Things Fall Apart continued…
No Longer at Ease
By Chinua Achebe
Published by Penguin Classics (2010)
NO LONGER AT EASE is the second book in Achebe’s famous Achebe trilogy with the first being Things Fall Apart and the last being Arrow Of God.
No Longer at Ease was actually supposed to be a part of the first book, but Achebe split it into two books.
It provides an insight into Nigerian society in the post-colonial period
The book follows the story of Obi Okonkwo, the grandson of Isaac Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart.
The book examines Obi’s return to Nigeria after successful university study in Britain and his struggle to fit back into the Nigerian society upon his return and subsequent employment.
He meets a girl, lives the life and then, at some point, much like his grandfather, things begin to fall apart.
Obi receives a hero’s welcome from all the people who fundraised, from his village, to help him come back and uplift them as well.
To them, Obi had achieved a lot and they thought he was back to support the village.
“The importance of having one of our sons in the vanguard of this march of progress is nothing short of axiomatic,” said the Umuofia Progressive Union secretary in his welcome speech at Obi’s reception.
“Our people have a saying: Ours is ours, but mine is mine.
Every town and village struggles at this momentous epoch in our political evolution to possess that of which it can say: this is mine.
We are happy that today we have such an invaluable possession in the person of our illustrious son and guest of honour.”
Obi obtains a position as a senior civil servant in Lagos.
His job came with a car, a driver as well as a handsome salary.
However, before he got the job, the expectations placed on him from his village community were made clear.
Having paid for his education, his people expect him to repay the debt with monthly repayments at the rate of about one third of his salary.
He soon discovers he has a multitude of expenses that make his salary inadequate.
Obi’s expenses include car insurance, income tax, his mother’s medical bills and even the monthly electricity and food costs.
Financial pressures and Obi’s inability to manage his finances are a major theme of the novel.
“Obi had not realised that the allowance was not a free gift to be spent as one liked,” writes Achebe.
Having seen the situation in its true light, Obi decided to stop payment forthwith until such a time as he could do it conveniently.
He would just stop paying and, if they asked him why, he would say he had some family commitments and would sympathise.
“They would not take a kinsman to court, not for that kind of reason anyway.”
This was, however, not the case; his village kinsmen expected him to pay his dues.
The need to do the right thing, as dictated by his Western education standards, is set in sharp contrast to the social obligations and expectations placed on him by his community.
Obi’s position, as a senior civil servant, enhanced his village’s reputation and they expected he would be able to facilitate Government jobs for more of their sons and daughters.
Others, too, came knocking at his door, seeking subtle assurances that their sons or daughters would receive a place on the short-list of candidates for a government education scholarship.
Achebe also brings out the issues of inter-cultural marriages in Nigeria.
Obi meets, falls in love and engages Clara from a different tribe.
“Obi knew better than anyone else that his family would violently oppose the idea of marrying an osu,” writes Achebe.
“But for him it was either Clara or nobody.
Family ties were all very well as long as they did not interfere with Clara.”
Ironically the story ends with Obi being arrested for corruption.
Obi became like one of those officials he despised so much to begin with.