No Longer At Ease
At some point Mr. Green, in his arrogant way, reminds Obi that he has to pay his insurance renewal. The chapter opens when this renewal is due, and Obi's financial situation becomes tighter than ever. In addition to his usual expenses he now has this insurance to pay, and he cannot afford it. It is at this point that he sees a piece of paper on his desk that reminds him that one of the messengers from his department, Charles, owes him money. When Obi calls Charles into his office, however, Charles says he cannot pay him back at present and will have to pay him at a late date. Obi decides that he will take out a loan from the bank and feels somewhat better about things, thinking to himself, that he should not worry because beginnings are always difficult.
Obi thinks about the time in the past year when he had asked for an extension of four months to pay back his loan, which would have helped had he not been, in the end, too proud to take it. But that is all in the past, thinks Obi, remembering that he had apologized for his behavior and had been forgiven. The Union had, in fact, told Obi that they would give him the four months after he had apologized and that he should take them, but Obi refused to do so.
He puts himself in the position of all those with lesser salaries than his own and who had taxed themselves highly just to put him through school. He also thinks about how he cannot, in any way, let those people down. He decides, therefore, to simply go to the bank and take out a fifty-pound overdraft. Since his income, which is substantially high, goes straight into the bank, it should not be a problem. Once he has received this loan from the bank, he returns to work only to find his electric bill (and a preposterously high one at that). His reaction causes Miss. Tomlinson to ask him what is the matter. He thinks about the fact that next month the troubles will continue because he will have to renew his vehicle license, and he will eventually have to replace his tires which will, no doubt, last him only six months.
When he arrives home that day, Obi begins to instill financial frugality in the household. He complains about there being too much meat in his food and tells the steward he shall only give him money once a week for the market from now on. Obi also decides that there will only be one switch per bulb in the house as opposed the current two, in order to diminish the electric bill. He says also that the water heater shall not be turned on and that he will begin to take cold showers instead.
Later on in the day still, Obi has a quarrel with Clara because Clara becomes upset that Obi had not told her about taking a loan out of the bank.
Chinua Achebe places this chapter directly after the previous one for a very intentional reason. The last chapter showed Obi as a young man full of hope and winning battles against corruption. He was strong enough to refuse bribes and even his relationship with Clara seems to be running smoothly enough. Nevertheless, Achebe juxtaposes that chapter with this one: the chapter about Obi's economic hardships. Up until now we know all about Obi's difficulties with money. We know that he must pay back his loan and give money to his parents etc, etc. However, this chapter adds to those difficulties by explaining in detail the extent of his financial responsibilities. Obi has to pay insurance premiums and license renewals, and he has to keep up his car, pay electric bills, and establish systems for giving money to the steward for food and so on just to make ends meet.
Obi finds himself in a terrible situation but is still at the point where he can find some hope through his problems. For instance, he thinks about the fact that this is just a beginning for him and that beginnings are always difficult. He also makes himself think that he cannot let his people down, and he is somewhat cheered by Charles's attitude, the man who, in turn, owes Obi money. Also, the chapter seems to end hopefully when Obi finds a poem he had written in England about Nigeria.
The poem is a nostalgic piece of writing that makes him smile. It calls for unity and purity and peace and jollity, and in a way it does well to cheer him up. It is a poem he had written two years before and on the bottom he had written "London, July 1955." The poem both reminds us of Obi's displacement, but it helps Obi forge a new attitude to take. He finds this poem about Nigeria, ironically in an A.E. Housman book. Obi, like Achebe is using a British form (lyric poetry) and making that poetry his own by taking full possession of the subject matter.
Further problems arise out of Obi's relationship with Clara, a relationship that seems to be full of quarrels. They did not quarrel in the last chapter but that seems more like an exception to the rule. Clara, at this point, is upset because Obi has not told her about the overdraft, and she feels she should be told these things since they are to be married. It is obvious that Obi has a certain amount of pride and does not want to have to tell Clara about his financial problems, just as he did not want to take the extension from the Umuofian Progressive Union. The quarrels between the two of them always shed light upon both characters.
Also, as a kind of passing note, Achebe does not fail to criticize Mr. Green yet again in this section of the novel. Though this section seems more sympathetic to the UPU than others, although never fully accepting, it is still quite critical of Green. Because, although Green does well in reminding Obi of his insurance and what he will have to pay and when, Green does so in an arrogantly characteristic manner. "For one brief moment a year ago Mr. Green had taken an interest in Obi's personal affairs—if one could call it taking an interest." For, Green claims he must remind Obi because even the "educated" have not reached the level of thinking about tomorrow" in Nigeria.
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