No Longer At Ease
When Obi is in England, he misses Nigeria. It is the first time the country becomes "more than just a name" for him. He even writes nostalgic poems about his home while he was away. On his return, however, things are not as he had remembered them, he has been away for almost four years and his memory has failed him somewhat.
On his return from England he went to Lagos, where he has passed through on his way to England as well. As a little boy he has heard of Lagos, of its piles of money, its lights, its cars, its fast-paced life—an image that has stayed with him long after his first visit on his way out of Nigeria. On that first visit he has stayed with an old schoolmate named, Joseph Okeke, who ia a clerk in the Survey Department and who has not had the same kind of education Obi has had and would continue, at that point, to have in England. On that first visit, Joseph tells Obi about the lifestyle in Lagos, and the dancing, and the women. Lagos has made such an impression that it is what he thinks of when he writes nostalgic poems about Nigeria during the cold winters in England.
On his return, however, Lagos is different, some parts are even unrecognizable. The novel jumps to a moment shortly after Obi's return, when Obi is waiting for his girlfriend, Clara, who is buying fabric in the slums of Lagos. While he waits for Clara, Achebe gives a vivid description of the slum surrounding Obi—the remains of a dog on the street that has been run over by a taxi, street vendors, meat stalls, etc. It is at this moment when he recalls his nostalgia for Lagos. However, when Clara returns, Obi does not understand why she shops in the slums. Following the episode in the Lagos slums, the narrative moves with the couple, in the car, toward Ikoyi (a kind of suburb) where they live. Ikoyi has once been a European reserve, but some Africans with "European posts," such as Obi, live there now.
The minor quarrel that follows in the car, after Clara finishes her purchases, illustrates the differences between Obi and his girlfriend. Clara wants to go to the movies, which Obi does not like to do. And Obi likes to read poems to Clara, which she is bored by and often did not understand. Clara is upset and not speaking with Obi because she has wanted to go see a film, which Obi does not consented to doing. This seems unfair since Clara has pleased Obi in doing things she has not liked to do in the past. For instance, she has gone to lunch to meet with one of Obi's friends, Christopher, whom Clara does not like. Christopher is "educated," in the same way Obi is. Christopher is the kind of friend with whom Obi can have arguments, and Christopher always takes the opposite view, stubbornly. At that particular meeting they speak about the corruption within the civil service and the bribery that went on, which Obi shows himself to be whole-heartedly and idealistically against.
When Obi is in England he realizes the importance of his homeland. This is one of the main issues that have arisen within the genre of post-colonial literature. Although it is not Achebe's main concern in the novel because Obi is only away in England for a bit under four years, it is still important and worth mentioning because Achebe does choose to spend time on the subject. Obi misses home and writes romantic, lyrical poems about Nigeria during the winters in England. However, "the Nigeria he returned to was in many ways different from the picture he had carried in his mind during those four years."
Salman Rushdie, an Indian post-colonial writer, has written an essay entitled "Imaginary Homelands," in which he talks about the homelands that arise in the memory of those who are no longer home. Obi's Nigeria, while in England, is very much one of these "imaginary homelands," fictionalized, in many ways, through memory. On his return to Nigeria Lagos is almost a strange place and Umuofia an even stranger one. When he returns to Lagos he sees the slums he has not been to and the nostalgic poem he wrote about nature and how "sweet" it is to lie under trees under the "tender glow of the fading sun," is juxtaposed against the dead carcass of a dog—the dogs that taxi drivers hit for good luck. This juxtaposition is meant to parallel the juxtaposition of memory versus reality. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Obi still seems optimistic at this point, and it is we that feed strongly on this juxtaposition in the form of foreshadowing.
There is other foreshadowing in this chapter such as that of the relationship between Clara and Obi. It is apparent that they are different and although it will also become apparent that they do have love for each other, this beginning quarrel is a sign of problems to come, problems that will unfold as the novel unfolds. The argument, to put it in simplistic metaphoric terms, revolves around the fact that Clara likes the movies and Obi likes T.S. Eliot. Interestingly enough, both of these "likes" are "Western," obviously a result of colonialism. We later finds out that Clara also has one great thing in common with Obi—that she too studied abroad in England (she studied nursing).
The final piece of foreshadowing that exists in this chapter is that the discussion that Obi and Christopher has is about bribery in the civil service. This is a subject that will persist throughout the novel until Obi's arrest and trial. Here, however, Obi is at the beginning of his "journey" toward change, and he is still idealistic, finding the corruption in the higher echelons of service disgusting.
Another important piece of information that the reader should grasp about this chapter is the social status of Christopher, Clara, and Obi. It is apparent that they are of a high class because of their European education and posts. They, like the Europeans in Africa, also have servants and stewards. This is, of course, ironic because it is in fact their country after all. The fact that they are prosperous because they have the posts that the outsider has had for years is another paradox of colonialism. Times, however, are changing as is evidenced by the following comment: "The second generation of educated Nigerians had gone back to eating pounded yams or garri with their fingers for the good reason that it tasted better that way. Also for the better reason that they were not as scared as the first generation of being called uncivilized."
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