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No Longer At Ease

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 6

Chapter 5

Chapter 7

Summary

The narrator opens the chapter by saying that Obi's homecoming is not actually as happy as he has hoped. He was saddened by the state of his parents, especially that of his mother who has aged drastically in the four years he has been away. She has been sick episodically, but he has not expected to see her so thin and sickly. His father is also sick, and it is obvious that they do not have enough money for food and necessities. His parents have many responsibilities, including that of the church fees (his father is a catechist) and school fees for their two youngest children.

While at home, Obi stays up with his father after everyone else has gone to bed. Obi looks around and notices the trouble his family has gone through to make their home special for his arrival—they have chalked the walls and rubbed the floors, for instance, gestures which move Obi. During their conversation, his father asks him if he has had time to read the Bible while in England. Obi knows his father is asking him this because he has stumbled over his verses that evening while reading aloud. Obi responds that he had (though he had not and did not even believe in the same God his father did) but that the Bible he read was in English.

Obi recalls memories of growing up, while he is in the house of his childhood and of his siblings. He remembers reading the Bible with the family, and he remembers a particular time when his mother told him folk stories. His father had forbidden his mother to tell the children folk stories because though she, too, was a devout Christian, she seemed to enjoy these folk tales. In any case, there was a particular exercise in school called "oral" in which the teacher would call on a student and the pupil would have to recite a folk story for the whole class. Obi loved this class but feared it at the same time because he did not know any folk stories. Obi was embarrassed when it was his turn because he could not say anything. That day he went home to tell his mother who told Obi to wait until his father was gone (to his church meeting), and it was then that she told him a story, which he was successfully able to recite to the class some weeks later.

When Obi is finally settled into bed, he is unable to fall asleep. The reason for this is that he is worrying about his responsibilities. He feels that he must give his parents money from his weekly salary because they can no longer afford to live on their own. They used to plant their own crops and his mother used to make soaps and oils to sell, which she is now too old to do. Obi thinks about all the money he will have to distribute from his salary such as the twenty pounds to pay back his loan and the money to assist his family as well as his younger brother's school fees. At the end of his train of thought, he thinks to himself that it will all work out and begins to think of Clara. He wonders, once again, why it is that he is unable to tell his family about her. The chapter ends with a downpour of rain in the middle of the night.

Analysis

In this chapter Achebe uses his literary technique to set up a metaphor for Obi's position. The story of Obi as a young boy not having a folk story to tell in class is a perfect metaphor that extends throughout the entire novel. Obi, while growing up, is being brought up by Christian convert parents in an African society. This combination is forever evident in Obi's life. Even though he is brought up Christian and his mother is forbidden to tell him folktales, Obi loves these folktales. It is perhaps this very love of story telling that ironically caused him to study English at the university. This is ironic because the progression comes full circle. Obi disobeys his father's Christian (English) religion in order to go back to his African roots (folktales) only to, in the end, study English in England.

Obi's listening and telling of the folk stories in class, and his remembrance of such a thing, forms an important moment in the novel. It is very much like the moment in the last chapter (Chapter 5) when he listens to the song of the traders in the wagon. The song is in Ibo, and it is a song he has heard again and again but only really understands when he is able to translate it into English. Nevertheless, he is forced to stop thinking analytically because he gets caught, somewhat, in the "spicy" singing of the traders. It is as if his heart is drawn to the song and as if his heart understands the song in the same way it understood the folktales, even if his mind is somewhere else.

Another important literary device used in this chapter is that of foreboding. We understand that Obi is nervous and worried about all that he must pay out of his salary every month. He feels responsible for his parents' well being and for the continuing education of his younger brother. He also needs to repay his debt to the Union. After all of these thoughts he is relieved by his thoughts of Clara, only to be brought out of that relief by a nagging curiosity about why he cannot tell his parents about their engagement.

This suspicion is followed by rain. The rain here in the end of the chapter is both refreshing and overwhelming at once, as water is. It is refreshing in much the same way that being home is refreshing. This is illustrated within the chapter by Obi's happy memories of childhood. He remembers his playfulness with his sisters and his love for them. He had missed home terribly and now he is inside of his home, being "washed" by its tropical rain. However, this rain is not regular rain, it is a downpour, which, of course, brings negative thoughts and connotations to our minds. We are reminded by this rain of all that has transpired in this chapter, such as the physical and financial state of his parents and whatever consequences for Obi these things may have both financially and emotionally.

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