Themes in Flora Nwapa’s “Women are Different”

Some of the prominent themes in Women are Different by Flora Nwapa are the themes of marriage and divorce, infidelity, and single parenting.

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Women are Different cover
Women are Different by Flora Nwapa
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Some of the prominent themes in Women are Different by Flora Nwapa are the themes of marriage and divorce, infidelity, and single parenting.

Theme of Marriage and Divorce

The theme of marriage and divorce is one of the important themes in Women are Different. It occupies a centre stage in Nwapa’s Women Are Different. Agnes finds herself in a marriage dilemma. She is truly in love with Sam, her boyfriend in school, but both cannot marry because of Mr. Egemba—a purported medical doctor who not only pays her fees but also caters for the needs of the family.

Apart from the fact that Mr. Egemba is old enough to be Agnes’ father, he is also Agnes’ step-mother’s lover. As a matter of fact, Agnes’ marriage is solely pre-determined by the active connivance of her step-mother and another woman who posed as Agnes’ family relation:

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I endorse what Cecilia is doing. The sooner she gets her out of the way, the better for her. She sought my advice, and I gave it to her. Marry her off as soon as possible, so she will be busy with her own family and won’t bother you with yours …

(p. 52, Women are Different)

Agnes feels dissatisfied with the marriage and this sense of dissatisfaction reflects in her attire and facial expressions during her wedding. Agnes finds a new lover while in her matrimonial home. Ayo Dele, her new found lover, is married with children. Both engage in sexual relations. After a while, Agnes divorces her husband so as to practice her freedom without restrictions:

So, Agnes left her husband in a most callous manner. He went to work as usual, and by the time he returned, Agnes had left with their four children. Agnes’ father was heartbroken, and shortly afterwards, he died.

(p. 58, Women are Different)

The question is, must women divorce their men in a bid to address marital problems? Why must Agnes commit adultery all in the name of asserting her individualism? What will become of her children whose interest she did not consider before taking her decision? Is single parenting an ideal solution to marriage instabilities? These and a lot more are some of the questions that require objective answers.

Themes in Women are Different

Dora’s marriage to Chris, her school boyfriend, begins on a romantic note. Both share things in common. They do business together, eat together and share physical and emotional intimacy. However, things started to fall apart when Chris travels to London with the financial aid of the wife who has become a successful business woman. Dora later discovers that Chris is living with a white lady in Harmburg. She returns home and quickly divorces him according to native customs:

A month after her return from London and Hamburg, she went to Chris home, got hold of his old relatives and divorced him by native law and custom. A few days afterwards, Tunde came into her life.

(p. 78, Women are Different)

Divorce seems therefore to be the most veritable approach to marriage challenges. One begins to wonder if it is solving or creating more problems, for the characters still wander about in search of marital satisfaction, even after abandoning their enemy-husbands.

Rose’s marriage with Mark is not a palatable one. After losing contact with Ernest, her true love and school friend, she finds herself trying to put up with her loneliness. Impatiently, she marries Mark who jilts her for an Irish woman. Ernest shows up eventually, but then things are no longer the same. Rose has already hooked up with another man (Olu) having divorced Mark. Rose saw herself thinking of Olu. She tried not to be too involved, she tried not to be emotional, but it was difficult. She had to learn this. She must learn. She must be like Comfort who sailed in from one relationship to the other without being the worse for it.

Thus, finding no true emotional satisfaction in one man, Rose wanders from one relationship to the other: Ernest, Mark, Olu and so on.

Theme of Infidelity

The author moves away from the subjects of divorce, adultery or what she calls sailing through from one relationship to the other, to full time prostitution. The theme of infidelity is one of the dominant themes in Women are Different.

Prostitution seems to be the philosophy for women’s liberation from men and marriage inhibitions. Comfort refuses and accepts men based on their economic worth. After playing around with men of seemingly low financial status, she meets with Dr. Oyele, and marries him for his wealth. She makes love with younger and appealing men while bearing the name, Oyele’s wife. Nwapa sees Comfort’s promiscuity as a retaliatory measure against men’s marital infidelity:

When I was talking with a group of women the other day, one of them, who has a doctorate degree in history and is unmarried, agreed with us that the society was sick. She said very heatedly, “if husbands run around with other wives, why should not their wives do the same” (100 – 101)

(p. 52, Women are Different)

For Nwapa, prostitution is an act of revenge; a way of getting back at men. It is therefore no surprise that Chinwe snatches away somebody’s husband through whom she builds herself a house and opens a supermarket.

Zizi, on her part, waxes very strong in rascality. She attends night clubs, sleeps outside the house, joins a robbery gang and trades in illicit drugs between the age of fifteen and twenty.

As a proof of the fact that she has engaged in armed robbery, Zizi appears the following morning in a Mercedes Benz and with Champagne to celebrate the car. Shortly afterwards, she is caught with Ernest trying to smuggle some hard drugs inside the airplane.

When she regains her freedom from custody, she meets Theo and both agree to marry on contract basis. The contract is that Zizi shall inherit his house in London and get away after that. Here, Nwapa did not only propose prostitution and rascality as her philosophies for women’s emancipation but appears to suggest that marriage by contract would guarantee a woman’s marital independence.

Women are Different cover
Women are Different by Flora Nwapa

Theme of Single Parenting

The theme of single parenting is one of the notable themes in Women are Different. Nwapa talks about Rose’s inner preoccupations:

“Rose started thinking of a one parent family”. Agnes and Dora were right when they told her that she could get involved with a man, be pregnant and be the mother of his child. Why should she not relax and be pregnant?

(p. 87, Women are Different)

Nwapa believes that single parenting gives women the desired freedom. One therefore wonders if these women understand the implications of their feminist philosophy.

First, single parenting breeds children who can only qualify for bastards. It exposes them to various dangers because the job of raising children is overwhelming when it is done only by an individual. It thus requires the active collaboration of both parents to raise responsible children in the society.

Zizi and Chinwe took to prostitution, drug peddling and armed robbery because there was no father to monitor and control their excessive delinquencies.

More importantly, single parenting results in prostitution. It gives a woman the desired freedom to sail from one relationship to the other, become pregnant for a man and take responsibility for the child without recourse to bride price and/or customary rites.

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