No Longer At Ease
Obi receives a letter from his father, which asks for him to come home because of an "urgent matter" they need to discuss. Obi worries that this matter has to do with Clara, her social status as an outcast, and their proposed marriage. Obi has not told his family anything about the matter, but he assumes that the news has reached them somehow and that someone must have told them.
There is a brief episode in the office where Mr. Green, as usual, insults educated Africans after giving a brief and curt dictation to Marie, his secretary. Following this Obi calls Christopher and arranges to play tennis with two Irish girls, Nora and Pat who have just recently arrived in Nigeria and who were living at the convent as Roman Catholic missionaries. Obi does not know how Christopher and the girls have met, but Obi has met them in Christopher's apartment two weeks prior. Achebe gives us a flashback of the day they met in Christopher's apartment where they danced, and Obi had tried to kiss Nora without success; she said that Roman Catholics do not "kiss like that." Finally, they drop the girls off at the convent and arrange to play tennis, which they do twice, only to forget about them for a while. Now, Obi feels like playing a game with them again, and so he arranges another game. When the two men arrive at the convent, however, the girls cannot go with Obi and Christopher. The reason is, as Nora explains, that they have been told not to become serious about African men, because they would be sent back to Ireland if the Bishop found out.
Christopher and Obi are thus left alone to discuss the girls, their behavior, and eventually bribery. First they pass by the house of Florence, whom, as his new girlfriend, Christopher wishes to marry. The problem with Florence is that she wishes to go to school, and Christopher dissuades her from doing so because she would have to go away. Obi advises that he not dissuade the girl from her education and provides a folk story to prove his point. Florence, because she wants to go away to study, reminds Obi of the Miss Mark who offered her body to him as a bribe, in return for her scholarship, which is how they begin to talk about bribes. Obi tells Christopher the story, but Christopher does not believe that it is all together wrong for a woman to offer her body in such a fashion. Obi, on the other hand, still believes it to be corrupt. They argue about this endlessly, Christopher claiming that a girl who would do such a thing is not an "innocent" girl and does not have to be treated as such. After their long discussion, Obi leaves his friend and returns to thinking about the letter his father had written to him and about the situation with Clara.
Three main occurrences happen in this section: Obi receives an urgent letter from home, Mr. Green continues to reign above the office like a verbal, complaining, old colonial lord, and Obi and Christopher have an excursion with Irish girls.
The presence of the Irish girls in this novel has many meanings. First of all, it is important that the Irish girls are missionaries, to illustrate an ever- present Western presence and not only a presence but one that is looking to make "converts." However, the girls are also important because they heighten Obi's position as an in-between. More specifically, they are more anti-English than Obi, which makes Obi feel uncomfortable—a predicament which is a perfect metaphor for a life lived "in the middle" and, as mentioned previously, with a "double heritage." Also, when the girls say they cannot see them because they are Africans and when Christopher pokes fun of the Catholics, Obi finds himself defending Roman Catholics because, as we already know, he has grown up Catholic with his catechist father. Moreover, Obi finds himself in a confused state even among the Irish. Lastly, it is important that Achebe places the scene in which the girls tell the men they cannot go out with them in the novel. For all the times that Obi claims that Nigeria is changing, this moment exists to illustrate that there are still those that think backward and that change is not always as thorough as one would like it to be.
Furthermore, the episode with the Irish girls plays a role in Obi's relationship with Clara, because in a sense he is cheating on her. The morality and virtue he displays over certain ideas, as in not taking bribes, does not seem to apply to the way he feels about women. He does not, apparently, find it wrong to see other women while having a serious girlfriend. He obviously does not love or care for Nora, he is simply using her to take his mind off of his troubles—troubles that include Clara. His friend Christopher is also capable of having many women at a time as is evidenced by the fact that he sees three women at once. Women are an important subject matter in this section of the novel, and they begin to come up frequently. Obi believes that Christopher's girlfriend should be left to study abroad although Christopher seems not to deem it as important. Yet, Christopher thinks that a woman offering her body as a bribe is not as horrible as Obi thinks it is. There are many mixed messages about women in this section, and it is important that they be looked at and examined if not concluded upon.
From the beginning of the chapter, Obi is worried that the urgent letter he has received from home is about his doomed relationship to Clara and her outcast position in society. The narration then diverges away from this as we follow Obi on his attempt to forget his problems, only to return to these very problems—or at least a vivid reminder of these—by the end of the chapter.
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