No Longer At Ease
Obi is now on good terms with Miss Tomlinson, ever since she reacted so cheerily to Clara, as mentioned before. In fact, the two co-workers are now on a first name basis. Obi now calls her Marie and even uses flattery on her. They often talk to each other when the workload is mild, and the subject is often that of Mr. Green, their boss. Miss Tomlinson claims that Mr. Green is very different at home, that he is much more generous and that he pays for the education of his steward's sons. Nevertheless, she admits that he does say appalling things about educated Africans. Obi thinks about Mr. Green for a long while and concludes that his predicament is tragic.
At first Obi cannot understand why a man like him, who does not feel anything for the country, can work such long and hard hours for Nigeria. Then he realizes that Green does love Africn, but only the Africa of his submissive servants—that of his stewards and messengers. Obi is reminded of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and he alludes to it, claiming that someone like Mr. Green was always trying to bring light to that "darkness." He feels sorry for Mr. Green, who must have been disappointed when he arrived in Africa at not having found it dark and full of bush as he had imagined. Obi continues his train of thought by reflecting on the changes that had gone on in Africa. He, specifically, remembers how when he was a little boy it was possible for a white man to slap a black headmaster when, now, such a thing would be unheard of and most would not even think to do it.
After all of this conversation with Marie and his consequent thinking, Obi receives a parcel from Clara, delivered by someone from the hospital. Obi fears it contains the ring he has given her because the last time they had spoken she had been angry with him and they had quarreled. However, the parcel contains no such thing—it contains fifty pounds with which he can repay the bank. Obi is moved by Clara's generous gesture but feels he cannot take the money. He tries to think of ways to tell her he cannot take it while driving from Ikoyi, where he lives, to Yaba, where she lives. When he arrives at her house he finds himself lying to her. She asks him what the bank manager had said when he returned the money. Obi lies and says that he was very pleased. The lie lasts a very short time, however, before Obi gives in to the truth. Clara is upset with Obi for not taking the money but says that she understands and that she has been thinking all afternoon that she should not meddle in his affairs. After their discussion, Clara and Obi go dancing with Christopher and his girlfriend Bisi. On their return to their car at night, Obi finds that the money, Clara's money, is missing from the car—it has been stolen.
This chapter is very much about character—the character of people like Mr. Green and Christopher, Obi's friend. Both of these men are complex in their own way.
Mr. Green, up until now, has been more vilified than anything else. Now, we take in the information that, at least according to Marie, he is not altogether a bad man. He pays, for example, for the education of his stewards. This makes him complicated, because Green is constantly making big insults against the educated African. It is, therefore, ironic for him to participate in that which he criticizes. At the same time, it makes perfect sense, because he belongs to a generation of white Englishmen that believed they could bring light and civilization to the African "jungle" or "heart of darkness." He must have, however, been surprised to find the land to be free of the dark bush and savagery that he had imagined. He might have been able to get away with worse in Africa's distant past, and since Green's mentality does not change with the changing times he is left only to "curse and swear." Obi finds this character particularly tragic, in fact. And, in the end, Obi is very pleased with the very English analysis he has used to dissect the character of Mr. Green, as if he were a character in a novel. This of course being a wonderful irony since it is what we are doing and is also what the writer is doing to an actual character in a novel.
As for the character of Christopher, Obi's educated economist friend, he develops as a character that Achebe poses against Obi's other friend, Joseph. Joseph is not educated and is more of a "bushman," as Obi says. They are different in many ways. For example, Joseph belongs more in the traditional African world, which is not to say that he is unaffected by the English and colonialism, because that would be an impossibility for anyone who lives in Lagos. It only means that, in comparison, Obi and Christopher are both much more the bearers of what Achebe calls a "double heritage."
Finally there is the issue of Clara and the difficulty in Obi and Clara's relationship. Just when it seems things are going well, things begin to fall apart. Obi is moved by Clara's gift of fifty pounds, but he feels he cannot take it. He lies to Clara, and then everything seems all right after he tells her the truth, only for everything to fall apart once again when the money is stolen. Not only does this strain an already problematic relationship, but it adds another layer to Obi's financial quagmire. He now owes fifty pounds to the bank and fifty pounds to Clara apart from everything else, including his debt to the UPU. Achebe is purposely and continuously adding layer upon layer of problems to heighten Obi's struggles. This is a very intentional move on behalf of the author, in order to illustrate to us how it is that Obi fell into the trap of bribery to which he says he would never succumb.
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