No Longer At Ease
The boat arrives in Lagos. At Customs, Obi is told his Radiogram will have a duty-fee. The clerk, however, says that he will lower the price of the duty, but he may not give Obi a receipt. Obi is offended by the bribe and rejects it. Nevertheless, he ends his episode with the Customs clerk by saying: "Dear old Nigeria . "
The Umuofian Progressive Union (Lagos branch) is not meeting him at the docks. Obi explains that if the boat had been a mail boat everyone would have been there to greet him since it is that people in Lagos always go to meet the mail boats. The Umuofian Progressive Union does, however, have a reception for Obi. It is a large gathering held on a Saturday in honor of Obi's return after having studied in England. His fellow Umuofians are very proud of having someone from their village that studied in England and the president gives a long, and spirited speech about Obi and about knowledge. He does so in a full and formal English, which the members of the Union like very much.
At the reception, Obi makes several "mistakes." First, he arrives in a short- sleeved shirt because of the heat. Everyone else is dressed properly. Second, when he speaks to the people, after the president, he uses a simpler and less formal English, unlike the admired and complex English of the president.
After the reception, Obi's friend Joseph takes him to dinner at a restaurant where there are a few Africans and many Europeans. When they arrive at the restaurant, Obi is told that it may be owned by a Syrian; this statement is later proven wrong when the owner appears. The owner is an old Englishwoman, who is loud and unsteady. Obi asks if there is Nigerian food, and Joseph is surprised that Obi wants to eat pounded yams and bitter leaf soup. Obi says, out loud and in English, that he is tired of "boiled potatoes."
Obi is somewhat bothered that his friend Joseph has not told him to stay with him (as he had done previously before going to England). Instead, Obi is staying at a hotel in which he was placed by the Umuofia Progressive Union. Joseph says, during their dinner, without Obi having actually mentioned any of this, that he has only one room Obi, however, tells Joseph that all of that is nonsense and that he is leaving the hotel to stay with Joseph anyway. Joseph is happy about this, even though he tells Obi that people will think poorly of the situation—people will look down upon a college graduate who has just returned from England sharing a room in his neighborhood.
Before they leave the restaurant, they go into the lounge area. Joseph wants to order beer, but Obi refuses. From the window of the lounge Obi and Joseph could see the Minister of State, Sam Okoli, exiting his car, and Clara is with him. It shocks Obi to see her with the Minister of State.
This chapter highlights the differences between Obi and his fellow countrymen on his return from England. First, there are the mistakes Obi makes at his reception. First he arrives informally dressed and then he speaks in an informal English. Obi does not realize that he must dress a certain way and because it is hot, he simply wears short sleeves. He speaks English with less formality (an English of "is" and "was") because he is used to the language, and it is not strange to his tongue. Obi has gone away for just under four years, and it is apparent that there are things he has forgotten, rules he has missed out on learning, and discrepancies in his and his countrymen's beliefs and customs.
There is also the issue of how others treat him because of his English education. The Umuofian Progressive Union is proud of their "son," who has brought status to Umuofia because of his studies. There are actions, however, that surprise Obi and that he is not happy with. He cannot understand, for instance, why he cannot stay with his good friend instead of a hotel booked by the Union. It is surprising to Joseph that someone of Obi's new status would even want to share a room where he lives. Because the young man who returns from England almost immediately has a new post and occupies a new class in society, the Union and others look down upon such things to Obi's discontent. Furthermore, Joseph is also surprised that Obi wants to eat Nigerian food, when Obi is, in fact, starving for Nigerian food and even nostalgic for it, being tired of English food.
Another subject that arises once again in this chapter is that of bribery. At Obi's reception, the chairman of the UPU asks Obi whether he has been offered a job by the government. The Vice President says that he will have no problem getting a job because he has just come home from England and then says that, were it not for that, he would have suggested that they "see" someone. To "see" someone, obviously means to offer someone a bribe. Moreover, the very same people that are appalled at Obi's behavior (at the beginning of the novel after the trial) also appear to participate, hypocritically, in bribery. They later claim not to have accepted such behavior from someone with an education like his. The conflict of what Obi feels and does in opposition to what is expected of him comes strongly to the fore of the novel, and while it has always been present, it is illustrated heavily in this chapter.
The presence of the European in Nigeria is also quite apparent in this chapter. The restaurant Obi and Joseph go to is owned by an English woman. It is important to note that Achebe's description of the old, loud, bossy, and fumbling, Englishwoman is anything but flattering. The restaurant is not only owned by a European but is also populated mostly by them. This will recur over and over again in the novel. Achebe does this to illustrate the extent of the colonialist's hand, scope, influence, and mere presence in Africa.
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