No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe is the book I have chosen for my critical book analysis. This is the second book part of a trilogy by Chinua that explores Nigeria’s history through a fictional point of view. The trilogy is often referred to as the African trilogy including Things Fall Apart, and Arrow of God. This book was published in 1960 two years after Achebe published Things Fall Apart. The title No Longer at Ease reflects the feelings felt by the main character Obi, who feels discomfort after returning home to Nigeria and feeling alienation from his people. Which gives us the focal point the author is writing in this novel. Where one person does not have the capability to change the world overnight, despite having many great ideas- like the main character of the story Obi- it takes a lot to try and change traditions people have followed for years. Achebe’s thesis or purpose of this book was not to focus on the cultural retrieval but rather he wanted to focus on social criticism.
At the beginning of this story, it starts with Obi the grandson of Okonkwo, who is the main character in Things fall apart, on trial for bribery. From there the book goes back in time to lead up to how Obi made it to this point. Chronologically the book goes through Obi’s journey to England to get his education, and the trials he went through before getting to the point where he loses both his mother whom he was close to and his fiance Clara. In the beginning of the book the trial judge stated to Obi ” I cannot comprehend how a young man of your education and brilliant promise could have done this” (9-10) as well as Obi Boss Mr. Green “who was one of the Crown witnesses, had also said something about a young man of great promise. And Obi had remained completely unmoved. “(9-10) These quotes go with the theme of Identity that Achebe addresses. When the judge made the statement of him not understanding why Obi with a great education did something so illogical, Obi burst out with tears. When the same statement was made by his boss Obi simply showed no emotion or remorse. Obi had always been considered virtuous, with his education he believed to be less prone to corruption and he could advance in his career and life choices. But now, Obi is faced with his own deception, he has to admit that his identity as a ‘young man’ of such ‘brilliant promise’ is perpetually demeaned. With Obi’s background you see he comes from a heritage that values community, loyalty, and tradition, but moves away from those things. Obi’s character is weak, prideful, and ignorant despite having the education and support from his friends and family. Along his journey Obi falls in love with Clara who is an osu and Obi is forbidden to marry her because of her status but he gives no mind to this. Even when Obi is struggling to pay back his school fees, and help pay for Clara abortion he lacks any sense. Because of his lack of any moral sense, his character shows very little development throughout the book. Still dealing with the theme of identity No Longer at Ease is commonly compared to the first book in the trilogy because of the character’s relationships and the relations of the book in general. In this book, Obi is pressed with the identification of his grandfather with people saying “We have our faults, but we are not empty men who become white when they see white, and black when they see black….He is the grandson of Ogbuefi Okonkwo who faced the white man single-handed and died in the fight. Stand up!… Remark him,’ said Odogwu. ‘He is Ogbuefi Okonkwo come back. He is Okonkwo kpom-kwem, exact, perfect.’ (100-104) With him having his grandfather to look up to he has to stand proud in his race, and not conform to the white man’s way. Which is something Achebe heavily includes in his writings when comparing the white and black cultures. Obi is in between trying to conform to two different cultures, which is his biggest difficulty, and one of the main thesis in this book. With one culture that values traditions, community support, and loyalty, while the other culture is demanding, soulless, and immoral. This helps lead to the next theme Achebe uses in the story which is Corruption. Throughout the book, Obi is tempted with bribery but does not give in until the end. Bribery is something seen in both cultures, and with Achebe using Obi’s trail to open the story helps press the issue. Achebe makes it seem that it is was inevitable for Obi to resist bribery much longer since it is so common and many others are guilty of this, but that is just something that comes along with colonialism.
The writing style Chinua Achebe uses to deliver the messages in his story is very straightforward. He does not beat around the bush or use excessive metaphors or symbols. But there is still use of symbolism in the book like with the palm kernel that has both white and black nuts inside and Achebe uses this to symbolize Obi’s divided self. The tone in this piece is satirical with Achebe also uses a social and political criticism tone. The mood is critical, and the book is written in 3rd person limited omniscient narrator. The organization of the book bounces from the present where obi is on trail and then it backtracks to when obi was growing up, then receiving his scholarship to go to England, and his journey of getting his education, and fiance Clara, then for it to all come back to his arrest. Which is a good setup for this book, because it gives a hook at the beginning with you anticipating what happened for the main character to end up in this position. The African Trilogy, when reading in schools, helps to teach young kids of indigenous Africans and a better understanding of their struggle. At the beginning of the book there is a poem by T.S. Elliot called “The Journey of the Magi”, this poem also contains the title of the book in the second line. The poem at the beginning is an epigraph, which helps elucidate the theme of the story. The message in this poem is the spiritual birth that can feel like death, which is a painful process. This message goes along with the story of Obi how he journeys to England where he is experiencing a cultural birth and death, and when Obi returns to Nigeria he feels culturally misplaced. When Obi’s full name is mentioned, Obiajulu, when you look at the meaning of the name it means “the heart is consoled” the meaning of his name is ironic towards the title of the book, as well as the conflict Obi faces in the book. Obi failure and becoming a victim of alienation, and his tragedy is something that all of the young men are being faced with. Trying to balance these two cultures but not understanding the complexities of this colonialism.
No Longer at Ease does not support the idea of corruption or bribery that exists in Nigeria, but it does give you insight into the clear advantage of bribes. Achebe had the idea of showing what factors go into determining a man’s fate. When using literature to make a case of something, but Achebe does not include himself in the text, and the book is seen through the study of disintegrative forces of tradition and modernism on a western educated Nigerian. Achebe’s main thesis of this book is the focus on the corruption of an African mind and the lawlessness loose upon the world.
In conclusion, the book’s worth is valuable containing information to help people see within Nigerian society and the corruption it went through while trying to gain its independence. The book examines the colonialism that afflicted the Nigerian society. It points out the underlying government structural weaknesses that a new society was being built on. Achebe achieves his philosophical outlook through Obi and the inevitable acceptance of the change. Near the end of Obi says ‘We all have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace,'(151) this quotation shows Obi accepting the modern change.
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