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No Longer At Ease

Chinua Achebe

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

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Study Questions

Discuss the Significance of the novel's title: No Longer at Ease.

The title of the novel relates mostly to Obi and his predicament. He finds that he is "no longer at ease" inside African society, where bribes are taken, where he is shunned for wanting to marry the woman he loves because of his ancestry, and where he is looked down upon because he has trouble relating the people from the village where he was born. He is not "at ease," either, however, within British sectors of society. He is able to speak fluent and good English, he is able to analyze and discuss, but he is unable to relate to someone like Mr. Green. He also feels himself, like other Nigerians, as is evidenced in the retrospective scene about London, a stranger in a strange land while in England.

He misses Nigeria and is in fact nostalgic for her when he is away. He understands what he must do for his country and that she is important; however, his return is different from memory. Memory is, in many ways, shattered when he revisits Lagos and his old home of Umuofia. Furthermore, by the end he finds himself uneasy with his lot in life: he is broke, he has lost Clara and his mother and has given in to taking bribes. Finally he feels guilt for this but it is too late.

There is also the irony of Obi's name, which means "the mind is at last at rest." It is supposed to mean that his father's mind is at rest because he was born a boy after so many girls; however, when juxtaposed against the title of the novel it becomes the greatest irony of the novel because Obi is, of course, never, himself, "at rest."

The title is perfect because it describes a generation of Africans, in this case Nigerians, that find themselves living in between worlds, cultures, and on the verge of a post-colonial world.

Discuss the problem of language in the novel. Think about the problem as it relates to the characters of the novel as well as to Chinua Achebe.

Language is an issue that arises out of all colonized countries because the colonized are educated in the "language" of the colonized. The issue arises time and again in Achebe's novel.

When Obi returns from England, the members of the Umuofian Progressive Union are not impressed by Obi's English because it is too casual. They like to listen to English when it is full and spoken in all its purple prose, in the way that the president of the UPU speaks it. This kind of English is a kind of class token. There is a certain amount of pride, ironically, in the language of the colonizer. This may be, however, because those admiring this English are from an older generation. When Obi is discussing eating yams with his hands he says that the younger generation can do this because they do not fear being called "uncivilized"—the same may apply to their mode of feeling regarding language.

The younger generation of Obi and Christopher, Obi's friend, plays with language much more easily. For instance Christopher speaks different kinds of English, depending on what he is talking about and to whom he talking. Obi claims that most educated Africans participate in this playfulness with language.

Obi has his own problems with language as is evidenced when he attempts to speak or read for his family in his own language and finds it difficult. His mother tongue, although never replaced sentimentally, is often replaced by an English that comes with more "ease. He is able to translate into English and understand. Nevertheless, Ibo is still a special language—the language of home. It is the language that Clara speaks to him when they are alone for the first time, and it is the language he longs for while he is across the sea in England.

What are the main reasons for Obi's change of opinion toward bribery?

First of all, Obi never really believes that it is all right to take a bribe, he always seems to do so with a sense of guilt. Nevertheless, there may have been moments where it was simply a fall into complacency or even an act that arose out of the aftermath of desperation.

Obi's financial situation was poor, he owed money to many people, he had his scholarship to pay back, he had to take care of himself, and he had to send money home. The temptation to take a bribe was always present. However, what seemed to put him over the edge was not his financial burden but his loss of hope. He had lost his mother and his lover, plus he found himself constantly out of place and ill at ease. He longed for complacency and contentment—for the kind of attitude that Christopher, an educated friend much like himself, was able to take on. Perhaps he even took the bribes to illustrate that he knew the way things worked that he, too, even if he had gone away for four years, knew how the ways of the Civil Service functioned.

Still, this bribery was never something he was comfortable with but his feelings of unease only amplify by his guilt and his being caught.

Suggested Essay Topics

Discuss the character of Mr. Green and what he stands for in the novel Discuss also the meaning of the varying viewpoints given on this character.

How is Chinua Achebe similar to his protagonist Obi Okonkwo? Discuss upbringing, schooling, ambition and scope of life. Compare and contrast.

What is significant about the year in which this novel was published (1960)?

What is the importance of the relationship between Clara and Obi? Keep in mind that they are of the same generation and that they both studied abroad in England. Why did things not work out for them and why is this important?

What are the changes that are traced in this novel from one generation to the next and what is important about the changes going on in Nigeria during the forties, fifties, and sixties?

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