With great subtlety and economy, No Longer at Ease creates an intricate psychological portrait of a modern African nowhere man. Outwardly, Obi Okonkwo appears a model of success and uplift, a local boy from the bush who rises into the elite to lead a glamorous life in the city with an enviable post in the senior civil service. But by probing, almost systematically, into the thought and behavior of his protagonist, Chinua Achebe reveals the weak foundations on which Obi’s character rests. Like a sapling unable to take nourishment from depleted soil, Obi is on his own with few resources on which he can draw. Yet it is not enough to pity this character, or scorn his bad judgment. Beneath Obi’s tragedy lies a more complex one, the tragedy of a society so vitiated by decades of foreign domination that its best and brightest are as strangers in their own land.
Achebe provides enough clues for the reader to discern that a great deal of Obi’s later difficulties stem from his . . . Read More
In the first half of the twentieth century, the empires of Europe controlled most of the African continent. Chinua Achebe depicts the roots of British rule over the Ibo people of the Niger Delta in Things Fall Apart. As colonial administrators were setting up the machinery of government, European industrialists exploited the country’s natural resources, and Christian missionaries introduced Western religion. Economic development, and the imposition of taxes, led many young men from the countryside to enter the cities in search of wage labor. Tribal unions, resembling the fictional Umuofia Progressive Union in No Longer at Ease, sprang up to keep the bonds of clan affiliation alive and provide mutual aid amid the anonymity of the city. A select few Africans received a European education, and gradually an African professional class emerged. Nevertheless, the changes imposed during the colonial era undermined African tribal existence on every level, from the logistics of village life . . . Read More
The social and psychological effects of European colonialism in African life is a central theme in all of Chinua Achebe’s writing. No Longer at Ease is set toward the end of the colonial period; two generations have passed since the white man’s initial disruption of Ibo society, the period depicted in Things Fall Apart. Blatant racial prejudice remains quite alive in the world of the latter novel. For example, the two Irish nuns are discouraged by their Mother Superior from socializing with African men. The patronizing attitudes expressed by Mr. Green reveal another dimension of the clash between cultures.
However, No Longer at Ease illuminates a subtler, deeper effect of colonialism, and that is the division and confusion of values—the conflict between tradition and modernity, between indigenous and Christian religion, between village communalism and urban materialism. Obi Okonkwo exemplifies this division. His upbringing, with his . . . Read More
In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Bisi is a girlfriend of Obi’s friend Christopher. She and Christopher go out one Saturday night with Obi and Clara; Bisi wants to go to the movies, but agrees to go out dancing instead. They stay out until two in the morning, and Bisi is reluctant to leave; she says the dance is just starting to heat up.
Christopher is a good friend of Obi Okonkwo. He has a degree from the London School of Economics, and has recently been transferred to Lagos from the city of Enugu. Christopher and Obi enjoy lively intellectual debates, especially on the topic of corruption in the Nigerian civil service. Christopher invariably opposes Obi’s point of view, perhaps for the sheer pleasure of playing the devil’s advocate. Christopher’s attitude is much looser than Obi’s on the ethical questions concerning bribery. Obi admires Christopher’s flexibility in moving between standard English and . . . Read More
Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease reveals its ending at the beginning: Obi Okonkwo is on trial for accepting a bribe. The trial is the talk of Lagos and the courtroom is crowded. Obi has maintained a demeanor of indifference throughout, but at the judge’s summation tears come to Obi’s eyes. The scene shifts to a British club, where Obi’s boss, Mr. Green, cites the case as proof of his conviction that ‘‘the African is corrupt through and through.’’ The Umuofia Progressive Union, an association of Ibo from Obi’s home village, meets to discuss Obi’s case. This group has raised funds to send select young men from Umuofia to study in England. Obi Okonkwo, a brilliant student, won the first scholarship, but disappointed his sponsors by studying English instead of law. The flash-forward ends, and the narrative backtracks to reveal how Obi’s disgrace came about, beginning with a prayer meeting and feast held at the Okonkwo family home . . . Read More
Joseph Conrad’s novella is an encapsulation of the experience of colonialism from the point of view of Europeans. Based on his own seafaring voyages across the colonies, Conrad attempts to picture the dichotomy of civility and barbarity. Through the characters of Kurtz, Marlow, the Russian and the natives, a composite picture of colonial Africa is presented.
Chinua Achebe’s controversial critique of Heart of Darkness condemns Conrad as a blatant racist. This is most evident in the fact that the steamboat’s crew is comprised of a native helmsman and twenty ‘cannibals’. There are also sightings of disembodied heads of natives intended to scare trouble-makers. Further depictions of barbarism come in the form of sudden attacks with arrows and spears that the sailors on the boat encounter. Achebe takes particular objection to the manner in which Conrad compares river Thames with river Congo. He remarks sardonically in his essay, “But if it [Thames] were to visit its . . . Read More