No Longer At Ease
The Umuofian Progressive Union holds meetings on the first Saturday of every month in Lagos. Obi has missed the last meeting, in November of 1956, because he has been in Umuofia. He is planning to attend the December 1st meeting, however, on the day that this chapter opens. Obi tells Joseph that they will pick him up at his house in time for the 4:30 meeting. When Obi arrives at Joseph's house, Joseph is disappointed by his friend's casual appearance though he does not verbalize this. Joseph, on the other hand, is dressed "impeccably" for the meeting, from top to bottom.
Even though Obi arrives on time, Joseph stalls him in order to arrive at the meeting once everybody has arrived, and once he is sure it is completely full. The reason for this is that Joseph wants to show of Obi's new car. There is a fine for tardiness, but it is not even recalled when Obi and Joseph make their entrance into the meeting, since Obi's brand new car overtook the crowds. The men were greeted with cheers, and Obi is seated next to the president. He is asked about his job and his car until finally the meeting takes its previous orderly shape. Those at the meeting, before Obi's arrival, have already tended to one order of business. There is a small matter of a loan on behalf of the UPU to a man who has lost his job for having slept on the job. The president of the UPU reprimands him for his behavior but, in the end, gives him the approval for his loan.
After Obi arrives there is the matter of Obi's reception to be discussed, much to Obi's surprise since he has felt that the event had gone splendidly. Apparently many of the younger men in the community have a complaint about how the elders monopolized the beer and wine. After this business is tended to lightly, the president announced that Obi has several words to share with the people of the Union. Obi thanks the Union, first and foremost, for the lovely reception they had given him and continues in thanking them for their sacrifices made in providing him with a scholarship to study in England. He then moves on to his request, which is to ask for a brief period of four months before he has to begin to repay the loans given to him. Some members of the audience do not understand this because they believe that he is making much money in his new position, without taking into account his financial responsibilities. It is at this point that the president brings up the subject of Clara. The UPU is against Obi marrying an osu. Obi, however, is offended by this and finds it to be none of their business. Obi becomes too proud to continue his request and says that he will begin to pay his fees immediately and then storms out of the meeting. Joseph tries to calm him down, but Obi is obstinate and drives off.
This chapter heightens the tension between Obi and the UPU. The UPU is the symbol of the village and of the faith and expectations the village places on Obi. They look up to him and believe him to be wealthy because of his position, class, and education—an education which they have provided through a scholarship/loan. The car, like the fact of Obi's study abroad, is something that the Umuofians admire; it is a symbol for which they, literally, cheer.
Although Obi is thankful for his education, he is not always truly grateful to the UPU, who are perpetually intruding on his life and whose "scholarship" was nothing more than a loan, according to Obi. Obi is at odds with the Union just as he is often at odds with tradition—the Union and tradition being one and the same for the purposes of the novel, despite the misleading name of the Union, which contains the word "progressive."
Achebe places the precursor to Obi's arrival at the meeting quite intentionally. There is a man who is also asking for a loan, specifically a man who has lost his job. The Union grants him a loan but not without reprimand and intrusion into his life. In this way, the Union is very much like family, hardly ever denying but always giving their two cents before giving in to any one particular request. Furthermore, this precursor to Obi's request proves that Obi would have probably received his extension were he able to withstand the criticism of his choice for a wife. Obi, however, does not believe it is the Union's right to ask about such things and is too proud to stand there and listen to what he believes to be backward thinking. Moreover, he barges out of the room in a fashion that the Union will hold against him later.
The character of Joseph is also further developed in this chapter. He is closer to tradition than Obi, and it is perhaps for the sole reason that he does not have the kind of education that Obi has. He looks at Obi and believes him to be underdressed for the occasion, proving that Obi does not really try to correct his "mistakes," as it was obvious he was underdressed for his reception as well, something which even Obi had noticed. Joseph brags about his friend who has studied "classics" in England, fibbing about the "classics" part because to him it sounds more impressive. And Joseph, too, looks upon Obi's car with admiration. In fact, Joseph wants to be the one driving with Obi in his new vehicle. He wants to be seen with him and to absorb some of the cars "glory," as he puts it. This does not mean, however, that Joseph always agrees with his friend, and, indeed, Joseph does not agree with Obi's marriage with Clara nor does he agree with Obi's barging out of the meeting. Obi, however, by the end of the chapter is just as angry with Joseph as he is with the Progressive Union, for it was perhaps Joseph that told the Union about Clara in the first place.
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