No longer at ease is a book that tells the story of Obi Okonkwo, a young Nigerian who returns from England to find his place in the Nigeria of his idyllic poems. He soon gives up his notions of a Nigeria that is made of jocund birds and flimsy butterflies with the tender glow of a fading sun for one more realistic—one like putrid flesh in a spoon.
In a society that is greatly impressed by everything showy, his simplicity in dressing and the use of “is” and “was” instead of grand and stupefying words is a great let down considering the fact that he studied English; the language of those who live in the land of the seven spirits.
After getting a job , he learns quickly that a man who has been made to occupy a high position through the collective efforts of a community has need to be kept in place and sustained by the efforts of these same persons. He soon has lots of bills and loans to pay off, family obligations and expectations from the community . He finds it difficult to keep up with all these and coupled with his temper and pride which prevents him from accepting a longer time limit for repayment of what he owes the Umuofia progressive union for sending him abroad, it becomes close to impossible.
His relationship with his father who is a thorough Christian and mother whose place in his heart has been sealed by the memory of him seeing her with blood dripping from her hand as she washed his clothes at the stream without suspicions of a sharp razor blade in the pockets of his clothes becomes conflicted when he mentions that he wants to marry the girl Clara Okeke, an “Osu”— an outcast whose situation can be compared to a leper. Obi proposes the absolution of such traditional ideas, pleading on the foundation of his father’s Christianity; a religion he no longer practices , but he is unsuccessful at making his parents bend to his will.
What is left of the sentiments of Colonial masters can be found in the depiction of Mr. Green. Here is a man slaving for a country he speaks of with disdain and threatening to leave any day it gains it’s independence. He is depicted to feeling slanted and cheated out of the Africa of his imagination, the type that requires pity and the white savior.
“But when he arrived, Africa played him false. Where was his beloved bush full of human sacrifice? There was St. George horsed and caparisoned, but where was the dragon? In 1900 Mr. Green might have ranked among the great missionaries; in 1935 he would have made do with slapping headmasters in the presence of their pupils; but in 1957 he could only curse and swear.
Feeling the burden of responsibility as a pioneer for a future generation, he decides to not be part of a corrupt society. This he practices first in a bus on his way to his hometown Umuofia, where his obvious presence leads to the driver of the lorry having to pay double instead of the normal bribe. He soon sees how rigid the system is and how difficult the task really looks.
With time and with a failed relationship, Obi begins to soften just like the broken system he finds himself in. He accepts some “ gifts” , which enable him handle his financial burden, but this leaves him with a bad feeling. His worst scenario does come to play when he is caught accepting a bribe.
Chinua Achebe’s ‘No longer at Ease’ shows well how much value is placed on not deserting one’s blood. When a member of the Umuofia Association misbehaves, he is rebuked, but helped all the same. The good that comes to one person is seen as collective good and shame can be felt too as a group, that is why Obi’s crime and arrest is seen as a huge loss for the community.
I believe this story is a kind of tragedy and just as Obi says:
Happy ending? Are you sure it’s The Heart of the Matter you’re thinking about? The European police officer commits suicide. ”Perhaps happy ending is too strong, but there is no other way I can put it. The police officer is torn between his love of a woman and his love of God, and he commits suicide. It’s much too simple. Tragedy isn’t like that at all. I remember an old man in my village, a Christian convert, who suffered one calamity after another. He said life was like a bowl of wormwood which one sips a little at a time world without end. He understood the nature of tragedy. ”You think that suicide ruins a tragedy,” said the Chairman.“Yes. Real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly forever. Conventional tragedy is too easy. The hero dies and we feel a purging of the emotions. A real tragedy takes place in a corner, in an untidy spot, to quote W. H. Auden. The rest of the world is unaware of it. Like that man in A Handful of Dust who reads Dickens to Mr. Todd. There is no release for him. When the story ends he is still reading. There is no purging of the emotions for us.
Truly, this story ends with the reader attempting to conclude, but with all that has happened, it is not easy to see a way out of this situation.