No Longer At Ease

Chinua Achebe

Chapter 3

Summary Chapter 3


Clara and Obi do not have a successful meeting. It seems that, from their beginning, Achebe is foreboding their unhappy ending. When they meet for the first time, Obi steps all over Clara while attempting to dance with her. Later, they meet on a boat where the waters are unstable, as is evidenced by Obi's seasickness. They meet on watery ground, both literally and figuratively. And, when Obi finally kisses Clara, Clara seems hesitant. She says "You don't—" as if she wanted to tell him something she is unable to. She seems hesitant and asks him to leave even though she is also attracted to him as is shown when she, herself, kisses him back a second time.

Still, however, there are similarities between the two that are important to mention at this early beginning. First of all, both of them have studied in England. Clara has studied nursing. They are both Ibo peoples who have studied abroad. They exist somewhere between the English language and culture and their own African and Nigerian traditions. It is important that Clara, when she offers Obi tablets for his illness, speaks to him in Ibo. Obi believes that this gesture offers a kind of connection. And though Clara has given others tablets and has assisted others, she has spoken to him in Ibo. It is apparent that Macmillan, for instance, also thinks Clara is quite beautiful. He too is attracted to her, but Clara chooses Obi perhaps because of their similar backgrounds—backgrounds that make it easier for them to know each other.

Language is important here. Right before Clara comes to Obi's cabin, Clara has been talking to an Officer from Ibaden who is talking to Clara about the difference between language and dialect. This directs us to watch out for language. And then, just following this, there is the episode in which Clara speaks to Obi in Ibo. It is as if both Clara and Obi's language of the heart is the language of home. It is interesting to note that Obi's name is Ibo spelled backward. Perhaps this is to say that Obi's world is turned upside down. While in England he is a Nigerian living in England, and while in Nigeria he is a young man belonging to a generation that is caught between cultures.

Another important section of this chapter is when Macmillan and Obi are talking over drinks. Macmillan is English and going to Nigeria so he must be involved somehow in the colonial government, unless of course he is merely a tourist. Nevertheless, he is not like the arrogant, imprudent "Mr. Green." He is curious, and he asks Obi many questions regarding what he has studied and what his name means. But he does not seem to look down on Obi. Obi does seem, however to be, understandably, defensive at one point. For instance when Macmillan asks him what he studied in London, Obi wants to know why he is asking this question. It is also in this section that Obi's age comes to the fore: at this point in the novel Obi is twenty-five and Clara is about twenty-three, according to Obi's guess.