No Longer at Ease

No Longer at Ease is the story of an Igbo man, Obi Okonkwo who leaves his village for a British education and a job in the Nigerian Colonial civil service, but struggles to adapt to a Western lifestyle and ends up taking a bribe.

It is a 1960 novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.

Obi Okonkwo is a young man, about twenty-six years old, who returns to Nigeria after studying in England at a university for four years. No Longer at Ease, begins with a trial against Obi that takes place a while after his return, and the novel then works its way backward to explain how Obi has come to be charged with accepting a bribe.

When No Longer at Ease opens, we learn pretty quickly that the main character, Obi Okonkwo, is on trial for corruption and bribery. The judge and the audience alike wonder how such a promising young man could have made bad choices. Obi, whose mother has recently died and whose engagement to Clara has just ended, feels tears spring to his eyes. The novel then backtracks in time and tells the story of how Obi ended up in such a horrible situation.

We go back to Obi’s return to Nigeria from England, where he was receiving an education at a British university. Obi meets Clara on the boat back to Nigeria. They spark up a relationship quickly, and by the time Obi has gotten a job in the civil service, they are in love. Obi’s return is marked by fanfare; the Umuofia Progressive Union, which gave him a scholarship (more like a loan) to go to school, throws a huge party and welcomes him back as their local hero.

In fact, the expectation is that Obi’s repayment of his debt will allow them to send others to school, and his position in the civil government will place the whole region of Umuofia in a position of power within government. Through Obi, they may be able to get jobs. This expectation is seen as part of helping a member of his extended family, and accepting bribes is understood to be a necessary evil.

The Umuofia Progressive Union (U.P.U) has given Obi a scholarship to study law in England, a scholarship that Obi has to pay back upon his return. And, thus, he leaves for England, stopping in Lagos on the way out.

While in England, several things happen to him. First, he changes his course of study to English and abandons law. Secondly, he finds himself nostalgic for home, writing poems about Nigeria. Finally, he meets a girl named Clara at a dance in London but fails to make a good impression. However, the girl is Nigerian also, and on Obi’s boat ride back home, after nearly four years in England, he meets Clara once again. This time, they begin a relationship.

Once back in Nigeria, Obi stays, once again, in Lagos with his friend Joseph, trying to find a job and a place of his own. He also visits his own home village of Umuofia. Obi is quickly given a post on the Scholarship Board of the Civil Service and is also quickly introduced to the world of bribery, which is a world he wholeheartedly rejects with a strong idealism at first.

This is indicated early on when a man offers Obi money in order for Obi to “pull strings” for his little sister’s scholarship. Obi is appalled and rejects the offer, only later to be met at home by the little sister herself who offers Obi her body in return for the scholarship favor. Again, Obi rejects this offer.

No Longer at Ease continues the theme of Achebe’s first novel, “Things Fall Apart”. The clash between European culture and traditional culture has become entrenched during the long period of colonial rule.

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