No Longer at Ease

No Longer at Ease Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-19


Chapter 16

Obi knew he had to pay Clara's fifty pounds back, but what was more pressing was the thirty pounds for the abortion. He dismissed the ideas of a moneylender and Christopher, and decided to ask the Hon. Sam Okoli, from whom he received the money.

The doctor accepted the fee and the doctor and Clara got into a car and drove away. Obi watched them and after a moment realized he was a fool and tried to speed after them. Frantic and sweating in the heat, he could not catch up with them. He went back to the clinic later in the day and asked the receptionist if she knew where Clara was. She curtly said ‘no’.

Obi waited and the doctor finally came in. he told Obi to come back the next morning. He said Clara was fine but she needed to be under observation in case she developed complications.

That night Obi did not want to eat dinner. He opened his Housman volume of poetry and saw "Nigeria". He crumpled up the poem and threw it on the floor. He did not read anything and went to bed.

The next morning Obi tried to force his way into the clinic after the attendant said he did not have an appointment. Finally, the doctor told him she was at a private hospital and had some complications. On his way out one of the patients in the waiting room admonished Obi for thinking he was better than everyone because the Government gave him a car.

The nurse at the hospital said Clara could not have visitors because she was very ill.

Chapter 17

Mr. Green asked Obi if he had had a good leave. He grumbled about how Nigerians always took so much time off, commenting, "There is no single Nigerian who is prepared to forgo a little privilege in the interests of his country. From your ministers down to your most junior clerk. And you tell me you want to govern yourselves" (174).

After he left Marie said it was a true statement. Obi agreed, but the Europeans devised the conditions when they were in the senior service and Nigerians were in junior service, but now some Nigerians were in senior service and were taking those benefits.

Obi went to go see Mr. Omo about a salary advance because he knew he had to pay Clara back. He had visited her but she turned her back to him. He felt terribly embarrassed. Mr. Omo said it was possible but he had to account for his spending on his trip.

Obi began to think about his decisions and his actions critically for the first time in his life. He wondered why he had been so prideful and did not take the four months' reprieve from his debt. He decided to stop paying it back until his money troubles went away. He knew they would all sympathize with ‘family commitments’.

A messenger dropped off an envelope. Obi did not open it yet but thought about how to write a letter to Clara. He asked her for a second chance. He went to the hospital and felt derisive of the dirt and someone vomiting.

Chapter 18

Clara was in the hospital for five weeks, and once she got out she left Lagos. Obi never paid back her fifty pounds.

Money still plagued him; he got a notice from the Commissioner of Income Tax.

His mother also died, and people complained she did not get as good of a funeral as she deserved. People said Obi should have come home, that he was enticed by the pleasures of Lagos. One old man said he was not surprised because Obi's own father did the same thing. Blood cannot be changed.

Obi was shocked by the death. Mr. Green gave him time to go home but he did not see the point, as she would already be buried. He cried and fell asleep, sleeping through the night for the first time in years. When he awoke he felt ashamed he had not kept vigil for her. He thought of his poor father.

Joseph came over, as well as many other people from Umuofia. They were there to mourn his mother with him, and he felt honored by their presence. The President of the Union asked if they could sing hymns. Everyone was kind and did not dwell on his sorrow. Other conversations soon sprang up.

One young man named Nathaniel told a story in the corner, and it suddenly fell silent and his voice was clearly heard. It was about a tortoise that did not return home when his mother died.

Obi slept again, and his sorrow eventually vanished. He wondered at how odd death was; it had only been three days and he was already forgetting his mother. He admonished himself for humming and feeling peaceful.

Chapter 19

Obi felt like he was metal passed through fire. He thought about his mother as a woman who accomplished things, whereas his father was a man of thought. He remembered stories from his parents' past, particularly about the white men taking over.

The season for scholarships arrived. A man came to Obi and told him about his son going to England who needed a scholarship. Obi said it was not possible, but the man asked for a recommendation. He gave Obi a wad of banknotes.

Obi sat there after the man left and stared at the notes, then covered them up with newspaper and locked the door. He mumbled to himself that it was terrible.

After that, though, Obi began taking more bribes, but he always followed through on the promises he made. He would not accept anyone who did not have the minimum requirements either. He paid off his debts.

One day he realized he could not do it anymore; it was getting too hard for him. The last briber and another man knocked on his door, asked for his name, and searched him. A police van was summoned. No one knew why he had done it, especially as he was educated. Not even Mr. Green, who usually knew everything, knew.


Obi’s moral downfall is complete as the novel ends. This is evinced through his dealings with Clara, his mother’s death, money, and the bribe. Clara is not a very sympathetic character in that she is cool, reserved, capricious, and most likely a prostitute. Her abortion is depicted as an example of moral decay as related to the influence of the West. However, Clara’s plight is lamentable. As a woman and a member of the osu caste, she suffers mightily. Obi’s treatment of her is also worthy of condemnation, as he does not defend her to his mother, impregnates her and foists her off on a suspicious doctor, and, while he does indeed feel bad about what happens to her for a brief period of time, he seems to feel more strongly about how disgusting the hospital is rather than how tragic it is that Clara must bear the physical and psychological effects of the abortion. His letter to her is also a model of passive-aggressiveness, which is not surprising given his behavior throughout the novel.

Obi’s hollowness is very clearly observed in the fact that he does not even want to travel home for his mother’s funeral. He tells himself, “She would have been buried by the time he got there, anyway…the thought of going home and not finding her!” (183.) He also does not contribute very much money to her funeral, for which he is privately lambasted by Umuofians. What is perhaps most disturbing, however, is how quickly Obi gets over the woman he is supposedly so close to. He is shocked and cries the first night, but then sleeps incredibly well, to the point where he feels guilty that “he could not keep as much as one night’s vigil for her” (183). He continues to sleep well, and then, quite tellingly, realizes “His mother was not three days dead and yet she was already distant…the dominant feeling was of peace” (187). Obi’s indifference is staggering, but is not surprising given his character. As the critic Philip Rogers says succinctly, “his heart is dead.”

Finally, Obi’s treatment of money and his acceptance of the bribe signify his lack of a moral center. He knows he needs to pay Clara back, but Achebe writes, “Obi’s plan to pay fifty pounds into her account had come to nothing for various reasons” (180). The reader can almost hear the derision in Achebe's voice. Obi also decides that he will not pay his debt back to the Union for a time because of “family commitments,” the vague thing he thinks will win their sympathy. Finally, the long-awaited moment comes when Obi takes a bribe from a scholarship-seeker's father. This leads him to take other bribes, and he becomes quite used to it; only then can he pay off his debts. Rogers notes that Obi's placidity extends even here, as there are many months between the loss of Clara and his mother that Obi finally takes the bribe. It is not quite an easy excuse that those traumas directly led him to take it, and there is nothing particularly special about this man and his bribe. Just like his literary hero, Scobie from Greene's The Heart of the Matter, Obi does not seem to make decisions for himself – he just falls into them.

Obi does evince a bit of guilt for taking the bribes and vows to stop, but Achebe does not let him get away with it and he is arrested. This brings us full circle back to the beginning of the book, where Obi is so unaffected by his fate that he tries to maintain as false as possible a facade. It is likely the Union will help him out and he will go on his way again, but this is not a character that has learned any major life lessons.

Finally, Mr. Green's comments reveal more about the insidious situation wrought by colonialism. He ignorantly and smugly criticizes Obi for his vacation time, when, in a rare moment of defensiveness and honesty, Obi tells Miss Tomlinson that Mr. Green's views are hypocritical because the English designed them as such and only now decry them because the African uses them. Mr. Green's paternalistic attitude is also telling, as in his comment, "There is no single Nigerian who is prepared to forgo a little privilege in the interests of his country...And you tell me you want to govern yourselves" (174). This is patently absurd, for Mr. Green cares little about what Nigerians think and do, and is incapable as seeing them as anything other than childlike and selfish. And even if they were, the assumption that the English need to govern them is ridiculous. Mr. Green's comments lead the reader to understand why Obi and Nigerians like him are so devoid of morality –they are trying to embrace a world of whiteness that is hollow at its core.