44 pages 1 hour read

Flora Nwapa


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1966

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Summary and Study Guide


Nigerian author Flora Nwapa (1931-1993) wrote Efuru in 1966. Published as number 26 in Heinemann’s African Writers Series, it was the first internationally published work by a Nigerian and African woman. The novel's feminist themes, strong central character, and portrayal of Igbo life have made it a classic of African literature. Nwapa is considered the mother of modern African literature because she sparked a generation of female writers whose work challenged stereotypical portrayals of African women in the male-dominated literary world.

This guide uses the 50th anniversary reprint by Tana Press (2016), Kindle version, for location numbers and quotations.

Plot Summary

Efuru follows the protagonist, Efuru Ogene, through her adult life as she navigates marriage, motherhood, and independence. The novel is set in a small town in Igboland, Nigeria, in or around 1966. It is written in the third-person omniscient past tense and makes extensive use of dialogue.

Efuru comes from a well-respected family and is beautiful, kind, and entrepreneurial. She has a close relationship with her father, Nwashike Ogene; her mother died five years before the novel begins. Everyone in Efuru’s town likes her, and they are surprised when she marries a poor, unknown farmer named Adizua without her father’s consent.

At first, Efuru and Adizua are very much in love. He cannot pay the dowry, but Efuru tells him not to worry. She is a skilled businesswoman and supports them by selling various goods at the local market while he works on the farm. Though Efuru is independent-minded, she respects her people’s traditions. Igbo women are expected to be industrious and successful workers, obedient wives, and fruitful mothers. Efuru is eager to fulfill all of her duties. She undergoes female circumcision before having her first child, as is the custom. Efuru is very close with Adizua’s mother, Ossai, and Ossai’s sister, Ajanupu, and they initiate her into the worlds of marriage and motherhood.

Efuru does not conceive during her first year of marriage, worrying her and her family. They visit a dibia—a traditional priest—and he reassures them. Nearly two years into her marriage, Efuru has a daughter, whom she names Ogonim. She goes to the town’s dibia to thank him for his help. While she is there, he offers kola nut to the ancestors but becomes concerned when they reject the offering. When Efuru returns, he predicts there will be a problem with her child and instructs her to return the following week. Before Efuru and her husband can return, the dibia passes away.

Nevertheless, Ogonim is healthy, and Efuru hires a maid to help care for her. The maid is Ogea, the 10-year-old daughter of Nwabata and Nwosu—poor farmers who are Efuru’s friends. The girl is difficult at first, but she soon becomes capable and enjoys living with Efuru.

Meanwhile, Adizua has become distant. He stays out late and does not eat the dinners that Efuru prepares for him. One day, he goes to the town of Ndoni but does not return. Efuru believes he is seeing another woman. She reasons that if he wants to marry a second wife, he should do so, but she wants to maintain her respected position as first wife and have another child. In the market, she overhears that a woman ran away to Ndoni, leaving her husband and child behind, and realizes that this is the woman Adizua is seeing. Efuru feels powerless to stop him because the husband is “lord and master” (Chapter 4, Location 987). Efuru learns from Ossai that Adizua’s father abandoned her too and that she never remarried. Ossai tells Efuru to be patient, but Efuru decides that she will leave Adizua when he returns.

Ogonim becomes ill, and the women cannot cure her. After several days, the two-year-old dies. Efuru is devastated. People send word to Adizua in Ndoni, but he does not return for the child’s funeral. Efuru is worried because now that she has no husband and no child, she feels like less of a woman. She was her mother’s only child and fears that she will not be able to conceive again.

Six months after Ogonim’s death, a childhood friend visits Efuru. His name is Eneberi Uberife, but he was baptized as “Gilbert” when he went to the church-run school. He now goes by that name. Usually, he corrects people who call him Eneberi, but he does not correct Efuru, who refuses to use his Christian name.

Efuru sets out to find Adizua, who still has not returned. She comes home a month later, unsuccessful, and moves out of his house and back in with her father. Her father welcomes her, and no one—not even her mother-in-law and aunt—fault her for leaving. Everyone is sure that she will remarry, which is what Efuru wants.

After a brief courtship, Eneberi proposes to Efuru. Everyone, including Efuru’s father, approves of the marriage. Four years into the marriage Efuru is still not pregnant, and she proposes that Eneberi marry a second wife.

In the meantime, Efuru has been having strange dreams about the goddess of the lake, Uhamiri. A dibia divines that Uhamiri has chosen Efuru to be one of her followers. Uhamiri represents wealth, beauty, and womanhood. Efuru notes that Uhamiri does not have children, even though childbearing is considered an essential quality of womanhood. The women in town worry because the other followers of Uhamiri are childless; they believe Efuru is now even less likely to bear another child.

Eneberi marries Nkoyeni, the younger sister of his friend Sunday. It becomes known that Eneberi had a son with an unknown woman in Ndoni. Nkoyeni becomes upset when she learns this, but Efuru is happy to see the boy, who resembles her husband, and welcomes him into the family.

Efuru’s father passes away, and the town mourns his death. Eneberi does not attend the funeral, and this incenses Efuru. Rumor has it that he went to Ndoni, but nobody knows his whereabouts. While he is away, Nkoyeni gives birth to a son. He returns two months later, saying that he was in jail and could not return. He claims that he was not arrested for stealing but does not explain why he went to jail beyond saying that he did something foolish (Chapter 16, Location 3913).

Efuru becomes ill, which the town gossip, Omirima, attributes to Efuru being guilty of adultery. Efuru finds this absurd. She performs some rituals with her age-mates (in Igbo society, those born within a three-year period) and proves that she is innocent. Eneberi presses Efuru to confess to the adultery, which was merely a groundless rumor. Efuru is so upset that he does not believe her that she leaves him. Her friend, a doctor, tells her to go back to her husband, but Efuru refuses. She moves into her father’s house, back where she began. The novel ends with her questioning why women worship Uhamiri if she does not bear children.