No Longer at Ease

No Longer at Ease Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-10


Chapter 6

The aged appearance of Obi’s parents marred his homecoming. He sat up one night with his father, who told him that there was going to be a special prayer service at church for him. Obi wondered why that was necessary, but did not say aloud the reality that he did not believe in his father’s god anymore. He lied to his father about how much he read his Bible, but he did not feel bad because sometimes a lie was better than the truth.

He thought of his mother, a devout woman who, while Obi suspected would prefer to tell the folk stories from her childhood, wholeheartedly committed herself to her husband’s faith. Isaac Okonkwo was more than Christian, though, as he was a catechist. His wife was very zealous in carrying out her duties.

One day at school Obi was called on to give one of the folk stories of his culture. He could not, as he did not know any, and was made fun of. He told his mother when he went home, and she gave him one to tell. The next time Obi was called up, his story of the leopardess and the sheep was successful, and he even felt called upon to embellish a little bit.

Obi also reflected on his sisters. He got along with Janet, Esther, and Agnes, but not the sister closest to him in age, Charity. He then thought about how he needed to be responsible for his family, and decided to commit part of his salary to his parents. His thoughts turned to Clara and he wondered why she did not want him to tell people they planned to marry.

That evening, the rain poured down and Obi fell asleep.

Chapter 7

Obi’s first day in the civil service was memorable, just as the day he first attended the bush mission school in Umuofia was memorable. There was a white man named Mr. Jones, who was the Inspector of Schools, who carried out surprise visits to the school. One day the children saw him yelling at the headmaster, Mr. Nkuda, who had the audacity to punch Mr. Jones and send him to the ground. This was stunning, as Mr. Jones was a white man.

Obi’s first day of work brought him face-to-face with his boss, Mr. Green. The man was stern, curt, and unfriendly, and Obi decided he did not like him.

Obi bought a new car, a Morris Oxford, as soon as he started working. He also learned he would receive a sixty pounds allowance. He was thrilled, and called up Clara. They decided to show the Hon. Sam Okoli.

Clara was now the Assistant Nursing Sister. Obi lived with Joseph but now planned on getting his own place.

Obi and Clara went to visit Sam. Obi was no longer jealous of him because he had no designs on Clara, and in fact planned to marry her best friend. They sat in his luxurious sitting room and talked. Sam remarked that the white men should leave the country. He also bragged that he used to have a Nigerian working for him, but now he has a white man who calls him 'sir'.

On the way home Clara was depressed but would not tell Obi why. He thought about how he had never believed in love before her, thinking it overrated and an invention of the English. Clara finally cried out that she could not marry him because she was an osu. Obi told her that was nonsense.

When he got home, Obi told joseph was had happened. Joseph told him he was lucky to have found out now, but was stunned when Obi told him he still planned to marry her. Joseph asked him if he knew what an osu was, insinuating that because of Obi’s upbringing and studies in England he was a stranger.

Obi said he would marry her no matter what. After all, why should it matter that her ancient relation was dedicated to serve a god and his descendants had to be considered an outsider caste?

The next day Obi picked up Clara and they bought an engagement ring and a Bible, the latter being traditional. They then went shopping. Obi started out energetic but lost interest.

Back at his flat Joseph expressed his disapproval, but asked about what marriage customs they would follow. He warned Obi that his decision would affect generations, and that, “in the future when we are all civilized, anybody may marry anybody. But that time has not come. We of this generation are only pioneers” (86).

Obi thought about his parents and his close relationship with his mother, assuming she would support his marriage.

Chapter 8

The Union held its first meeting but Obi could not go. He did, though, attend the second meeting. Joseph was excited to go with him so he could share in the glory of Obi’s new car. The car did indeed get a lot of attention when it showed up near the end of the meeting.

The discussion of the day was Joseph Udo, a messenger in the Postal Service who was fired for sleeping on the job. It also appeared that he had not paid back a bribe from his early days in the Service. He was asking for ten pounds to look for a new job. The Union debated and agreed to give him the money, as well as putting in a good word for him for a new job.

The next item was one censuring the President for Obi’s reception. Young men who felt that they were stuck drinking palm-wine, not beer, brought it up. The conversation became acrimonious and went on for a while.

Finally Obi was called on to say something. He thanked them for their warm welcome and tried to make a joke. He also started talking in all Ibo and then brought in English, for which they were impressed. He came to the main point of his speech, which was to ask if he could have a four months’ reprieve before paying back his debt. Most people seemed to support this but some did not. The President warned him about Lagos, saying he should have money to pay the debt if he lived a frugal and moral life rather than giving into the pleasures of the city. He said he would give him a year’s extension, but remarked that he heard rumors about Obi going around with a girl of doubtful ancestry.

Obi flew into a rage and refused the President’s extension, claiming he would start paying the debt back right away. The group tried to calm him but he fled the room.

Chapter 9

Obi found out that working for Mr. Green was not that bad. He was rarely there, and the secretary, Miss Tomlinson, was nice. He was careful, however, not to say or do anything improper, since secretaries were often planted to spy on Africans.

He began letting his guard down over time. It started when Clara visited and Miss Tomlinson was full of compliments and questions.

One day a man named Mr. Mark came to see Obi. He spoke in Ibo when he saw Miss Tomlinson in the room, but occasionally had to use English words and thus kept his voice down. He spoke of his sister, who recently passed her School Certificate in Grade One and wanted to apply for a scholarship to study in England. As Obi was the secretary of the Scholarship Commission, he hoped he could get help.

Obi was annoyed and did not want to entertain the idea of influence or bribery. He sent the man away. Afterward he was pleased with himself, feeling that he had won his first battle. He knew bribes were tricky and that refusing them could cause problems, but he wanted to keep his hands clean.

He was, however, experiencing money problems. After paying his debt to the Union and sending money to his parents, he had little left.

There was a knock on the door and he thought it might be Joseph. He mused on how he was angry with Joseph for telling the President about Clara. Clara herself was furious.

It turned out to be a girl named Elsie Marks, the sister of the man who visited him. Obi was not inclined to be very helpful, but the girl apologized for her brother and seemed very smart. Obi knew how important scholarships were, and how the process could be unfair. European posts were second to being European, and this girl could be very capable.

While they talked Clara came in. She acted friendly to Elsie but by her mannerisms and speech conveyed her sophistication.

Elsie said she better go and Obi volunteered to drive her. After Obi and Clara dropped her off, Clara laughed and said she was pretty. Obi told her not to act like a child. Later, after Obi told her about the girl’s brother, Clara said she was too harsh on him. After all, the brother only offered a bribe and the girl offered her body, which was a more serious offense, yet Obi was entertaining her and serving her drinks.

Chapter 10

Mr. Green took an interest in Obi’s affairs only once, when he told him he would be receiving a big insurance bill for his car. The day actually came, and Obi was distressed at how large it was. He was also frustrated because an employee, Charles Ibe, had borrowed money from him and told him he could not yet pay him back.

He decided to go to the bank and overdraft fifty pounds; it was not too hard for senior servants to be able to do it. He told himself it was bound to be hard in the beginning. He wished he had taken advantage of the Union’s four-month extension, but at least the relationship was repaired now. He knew that the members had made tremendous sacrifices to get him there, and he could not show them his difficulties.

After coming back from the bank, he discovered his electricity bill on his desk and felt like crying. He went home and told his steward boy, Sebastian, about the changes he would have to make in his flat to economize. No more hot water, less electricity, and less meat were his proposed changes.

He had not planned to tell Clara but she saw something was wrong and pried it out of him. She was hurt that he did not want to tell her of his difficulties, and was cold to him for the rest of the night. He eventually left her.

Back at his flat, he pulled out a volume of A.E. Housman’s poems. His eye was caught by a piece of paper with a poem from 1955 entitled “Nigeria” written on it. The poem spoke of the noble fatherland and the noble countrymen and their zeal for life.

Obi smiled and turned to Housman’s poem, “Easter Hymn”.


These chapters continue Achebe’s meditation on the difficulties of being in both the white man and the Nigerian’s world; he delves into the complex layers of identity Obi and mid-20th century Nigeria must negotiate. There are distinct conflicts between Christianity and African religion, the white man’s history and narrative and the folk culture of Nigeria, the village and the city, and the differing values articulated by various figures and groups.

Obi, as ever, is poised between two worlds. He occasionally evinces a closeness to his ethnic and cultural heritage by refusing to be a Christian (although he pretends to be one for his father's sake, further emphasizing his lack of autonomy and self-awareness), delighting in the folk tales of his mother, and fondly remembering the time a brutal white man was beaten up by a Nigerian man. He reflects on a poem he wrote when he was younger that praised Nigeria and its people. He also refuses to be bribed, something he considers beneath him and the province of the old guard of Nigerians in government.

However, Obi is also very much a product of his Western education and the West’s values. He spends his money on an expensive car and derives pleasure from showing it off. He refuses to listen to his countrymen’s concerns about Clara, behaving very rudely to them. Obi's personality flaws begin to be more apparent. He is spendthrift and materialistic, preferring to show off to those around him. He is terrible with his money but allows his pride to get in the way of accepting the extension, which was a rather shameful thing for him to do in the first place, as he would be able to afford all of his financial commitments if he was smarter with his purchase. Indeed, Obi's pride and lack of self-awareness are two of his most conspicuous flaws. He is too embarrassed and prideful to take the necessary steps to alleviate his debts, and his lack of self-awareness and perspicacity lead him to make the same mistakes repeatedly; his financial problems plague him until the end of the text.

Critic C.A. Babaloa writes that Obi possesses the "common vices of urban people" such as "listlessness, infidelity, isolation and vagrancy," and notes that he is "eager to fulfill his personal desires rather than the concrete hopes and aspirations of Umuofians who sponsored him abroad and are yet resolute behind his achievements."

Of course, it is not entirely fair to blame Obi for his situation. There are certain demands placed upon him and certain expectations had of him by the Union and the villagers. It is expected that, having a Western education and working in the senior service, he will live a somewhat glamorous life; but at the same time, he is warned to be parsimonious. He is far away from his home and his family and loses out on the life lessons they might instill in him. A confusing and exhausting adult life have supplanted his once relatively happy youth. Babaloa notes Achebe's metaphor of a palm-nut shell, writing, "Symbolically the vast area of Lagos cemetery intervenes between his adolescence and manhood, as between his new mode of European life and the past African existence being compared humorously to twin kernels inside a palm-nut shell." His Western education has encouraged him to discard the values and norms of the authentic life of Umuofia so celebrated in Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart.

The critic Philip Rogers looks at the Housman poem, "Easter Hymn," mentioned in this section as the poem Obi chooses to read after setting aside the one he wrote on Nigeria. The Housman poem is about Christ being either sleeping or dead, which is why he has not responded to the crises of the modern era. Rogers sees the poem as foreshadowing Obi's own sleeping after his mother's upcoming death, but also that for Christ and Obi, "personal peace is achieved at a cost of obliviousness and indifference to the lives of others." There are also similarities between the paralysis of Christ and the paralysis of Obi, who often cannot rouse himself to any action (to resist a bribe, to defend his relationship with Clara to his parents, to go after her when she gets the abortion, to stand up to his boss, etc.). Rogers also notes that the poem exemplifies the fact that part of Obi's downfall is rooted in his lack of authentic religion, which adds to the sense that he is a man unmoored.