Akueke by Chinua Achebe
In Akueke by Chinua Achebe we have the theme of control, independence, freedom, defiance, fear and tradition. Taken from his Girls at War and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Achebe may be exploring the theme of control and independence. Akueke’s brothers wish for her to be married. They appear to be more concerned about a ‘bride-price’ for Akueke than they do about Akueke herself. Akueke on the other hand has no desire to be married which may be important as it suggests that not only is Akueke independent of her brothers but she may also have no interest in following or adhering to the tradition in the village of the male members of a family receiving payment for allowing a female in the family marry. It may also be significant that Achebe opens the story with a feeling of hostility between Akueke and her brothers as this helps the reader to understand a little clearer just how strongly Akueke may feel about her brother’s intentions to marry her off to the highest bidder. At no stage in the story is Akueke allowed to choose her own husband rather that role is left to her brothers.
It is also interesting that Ofodile tries to frighten Akueke into marriage. By doing so he is further trying to exert control over Akueke. The fact that he also uses a story from the village about a girl called Onwuero may also be important as Ofodile is drawing on local folklore which if anything suggests that modernity has yet to reach the village. Something that becomes clearer to the reader when we realise that Ofodile and his brothers are reliant on medicine men to help when it comes to Akueke’s illness. Rather than using a medical doctor Ofodile prefers instead to take a more traditional approach even though none of the medicine men are able to help Akueke. As to what Akueke’s illness might be is difficult to say though it does play an important role in the story. It is through her illness that the reader realises how reliant Akueke’s brothers are on tradition. Not only do they follow a more traditional path when it comes to Akueke getting married (bride-price) but they also adhere to tradition when it comes to trying to find a cure for Akueke’s illness.
Though some critics might suggest that Akueke is merely being stubborn when it comes to getting married it is more likely that she is displaying an element of defiance and in reality is breaking away from the tradition of the village. At no stage in the story does the reader feel that Akueke wants to follow the same path as her brothers (following tradition). If anything she not only shows defiance against getting married but when her brothers leave her to die rather than dying Akueke shows an inner resilience and overcomes her illness without the assistance of either her brothers or the medicine men. With the exception of her grandfather Akueke is the only character in the story who appears to able to think for themselves.
It may also be important that Akueke’s grandfather calls her ‘mother’ as Achebe could be suggesting that Akueke’s grandfather believes in reincarnation and sees his own mother in Akueke. This may be the reason that he is so protective of Akueke. Something that becomes more obvious to the reader as the story progresses. It may also be significant that Akueke never speaks throughout the story as symbolically Achebe may be suggesting that Akueke lives in a male dominated world and as such does not have a voice. The two main speakers in the story are Akueke’s grandfather and her older brother Ofodile. With both men having different opinions about how Akueke should live her life. Though it may also be important to consider that though Akueke never speaks in the story her actions say more than words can say. It is through her actions that she gains independence from her brothers.
The end of the story is also interesting. Though the reader never knows Akueke’s age we are left in no doubt that Akueke’s grandfather has decided to be the one who will be responsible for Akueke’s upbringing. It may also be important that Akueke’s grandfather changes Akueke’s name as the change in name not only suggests that he is taking Akueke under his wing but he may also be honouring his mother with the name change. Rather than Akueke being viewed upon as a product that can be sold (bride-price) Akueke’s grandfather appears to fully respect Akueke. Even though he tells Akueke’s brothers that he will set the ‘bride-price’ there is a possibility that the price that is set is one that involves Akueke being allowed to make her own decision on who she might wish to marry. No longer does she need to live her life under the control of her brothers. Through her grandfather she may very well be allowed to live her life on her terms. Free to make her own choices about who she might want to marry when the time comes.