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No Longer At Ease

Chinua Achebe

Chapters 17–19

Chapters 15 and 16

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Chapter 17

Obi returns to work and has to listen to Mr. Green complain about Nigerians who take breaks, implying laziness. He argues, as usual, for a little while with Marie, and then later in the morning he goes to the hospital to see Clara. He is allowed to see her but as soon as he enters the hospital room she turns her head toward the wall. He becomes embarrassed and leaves.

Obi decides that he will stop paying his loan to the town union because it has been what he calls "the root cause of all his troubles." He chides himself for having been too proud to accept the extension. Nevertheless, he says he will stop paying it until he can begin to do so again. He will have to repay the money he borrowed for the abortion and the money he borrowed from Clara first. He is not going to tell the Union unless they ask why he is not paying, at which time he will respond that he has had "family commitments."

Obi receives the unopened envelope for the letter he had sent Clara the night before. He had written a letter and dropped it off in the hospital, but Clara had not even opened it, she has simply returned it to sender. The letter simply says that he cannot believe it is over between them, and he asks for another chance.

Chapter 18

Clara is discharged from the hospital after five weeks, but Obi has been advised against seeing her. He receives a parcel from the Commission of Income Tax to whom he must pay his taxes, and to top everything off, Obi's mother dies. Although Obi is desperately saddened by his mother's death, he does not return to Umuofia for the funeral. Those in his Union spoke badly of the fact that he did not return home for the funeral and that he did not send enough money. They also say that he is just like his father who also did not go to his own father's funeral.

The Union holds a funeral gathering at Obi's house in Lagos, but Obi overhears a story implying that the Umuofians were critical of Obi's behavior. Obi goes through a period of mental torment only to arise out of it with a strange sense of calm: "The peace that passeth all understanding."

Chapter 19

Obi's guilt ends, and he feels like a new man. He no longer holds the image in his mind of his mother returning from the wash bleeding because of his razorblade. Obi now saw his mother, or remembered her rather, as a "woman who got things done."

Obi takes his first bribe, not without guilt, however. He accepts fifty pounds for helping a man's son with a scholarship. "This is terrible!" he tells himself after that first bribe. Achebe then jumps forward in time to illustrate that he took more bribes, including those from women who exchange their bodies for favors. The bribes came and went, and he paid all of his debts, living comfortably, but guiltily. Finally, on the day he has decided to take his last bribe and never do such a thing again because he cannot stand it anymore, he is arrested.

Analysis

The novel ends at the beginning. The people of Umuofia, the judge, the British Council man everyone is asking themselves why a man of such promise committed such an act. Of course, the entire novel is answering this question by tracing Obi's life, but there are really no answers in the end. The most pessimistic aspect of the novel is that it is cyclical. Sometimes cycles can mean rebirth, but in this case, the cycle is one of repletion and endless mistakes. One might ask him or herself why it is that Achebe has done this and whether or not there can be a break in that cycle. To answer these questions is to understand the novel. Achebe has the novel be cyclical to indicate a continuous sense of desperation and even stagnation. In the end, Obi finds himself expelled from his old idealistic self and in a mode of complacency, and the circle emphasizes the danger of that complacency.

As for whether or not this circle can be broken, the answer to the question is yes. The reason for this answer is that Achebe is the person who breaks the cycle. By writing this story, Achebe forces people to stop reading at the end, inviting each of us to think about the predicaments he has narrated individually. Because we must stop and think, we, therefore, forge a new path and hopefully stop repeating the cycle. Finally, it is apparent throughout the novel that change is occurring and that Obi is right to believe that the future of a post-colonial Nigeria is in the hands of those who can come to terms with, or an understanding of, their "double heritage."

Also, one may bring into question whether the novel itself is really altogether pessimistic. For, although Obi gets caught, he has reached a point at which he cannot take lying to himself anymore. He cannot stand the complacency of the bribe, and he has regained a guilt that has been somewhat latent. This is, in itself a positive thing, because whether or not he gets caught is not the issue. Perhaps the most important factor is that he regains a sense of conviction and a strength to fight for that in which he once believed. Still, perhaps the arrest will dampen this conviction, in which case we will have to take on his role. And yet, we see that, although he is accused of being unmoved by his present situation, Obi finds himself in tears when his education and possibilities are mentioned in court. Perhaps then, he will take these tears and turn them into something positive now that he has reached understanding.

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