Because No Longer at Ease differs so greatly from the highly regarded Things Fall Apart, some critics see it as a lesser work. Some have found Obi Okonkwo to be a less believable character than the protagonist of Things Fall Apart; some have suggested that the novel’s portrait of modern Nigeria is sociologically unsuccessful; others have maintained that Achebe’s depiction of urban life is less convincing than his handling of village life. Yet most critics praise Achebe’s effort to portray the bourgeois tragedy of modern Nigeria, singling out for commendation Achebe’s skillfully restrained prose, his purposeful use of Igbo proverbs, and his subtle presentation of the mundane complexities of modern existence.
Although in No Longer at Ease Achebe focuses on the urban world of modern Lagos rather than the historical past, his purpose continues to be educational: “Perhaps what I write is applied art as distinct from pure. But who cares? Art is important, but so is education of the kind I have in mind.” Achebe refutes the European stereotype of the alienated writer, insisting instead upon the traditional African model of communal, functional, utilitarian art. In No Longer at Ease, however, Achebe’s purpose is social criticism rather than cultural retrieval. In the novel, he delineates the corruption of the Nigerian Civil Service that eventually led to the Nigerian Civil War several years later. Achebe’s skills as a social critic are also displayed in A Man of the People (1966), a scathing attack on the corruption in Nigerian politics, written just before the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War. After reunification, Achebe reconsidered his position as an artist, moving into the area of social reform and abandoning the novel in favor of essays, lectures, poetry, and short fiction.