s lives and finally define it as not an equal partnership between males and females.
The Significance of Marriage in Growing My Hair Again
Marriage is like life choice that influences people’s destiny and determines their degree of happiness and satisfaction (Berman 1). Chika Unigwe in Growing My Hair Again shows the life of her character Nneka who is abused by her violent husband Okpala (Unigwe 1). It means that her marriage is unhappy as it suppresses her personality, involves emotional and physical traumas, and deprives of freedom. It is like slavery and she tries to get rid of it. Moreover, Nneka is a victim of Nigerian traditions that oblige her to follow widow rules for a year. Nigerian marriage customs are very severe, and they do not consider the fact that marriage can be abusive and challenging for a wife. “Bored and hungry and sick of sitting on the bedroom floor to be besieged by crying relatives, I had gone to raid the pantry (Unigwe 5).” It means that this marriage is not significant and valuable for Nneka as it makes her a victim of her husband and slave of Nigerian traditions.
How it works
Marriage has affected Nneka’s life negatively as it is abusive and full of disappointments. Moreover, marriage has deprived her of independence and strength that are necessary for being a happy personality. Furthermore, Nneka undergoes suppression and abuse from her mother-in-law who imposes her traditional canons of marriage. Another indicator of unhappiness of Nneka’s marriage is that she does not want to have another child with her husband. The end of her marriage because of Okpala’s death makes Nneka independent and free from the person who failed to take care of her and show respect for his wife as a personality. Interestingly, after her husband’s death, Nneka becomes not only confident and independent but rich as she receives his money. It means that, one the one side, marriage is a negative experience for Nneka, but on the other side, it is a driving force for the development of her personality and rebellion against the traditional role of woman in the family.
In this novel, marriage symbolizes larger societal and cultural concerns. Nigerian society has accepted status roles in marriage and family that lead to the leading role of the husband and subordinate role of the wife. Nneka is a strong and intelligent woman but she lives in the society where she has no right to demonstrate these qualities, and she is a victim of societal and cultural rules that are obligatory to follow. Despite her poor relationship with her husband, she has to take part in mourning rituals imposed by her mother-in-law and culture of Nigerian society. It means that such traditions presuppose deception and hypocrisy as, despite abuse and violence of her husband, Nneka is obliged to mourn and demonstrate emotional sufferings. “You should cry louder. You sound like you're mourning a family pet. You are a widow, nwanyi a! Cry as if you lost a husband! Bee akwa. Cry! (Unigwe 2)”
In Growing My Hair Again, Okpala controls marriage; therefore, he supposes that abuse, violence, and cruelty are the ways to deal with the wife. It is obvious that if Nneka had demonstrated such patterns of behavior like those after her husband’s death, she would not have been abused. It means that women are guilty of their subordinate role in marriage as they are ready to perform secondary role and be a servant, slave, and victim. Consequently, Nneka’s metamorphosis is related to her awareness of freedom from her cruel husband. Thus, marriage is not an obligation and serving to husband, it is also freedom and the right of choice.
The Significance of Marriage in The Wife of Martin Guerre
Marriage can also occur as a way of enrichment and increasing of social status (Peterson and Bush 213). Moreover, the hierarchical order in the family can impose the values and attitudes on younger family members. Strict patriarchal society deprives marriage of such notions as equality and loyalty between husband and wife. Thus, Janet Lewis in her The Wife of Martin Guerre reveals the notion of a marriage of convenience where parents make the decisions for their children to provide the dual prosperity. “Advantages there were, certainly, from the marriage, but for the present they were all for the two families of Guerre and de Rols; later, Martin and Bertrande would profit from the increased dual prosperity” (Lewis 10). Such marriage loses its significance as Bertrande and Martin has not even spoken to each other before and they got married at a very early age. Martin’s leaving is justified as marriage cannot be artificially imposed. Moreover, the problem of such marriage is that a wife is not ready for challenges as she is totally dependent on her husband.
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For Martin’s father, marriage between his son and Bertrande is the way of demonstrating his absolute power and influence in the family and reinforcing hierarchical order. Martin repeats his father’s role and patterns of behavior in marriage, but Bertrande subdues to them because she is dependent on him and traditions in both families. For both characters, marriage is forced; therefore it provokes intense hatred. “Bertrande had not spoken to Martin in all her life until
that morning, although she had often seen him; indeed she had not known until the evening before that a marriage had been arranged” (Lewis 4). The absence of marriage could make them both happier as there are no affection and love between them. Marriage cannot exist when the couple is deprived of opportunities and choices as it is condemned to failure and disappointments (McGrath and Jamison 1). However, indeed, Bertrande gets married again to Arnaud du Tilh supposing that he is Martin and she loves him, but this marriage also brings her physical and emotional sufferings.
In this novel, marriage also symbolizes societal and cultural concerns created by the feudal structure of the society and the religious, political, and social context of the 16th century. It is obvious that feudal structure influences all the relationships, determines social hierarchy, and has an impact on the married couple’s life. Such societal structure and cultural values provide more authority and power to males diminishing females’ rights. Women’s position in society is unequal to men's as Bertrande is accused of the crime against her husband despite he has left her and Arnaud de Tilh pretended he was Martin. It means that men have more rights comparing with women both in family and society. Thus, Bertrande is responsible for Martin’s dishonor as she is weak and unable to protect herself. Moreover, the strict patriarchal system limits her freedoms and the right of choice. It is obvious that societal and cultural traditions are the restraining forces of happy marriages and relationships between man and woman.
Martin controls their marriage as he makes the decision on leaving and coming back and judging his wife for dishonoring his name. Moreover, he tries to control Bertrande after the marriage is over. It means that the problem of marriage is not only in unequal roles of a wife and a husband but between males and females in the society. Martin’s control and authority are evident in his selfishness that results in parents’ death and Arnaud de Tilh’s manipulation with Bertrande’s feelings. Bertrande’s role here is to take care of the family and be obedient to Martin and his decisions.
The Similarities and Differences of Marriage Depiction in Both Novels
Both novels have many similarities and differences in the way of the depiction of marriage problems. These stories are similar because both authors insist that societal and cultural concerns influence marriage and roles of husband and wife. Furthermore, both authors are females, and they feel worried about the place of woman in both family and society. The Wife of Martin Guerre and Growing My Hair Again have a lot in common because they show wives like victims and slaves of marriage who suffer from the authoritative power and abuse of their husbands. Moreover, both authors argue that marriage is not an equal partnership as it is weak, temporary, selfish, damaging, and unfulfilling. In both stories, parents are also to blame for unsuccessful marriage as they try to manipulate their daughters-in-law. Another similarity between these novels refers to the role of a husband in the marriage. Both males fail to cooperate with their wives and believe that they should be authoritative leaders who can abuse them. It is obvious that The Wife of Martin Guerre and Growing My Hair Again relate marriage issues to unequal position of woman in the society.
These literary works have also many differences. First, they refer to cultural distinctions. The events of The Wife of Martin Guerre take place in feudal society in France. Thus, marriage problems are more related to societal structure. Growing My Hair Again is related to Nigerian culture that has severe marriage traditions and customs. Thus, culture is the main reason for possible challenges in marriage and family life (Waldman 1). Another difference is between female characters. Nneka is strong, intelligent, and self-determined; she rebels against her mother-in-law and shows disrespect for mourning ceremony. Bertrande is not so strong like Nneka as she is not sure about her feelings and actions; therefore, she suffers a lot.
In conclusion, The Wife of Martin Guerre and Growing My Hair Again are based on marriage as a challenging and unequal partnership between males and females. Thus, marriage is weak as husbands control it and can use violence and abuse against their wives. It is temporary as one partner can leave another because of selfishness or die like in these stories. Marriage is selfish as it can be done for families’ enrichment. Marriage is damaging as it makes Bertrande suffer physically and emotionally while Nneka is abused and suffers from her husband's violence. Marriage is unfulfilling as males can receive everything that they want, and females’ role is to take care of husband and children and perform all household chores. In The Wife of Martin Guerre, marriage is the way of enrichment of two families, and Bertrande is a victim of this marriage. In Growing My Hair Again, marriage is the way of understanding freedom and getting rid of violence.