No Longer At Ease
At the beginning of the chapter, Obi's theory of corruption in the Nigerian government is exposed. He claims that as long as there are "old Africans" running public service positions, there will be corruption. Obi believes that the young and university educated need to begin to take up those posts. During his interview for the Public Service Commission, Obi meets one of these "old Africans."
The board interviews him, and all goes well except for the fact that one of the men, the man who represents one of Nigeria's three regions, is asleep. As it turns out the chairman of the commission is an admirer of poetry, and so the two men (the chairman and Obi) have a long exchange about literature and the nature of tragedy that makes him look very good in the eyes of his interviewers. All the interviewers take a positive image of Obi, except the "old African," who angers Obi by asking him whether he wants the position in order to be able to take bribes. Obi becomes upset and leaves the interview on a bad note. When he tells Joseph about what had happened, Joseph tells him it is a mistake to become angry during an interview. He says that one cannot afford to become angry when one is in the position of needing a job. Obi rejects this mode of thinking and calls Joseph's mentality "colonial."
While Obi is waiting for his response from his interview, he decides to visit his old village of Umuofia. On the way, the police stop the wagon on which he is riding first class. At some point, the driver's mate is about to offer the policeman money, but the policeman fears that Obi holds a high governmental position and rebuffs the man offering him the bribe—only to take it later and at a higher price.
On his way to Umuofia, Obi sits in the front with the driver (it is this that qualifies as first class) and thinks about many things. He wonders why Clara, to whom he is engaged, will not allow Obi to tell his parents about her yet. He also ponders how to fix the corruption in Nigeria (after the incident with the driver's mate and the police). Obi falls asleep for a while, and after waking up he listens to the song of the traders, a song sung in his native tongue. But he understands it for the first time after translating it in his mind into English.
When Obi arrives in Umuofia, there is a huge welcome. A jeep is blasting local music, and bands are playing. There is a gathering in his house, and there are discussions about how far away the "white man's country" is and questions and hugs. There are also discussions about Christianity versus local religion, because Obi's father is a Christian. There is a scene in which an elder wants to offer a kola nut, but Obi's father is against blasphemous offerings. Nevertheless, a somewhat comic compromise is reached, and the kola nut is offered in a Christian fashion, so as to bring together both religions and traditions.
This chapter shows Obi to be an idealistic young man who wants to bring change to his homeland. The chapter opens with Obi's theory against corruption. He wants the younger generation, who has studied at universities and knows better how to get along in a changing world, to take the place of the older Africans, whose mindsets are antiquated. He also poses himself, without compromise, against bribery. When, the police are about to take a bribe in the wagon on the way to Umuofia, Obi verbalizes his discontent and tells the driver's mate he should not have to give money to the police. Nevertheless the man who was going to give the bribe thinks of Obi as unlearned in the ways of the world because he is a "university boy."
Obi not only differs in opinion with the man in the wagon but also with his own friend, Joseph. For example, early in the chapter, after Obi has had his interview, Joseph tells Obi that he should not have become angry in the interview because he was looking for a job and someone in his position cannot afford to become angry. Obi claims that this is a "colonial" mindset, which is an insult. Achebe is particularly upfront in his social and political criticism of colonialism in this chapter. The aforementioned statement on Obi's behalf is one example. Another example occurs when Obi is back in Umuofia and, while thinking to himself, says inwardly that the British should "come and see men and women and children who [know] how to live, whose joy of life had not yet been killed by those who claimed to teach other nations how to live." This is a harsh criticism of England's empire and her colonial pawns.
Again, it is obvious that there is no set place for Obi to fit in. He must forge his own way, but it is difficult and almost impossible. In fact, his fate may very well be like the nature of tragedy he discusses in this chapter. During his interview for the Public Service Commission, Obi says "tragedy is never resolved." Perhaps, as it will be seen later in the novel, that is Obi's plight. Perhaps his plight is to live a life of struggle where he is never "at ease." Perhaps it is because he is at an in-between through which he must suffer, making an easier path for the generations that are to follow.
Finally, there is the issue of Christianity that arises at the end of the chapter. The people of the town do not understand Obi's father's beliefs and think that he should be taught a lesson for not giving an offering to the town's rainmaker so that it would not rain on Obi's homecoming. However, Obi's father does not believe in such traditional practices because he has converted to another religion, the religion of the colonizer, in fact. One of the most beautiful and humorous episodes in the book arises out of a moment of mixture and compromise. An elder uses the kola nut as an offering, but he incorporates Obi's father's ways and offers it in a Christian fashion. Although it may seem somewhat mocking at the beginning, it is more a playful and united conglomeration of the two cultures. The moment is illustrative of what can save someone like Obi and the generations that are to follow: an embracing of differences. Instead of being ill at ease in the in-between, one can survive and be happy in finding the beauty inside the complexity of two cultures combined.
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