No Longer At Ease

Chinua Achebe
  • Study Guide

Important Quotes Explained

Quotes Important Quotes Explained

The traders burst into song again Obi knew the refrain, he tried to translate it into English, and for the first time its real meaning dawned on him.

The above is said by the narrator in the fifth chapter of the novel when Obi returns to Umuofia for the first time since his return from England. The quote is foremost about the issue of language. Although the song sung by the trader is told in his native tongue and it is a song he has heard before, it is not until he translates the song into English that he understands its true meaning. The song turns out to mean: "the world turned upside down," which makes sense when one takes into account the fact that he has had to use another language, not that in which it was written, to understand the song. However, in a world that is already "turned upside down," perhaps this is the only way one can come to understandings … by turning oneself "upside down."

Furthermore, the song claims a betrayal because the paddle of the fisherman in the song speaks English—a language that the fisherman does not understand. This points to the issue of language in this section even further and instills a hint of betrayal in the fact that it is the language that Obi has studied and must use—a language not that of his people. Further still, it is interesting to note that he uses English to dissect, and Ibo when he is emotional and feels. Perhaps this is because Ibo is the language of his childhood, a language he used with his mother, for instance. And, English, on the other hand, is the language he learned to dissect texts in and so uses it to dissect the "text" of the song. And thus, what seemed not to make sense, begins to make sense. Still, by the end of the section, he is forced to stop thinking because the "spicy-ness" of the singing pulls him in—the song and therefore, symbolically his own roots, pull him in.