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No Longer At Ease

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 7

Chapter 6

Chapter 8

Summary

It is Obi's first day at the civil service. The day reminds him of his first day at the mission school in Umuofia when a white school inspector came into the school and slapped his headmaster. His headmaster had fought back, and there had been chaos throughout the school. Obi's new boss, Mr. Green, reminds him of the white school inspector. Mr. Green would never dream of doing such a thing because times have changed, claims Obi, but Mr. Green is not altogether dissimilar to that earlier white man.

Mr. Green is arrogant and patronizing. He tells Obi all on this first day to use his brain, if he has one and that he will do fine in his job if he is not. Obi spends his first day learning the administrative side of things with Mr. Omo, the administrative assistant, whom Obi calls an "old African." Mr. Omo calls Green "sir" (which Green later asks Obi to do as well), and he shutters and stumbles under the loud demands of his boss.

After a week of working at the office, Obi buys a car and is given a sixty-pound "outfit allowance," which pleases both him and Clara. Clara has also secured a job as an assistant nurse, and Obi will soon be moving into a senior service flat in Ikoyi.

The same day Obi buys his car, Clara and Obi are expected at the Minister of State, the Honorable Sam Okoli's home for drinks. Okoli no longer threatens Obi because Okoli is not interested in Clara, he is merely her friend. In fact, Okoli is marrying Clara's best friend. Okoli has a nice home, one of the "minister's homes" built by the government for 35,000 dollars. This is the first time Obi and Sam are formally introduced. Over drinks, the three of them talk about the Minster's radiogram and about the "white man," saying that he has done some good things for Nigeria, but that now he must go. This is an opinion that Okoli verbalizes twice.

In the car, after drinks and on the way to dinner, Clara and Obi are alone. Clara is upset but will not tell Obi why. Clara says she is not hungry, but they have dinner anyway, neither talking, nor eating very much. It is at this point that Clara tells Obi that she cannot marry him because she is an osu—an outcast. Obi thinks this is ridiculous and that they shall marry anyway. Clara is very upset and crying.

When Obi comes home that night, he tells Joseph of what Clara has told him. Joseph is appalled and worried at Obi's obstinacy. Obi says he will marry Clara anyway and that no one, not even his mother, with whom he has a very special relationship, can stop him. The next day Clara and Obi buy an engagement ring and spend the day shopping together. Joseph tells Obi that no one will agree with this marriage, but Obi is positive that if he can only convince his mother, then things will be all right.

Analysis

This is the chapter in which the character of the Minister of State, the Honorable Sam Okoli is developed. It is said of him, in previous chapters, that he is a well-liked politician. The only other thing we knew about the man is that he is seen, suspiciously (in Obi's eyes at least), with Clara. The suspicion is released because Okoli is engaged, and Obi actually likes him.

Okoli is a politician through and through. He says: "I respect the white man although we want them to go." This is his "political position," one that would, of course, be popular among people who want their independence. It is civil but strong. This "opinion" however is somewhat dubious later, when he's talking about the radiogram. Sam also says: "white man don go far. We just de shout for nothing" and then, as Achebe adds, "[seeming] to realize his position," he adds, "all the same they must go. This no be them country." The "white man," does not seem to really bother Okoli, who has become accustomed to his ways. Still, it is unfair to say that he does not really believe that they must go. Nevertheless, Achebe poses this question in our minds, making Okoli's position shaky. It is also important to note, that like Obi and Christopher, Okoli too, an educated African, also plays with language and falls into pidgin occasionally.

Another important moment in the chapter comes when Obi says that his education has made him a stranger in his country. Obi says this when Joseph is upset and appalled at Obi's not realizing what it would mean to the Umuofians for him to marry an outcast like Clara. Obi is set apart from the Umuofians in many respects, and this is one of them. He cannot understand why it is important that Clara should suffer because of her ancestry. Joseph says it is not time for such drastic changes. He believes that there will be changes but that their generation (Obi and Joseph's) are just "pioneers." Obi says, however, that that is precisely why it should be all right for him to take such a step, since to be a pioneer means, "to lead." The changes have to begin somewhere and with someone, and Obi believes they should begin with him.

Finally there is the issue of Obi's relationship with his mother. First, Obi says that not even his mother can stop him from this marriage; a marriage that Joseph claims his entire family plus all of the Umuofian Progressive Union will be against. Obi has a special bond with his mother, and he feels that if he convinces her everything will be okay. Achebe backtracks to a moment in Obi's childhood when he had left a razorblade that he had used to sharpen pencils in the pocket of his clothing. This razorblade cut his mother's hand while she was washing his clothes. When she returned from the wash, she returned drenched in blood. This is what Obi though of when he thought of his mother in an affectionate way: "his mind went back to that shedding of her blood." This, as the novel will illustrate, is a foreboding moment. His mother sheds blood for him, but it is also important to note that, with his razorblade, he hurt his mother unwillingly—all of this will play an important part later in the novel.

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