Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
No Longer at Ease opens and closes at the trial of Obi Okonkwo, a young civil servant in the colonial Nigerian government who is accused of accepting bribes. Within this frame, the bulk of the novel is a retrospective look at Obi’s progress from the remote village of Umuofia in southeastern Nigeria, where he is the star pupil in the missionary school, to an English university, where he earns a degree with honors in literature, and then to a position with the Nigerian Civil Service in Lagos, where he finally succumbs to the prevalent practice of bribery and is caught.
Obi is selected as the first representative of Umuofia to receive a European education, and the expenses of his education are underwritten by the Umuofian Progressive Union (UPU), an organization of clansmen that conscientiously promotes the general well-being of the clan. The members of the UPU view their support of Obi as a means of enhancing the status of their village and as an investment that will pay economic dividends. Obi’s English education gives him access to the Nigerian Civil Service, and the UPU members expect him to use his influence to help other clansmen win white-collar jobs with the government. Yet Obi’s studies in English literature, his exposure to European culture, and his passive temperament alienate him from his homeland and from his clan.
On the ship back from England, Obi meets Clara, and he subsequently falls in love with her despite the...
(The entire section is 602 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Achebe’s title No Longer at Ease from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” suggests that like the wise men in Yeats’s poem, Obi Okonkwo, a young civil servant in the colonial Nigerian government, and his nation are trapped between two eras. Like his grandfather Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, who stands for the vanishing traditional African, Obi stands for the vanishing idealist in a world of compromise. Ironically, No Longer at Ease opens and closes at Obi’s bribery trial. The novel provides a retrospective look at Obi’s progress from the remote village of Umuofia to an English university and then to a position with the Nigerian civil service in Lagos, where he finally succumbs to the prevalent practice of bribery and is caught. A diminished version of his grandfather, Obi is crushed by cultural forces beyond his control, but the pettiness and ineptitude of his crime make him a paradoxical tragicomic hero. His innocence makes him a criminal; his coveted education does not provide him with wisdom; and the support of his clanspeople increases his sense of loneliness.
Obi is the first from his village to receive a European education, his expenses paid by clan members hoping to enhance the status of their village and reap future economic dividends. However, idealistic romance and failure to manage his finances complicate Obi’s life. He falls in love with a woman marked by a traditional, hereditary taboo that Obi...
(The entire section is 552 words.)