Only a few years after Efuru’s first marriage, the concept of motherhood rise upward in the novel and becomes Efuru’s major problem. Obligatory motherhood is the downfall for Efuru based on cultural concepts. Her traditional community expects and demands that she become a mother. Approximately two years after her marriage to Adizua, she is concerned about her state; she says to herself, ‘`I am still young, surely God cannot deny me the joy of motherhood” (24). Her mother-in-law believes, however, that God is in charge and ‘a child would come when God willed it’ (24). The statements of both women are significant. Interestingly, Efuru, who has ignored courtship and marital traditions, shows concern to obey cultural traditions about motherhood while her mother-in-law recognizes that a higher power has control. However, she, too, secretly wants to keep negative voices away from her family. These women are struggling to please several groups—society, self, and family—and finding the struggle difficult, and even impossible. An examination of the words used by these women further illustrates this point. Efuru often says to herself; ‘God cannot deny me the joy of motherhood’ (24).
The strength and determination of the words ‘cannot deny’ in contrast to ‘will not’ indicate that Efuru has already made her choice for her future. What about the meaning of the words ‘joy of motherhood’? These words imply a rich and fulfilling role in life. It is clear from the diction assigned to Efuru that Nwapa is supporting motherhood. However, the words used by Efuru and her mother-in-law—emphasizing God’s will—indicate to the reader and community that whether one becomes a mother is not just based on desire and tradition but biological health as determined by a superior power. The words used in the two sentences above indicate a struggle among women themselves, for they do want children, but at the same time realize it is God’s choice whether they are able to bear children or not. These words suggest what Don Bialostosky calls the ‘mixed diction’ of Bakhtin’s dialogism (216-17). Mixed diction occurs when the characters speak and the narrator also speaks as she reports the characters’ speech. The two women seem to speak and think with one voice, but they oppose and reinforce each other at the same time. Both know the truth, but the mother-in-law privately wishes Efuru and her son would marry a second wife to give children to the family and remove social stigma from the family.
The concept of motherhood is a major concern for Efuru, Adizua, and Adizua’s mother. According to Carole Davies, the second characteristic of African feminism is called into question. This attribute focuses on the inequities and limitations found in traditional societies, conditions that create the struggle that Efuru and her mother-in-law reflect through their speech acts. They realize God will determine when and if a woman should become a mother. However, society still ostracizes women who are not able to get pregnant and even blames the women when the men have physical medical problems. One must ask why does someone have to be responsible or made a scapegoat for a nonhuman situation? After Efuru and Adizua try many times to conceive a child, they seek traditional avenues to help the situation. To remedy the problem, Efuru and her father visit a dibia who tells them Efuru will have few children and they must come back to see him for further information; he also gives specific instructions for her to follow, which includes making sacrifices to the ancestors on Afo Day, buying certain items at the market, then placing them in a calabash basket, and allowing the basket to float away.
After obeying the instructions, she and Adizua have a baby girl. Efuru has her baby in a quiet and unobtrusive manner while her husband is sleeping in the house. He awakens afterwards when he hears a baby crying and exclaims that the birth is not a dream; it is real. He says to his daughter, ”Welcome my daughter. Your name is Ogonim’ (32). It is the custom, for individuals to show their thanks to the dibia; Adizua and Efuru visit him and take gifts; however, when he opens several kola nuts, he sees something that bothers him, and he tells the couple to return to him on a certain day. Unfortunately, the dibia dies before their second visit. A connection is implied between the dibia’s earlier comment about Efuru’s having few babies, the opened kola nuts, and the couple’s future; and subsequent events confirm the connection. Although Ogonim acts like any normal child for two years, playing with her nurse maid, Ogea, and other children, the marriage begins to fail—for example, Adizua does not sleep with Efuru for six months-and Ogonim suddenly develops a fever, starts having convulsions, and eventually dies. The family makes preparations for Ogonim’s burial, but Adizua fails to attend his daughter’s finical. According to Efuru, the death of her daughter is a sure indicator that her marriage to Adizua is over; there is no bond between them.
The women in Efuru’s natal village also discuss what is best for young, beautiful Efuru, who is now a deserted wife and motherless woman since her child died. She is greeted by well wishers and no neighbors. One woman tells her not to say her husband left her but to say she left her husband because `’Wives leave husbands not the other way around’ (90). Efuru laughs that thing to me,” but the woman, the voice insists that ‘`it is not the same thing’ (90). Others say she has made the right choice to return to her village. They remind her that she is young and beautiful, from a good family; thus, she will find a husband in the future. The most profound comments come from her maid Ogea’s parents. They acknowledge hearing about Efuru’s marital problems and state they have no intention of judging her, but they do condemn Adizua’s not returning to bury his and Efuru’s only child as repugnant. They conclude, ‘It showed that he hates [you]. So you have done well in leaving him. You are young, so the day is just breaking for you, other suitors will come. Just have patience’ (94).