07 Sep No Longer At Ease – Summary
If you love Chinua Achebe’s books, this summary will give you a quick tour of his novel No Longer at Ease. Enjoy the African touch of Achebe stories.
No Longer At Ease – Summary
No Longer At Ease is a novel by a Nigerian novelist, literary critic, and poet, Chinua Achebe. “No Longer At Ease” was first published in 1960, following Things Fall Apart – one of the most widely read books in Africa. No Longer At Ease is a trilogy (referred to as an African Trilogy) with Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. Further, the story’s title is from the end line of “The Journey of Magi” – a poem by a British poet, T. S Elliott.
The story starts with Obi Okonkwo, the grandchild of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, standing a trial for his involvement in a sting operation. Obi Okonkwo is a young optimistic Nigerian from Umuofia in present-day South Eastern Nigeria who was collectively sponsored to school in London by Umuofia Progressive Union. They hoped he would return home to represent them in the British colonial legal system. However, Obi ended up dumping the law to study English at the university, so he found himself in a dilemma trying to choose between the Western and African lifestyles.
The novel starts while Obi was being tried for collecting bribes, then takes readers back to the reasons behind his arrest and his days in Nigeria before leaving for studies in the UK.
The Umuofia Progressive Union contributed money— which he has to repay after graduation—to send Obi to study law in a British university to represent them in the Nigerian legal system dominated by the British colonizers.
The Umuofia Progressive Union, simply UPU, was made up of business individuals who left their villages to grow cities in Nigeria. The members of the union advised Obi to focus on his studies and pay no attention to distracting activities in the white man’s land.
Obi’s father had converted to Christianity after his encounter with the white missionaries, and so did his mother. Obi is partially religious and always seeks his mother’s attention.
At the university in Britain, Obi met Clara Okeke, whom he admired at a dance show at the university but failed to approach her. He had dumped law to study English. On the ship back home, Obi coincidentally met Clara again. This time, he took a bold step to kiss her and forged a relationship with her.
He arrived in Lagos, where he was sheltered by his friend, Joseph. Joseph took Obi around Lagos, which he hadn’t been to for four years. Obi stayed with Joseph since he had no job at the moment and desperately looked for one. Soon, he got a job interview with the Scholarship Board. During the interview, Obi was asked whether he would consider taking a bribe to pave the way for anyone. He replied to the interviewer in anger calling the question ‘useless.’
Before the interview result was released, he traveled to the village for the first time since he left home four years ago for studies in Britain. He was welcomed by a mammoth crowd, followed by a reception. The elders of his village warned him to be wary of the domineering white colonizers.
Obi was yet to repay the money contributed to training him by the UPU, and his siblings were still hoping to get some money from him as agreed initially for their education. Obi, however, wasn’t bothered by this debt as he only thought about his new girlfriend, Clara.
Obi got the job with the Scholarship Board but was welcomed by a man offering him a bribe to get a scholarship for his sister amid his financial woes. The optimistic Obi, who wished to eradicate corruption in Africa by replacing the aged and poorly educated politicians in power with young ones like himself, angrily rejected the bribe, making the man’s sister come herself. She offered him sex to obtain the scholarship since he had previously rejected the money, but Obi still declined her offer.
Sex was even the least he could consider as he was swooningly in love with Clara. Clara had revealed to Obi that she’s an osu, an outcast group of people dedicated to the gods in Igbo culture. No person other than the Osu is allowed to marry an osu person, so Clara being an osu meant both cannot marry each other according to the Igbo tradition. Despite this, Obi was still ready to turn away from the tradition and marry Clara.
However, his parents and the UPU opposed his relationship with Clara because of her osu status. Obi, in anger, told UPU to stay away from his private life, making them pressure him more to repay the loan they contributed to sending him to school. Obi hadn’t gotten support from his Christian father to marry Clara, despite him avoiding African traditions. His mother also warned him not to marry Clara while she was still alive unless he wanted her to commit suicide.
When Obi told Clara about his parent’s disapproval of their relationship because of her osu status, she decided to estrange herself from him and return his ring. Unfortunately, she was pregnant and revealed this to Obi. Abortion is illegal in Nigeria but can still be done illegally at a higher fortune in private clinics. Clara agreed to abort the pregnancy, which got complicated, making her spend five weeks in the hospital. When she fully recovered, she disengaged herself from Obi, making Obi break down more. Obi plunged into depression after facing financial difficulty caused by the illegal abortion and his siblings’ school fees.
Obi was yet to recover from Clara’s estrangement and the financial burden her abortion had inflicted on him when he learned about the sudden death of his long-time ailing mother. He slides into depression more. Consequently, Obi chose not to attend the mother’s funeral in faraway South East Nigeria. He cried but couldn’t help himself out. When Obi healed from the grief, he decided to take bribery in his workplace to stabilize himself. He got used to taking bribes and began to see the world that way. However, Obi still had some sense of optimism in him. He promised never to take any bribe after the last one, but unknown to him, the last one he accepted was staged by the government to catch corrupt people.
No Longer At Ease ends with Obi being arrested for his involvement in the sting operation and facing trial for violating his work ethics. People began to wonder why a man who had attained such a position in the civil service and schooled abroad would engage in such a crime.
Obi is the protagonist of the novel. His education abroad ended up setting him apart from his home country and kinsmen, making him ‘not at ease’ with himself. Obi tried to escape the social life of his people and the obligation associated with it but failed to do so in the end. No Longer At Ease is set in Igbo land, Nigeria, around the 1960s when colonialism was on the brink of collapse. The UPU constituted by Obi’s kinsmen teamed up to fund Obi’s education abroad in turn for him to represent them in the British legal colonial system and also to protect their land. The story uncovers how decayed and corrupt the Nigerian civil service system is.