No Longer at Ease

No Longer at Ease Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-15


Chapter 11

Obi and Miss Tomlinson, or Marie as she requested to be called, were now very good friends and talked a great deal. She often spoke of Mr. Green, and Obi grudgingly thought to himself that his boss was not so bad. He clearly valued duty, which was odd because he was working for a country he did not believe in. It was said he put in his resignation when Nigeria almost became independent, but removed it when the country remained under England. He loved Africa, but it was the Africa of his steward boy and garden boy. Obi thought of Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.

Obi received a letter from Clara and opened it, trembling lest he find the ring. Instead there were fifty dollars and a letter urging him to cancel his overdraft. Obi wondered how she came by the money, and although touched, knew he could not keep it. However, he knew the bank manager would find it weird if he brought his money back. He later admitted to her he could not take it back but felt uncomfortable. She apologized for meddling.

That evening they went to Christopher's house. Clara liked him now but was wary of how he always had new girlfriends. The one tonight was Bisi. The four went dancing at the Imperial. In between dancing himself, Obi watched the dancers. He saw three groups: those who looked odd and alien, those who held each other close and barely moved, and those who were ecstatic, intricate, and free.

They eventually ended the night and Obi and Clara went to the car to drive home. They discovered Clara's money, which Obi had left in the car, was missing.

Chapter 12

Obi received word after Christmas that his mother was ill, but he assumed his parents wanted him home because somehow word leaked out about Clara.

At work that day Mr. Green complained to Obi about how useless educated Nigerians were because they were greedy and cared only about themselves and their families, rather than the millions of countrymen dying from disease. Obi barely listened.

Later he went out with Christopher and two Irish girls, who were teachers at the local convent. They had a grand night on the town and Obi kissed his girl. Unfortunately, the Mother saw the girls come home with two African men, so later the girls told them that they had to be careful about seeing them again. Christopher's crack about the girls being "daughters" annoyed them.

On a drive Christopher talked about his new girlfriend, Flora, and how much he wanted to marry her. Obi brought up Elsie Marks and the two men debated her situation. It seemed she made it to the scholarship and was in England. Christopher said she was not innocent and obi should have slept with her. Obi believed she would remember him as the one virtuous man, but Christopher said she probably thought he was impotent. Christopher believed there was no harm in going to bed with a girl who asked for it.

Chapter 13

Obi received two weeks off to visit his parents. On the night before he left, Clara helped him pack. She then became sad and began to cry, telling him she could not marry him. He was stunned. She told him his parents would not want him to marry an osu, and he retorted that it was because she did not want to be with a man who could not pay his insurance. She became upset and called him a naughty boy for saying that, and that he needed to apologize.

Obi planned to visit his parents for only one of the two weeks because he did not have enough money to stay the full length. Everyone in the village would expect him to act a certain way and he knew his funds would not make it.

Obi arrived at home and asked for his mother. He reflected on his parents' rooms. His father loved everything European, which included the written word. He kept all his papers and cherished them. His mother's room was filled with mundane things.

He stepped in to see her and she said she was doing better. She asked after all the people she knew. Obi felt like his heart was breaking as she spoke.

That night some village women came by singing, and Mr. Okonkwo wanted to close the window because it was heathen music. Obi's mother decided to sit by the window and listen. The song was about blood being thicker than money.

Chapter 14

Obi and his father stayed up late talking. He asked how often Obi saw his kinsmen in Lagos. He then turned to Clara and said simply that Obi could not marry her.

Obi tried to use Christianity as his weapon, explaining how he and his father know the Gospel and the girl's osu status was irrelevant. His father still pointed out how much of a shame it would be, but by the time Obi left he felt like his father was weakened and that he had made the first real connection with him in twenty-six years.

Unfortunately, Obi's mother called him to her side and said he could marry Clara only after she was dead, and that she would kill herself if he chose to marry her before then.

Obi was terribly depressed and stayed in his room all day, even though he knew the people of his village wanted to see him and thus grumbled. He realized he had no argument t combat it. He decided to return to Lagos the next day.

Upon hearing this news his father told him how his own father had cursed him when he converted to Christianity. He knew what suffering was.

Chapter 15

Obi felt numb and dazed on the five hundred mile drive back. He almost got into a crash with two mammy-wagons, but thankfully no one was hurt.

He had thought about what to tell Clara, and once he got home he went straight there after freshening up. Obi tried to make it sound like a temporary setback when he told her. She listened silently and then took off her engagement ring and gave it to him. When he would not accept it she went outside and put it in his car.

They did not have much to say, but when Obi went to leave she said there was something she had wanted to tell him, but it did not matter and she should be able to take care of it herself.

When Obi told Christopher his story he was shocked how callous his friend was. Obi confided in him that he thought Clara was pregnant, and Christopher said he would try to find him the name of a doctor. He told a coarse story of his own about a girl he had slept with and got pregnant.

The first doctor to whom Obi and Clara went said he did not do abortions, and told them they ought to marry. Clara screamed and ran out. The second doctor told them his fee was thirty pounds and could not be changed because it was a criminal act but he was doing it anyway. He then asked Obi why he did not marry her.


Mr. Green is not a particularly interesting character, but he serves as an exemplar of the English view on Nigerians and the colonial endeavor. In the first part of the novel he explained how he believed Nigerians were degenerate because of their climate, and in this section Obi's reflections on how Mr. Green perceives of colonialism are telling. He ruminates on how his boss is so dutiful, even when there seems to be no reason for it, and then thinks about how he loved Africa but only in its most stereotypical fashion. He loved the Africa of steward boys and subservient blacks, not the reality of Nigeria inching closer to independence. His critical words to Obi on the laziness of the African and their constant taking of vacations indicate his own hypocrisy, as Obi, in a rare moment of boldness and forthrightness, tells Miss Tomlinson that the Nigerians are only doing what the English had always done in terms of taking time off.

Obi even compares Mr. Green to that famous literary character of Kurtz from Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which critic Philip Rogers addresses in his article on the novel. He explains how Obi puts himself in the role of the white Conrad, who would write of Mr. Green-as-Kurtz. However, as Achebe would have it, "Obi plays the role of the analytical white, who, like Kurtz or the D.C. can reduce complex human experience to words and books." Rogers compares Obi's astonishment at his boss's adherence to duty to Marlow's astonishment at the Africans' restraint and discipline. Throughout his novel Achebe seeks to turn the heart of darkness on its head, associating whiteness with the deadliness usually associated with blackness. Rogers notes that the author's "reversal of Conrad's imagery of light and darkness is most clearly seen in his contrasting of Lagos, the black city, with Ikoyi, its white (senior service) suburb; here darkness is associated with community, fertility, and life – whiteness with isolation, sterility, and death."

This point brings up two other significant ones in the text: Obi's reverence for English writers, and his and his father's love for the written word and what that means in terms of the colonial system. In regards to the first issue, Obi clearly demonstrates an affinity for the literary works of the English. He reads and/or discusses Houseman, Eliot, Graham Greene, Conrad, and W.H. Auden. The most obvious statement to make is that by reading these writers he is identifying himself strongly with the West. Rogers explains that Achebe is doing more than just this, though: he is putting Obi in that same lineage of antiheros that populate the texts of those writers. He is indecisive like Greene's Scobie, he is a "hollow man" and a self-conscious Prufrock, and he is Auden's Icarus, aiming too high and falling short. Obi's status as a man of words is, as Rogers writes, suggestive of "European education and values constitute the germ of his later alienation and betrayal of his parents' world."

In terms of those parents, Obi's father is much closer to him than his mother is, at least in terms of their relationship with the West. Obi's father is obsessed with the written word, saving every piece of paper he comes into contact with. Coupled with his Christianity, Isaac Okonkwo is a figure that very much idealizes the world of the white man. Rogers writes, "Isaac's print fetish...burdens his uncritical belief in the white man with ominous associations of decay and inanity...the word of white power also portends black spiritual decay and death."

Obi thinks he is much closer to his mother, but he moves as far away from her world as he can. This is foreshadowed in the childhood incident where he tells one of her folktales but cannot resist embellishing it. The incident with the knife where Obi's mother is wounded by his razor symbolizes his real wounding of her when he moves away from his heritage.

Obi's inability to stand up for Clara, both in front of his parents and during the abortion incident, reveals just how hollow he is. He remains paralyzed, unable to decide what he really wants. He lacks a moral center, something that will be clearer once he accepts the bribe.