Chinua Achebe’s novel, No Longer at Ease, is almost a sequel to his first novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ which particularly dealt with the struggles of a major character called Okonkwo and the society around him at the time of the arrival of the British in Igbo land.
With No longer at Ease, we are introduced to a major character called Obi Okonkwo who is often referred to as Okonkwo’s grandson. The story revolves around Obi Okonkwo who travels from his village to seek for a four year British education in Britain. After his education, he returns back to his village only to be trapped by the corruption that existed in the society around him.
The novel begins with Obi Okonkwo being tried for taking bribe during a time when Obi Okonkwo worked for the Scholarship Board which offered scholarships for deserving students to travel overseas to study. Once Obi Okonkwo has taken over job at the Scholarship board, there is an attempt by a man who tries to offer bribe to Obi Okonkwo so as to obtain a scholarship for his little sister. Obi Okonkwo survives this attempt but he is later visited with a second. The second: Obi Okonkwo is visited by the girl herself and the girl attempts to bribe Obi with sexual favors in return for the scholarship. Again, Obi Okonkwo does not succumb to it.
Before Obi Okonkwo could travel for his four year British education, we are made to understand that it is the members of the Umuofia Progressive Union (UPU) who gather money for Obi’s travel. Obi Okonkwo was to study law as it was the hope of the UPU but we see Obi switch his major to English and so he arrives back in his village with an English certificate in his brief case.
As the novel advances, we see Obi Okonkwo develop a romantic relationship with Clara Okeke. Clara Okeke is an osu or an outcast by her descendants. Obi Okonkwo wanted to marry Clara yet his parents does not agree. Marrying an osu meant going contrary to the traditional set up of the Igbo people. Whiles Obi’s Christian father opposes Obi’s intent; his mother threatens to kill herself should Obi marry an osu. Clara relays to Obi that she is pregnant when Obi had told her of the disagreements by his parent for the two to marry. Obi arranges for an abortion for Clara but Clara gets complications and would not see Obi afterwards.
By the end of the novel, Obi is taking a bribe and he assures himself that that will be last one he would take. He is arrested and then tried as was the case of the opening chapter.
There are so many conclusions any good reader could deduce from the entire novel.
Although the novel was written as early as 1960, the theme of the story is very much alive and still in existence in modern day Nigeria where there is still the prevalent of bribery and corruption. One tends to wonder, sometimes, whether there is any possible hope for total elimination of corruption and bribery on the African continent.
Also, one major lesson any reader would draw from the story is that of traditional setbacks. I do not condemn the belief in the traditions of a particular people at any given time but in as much as some traditions relent to distractions and breakdown of family unity, they must be discouraged. As is the case of Obi Okonkwo and his girlfriend, we see Clara drift herself away when Obi tells her about his parents’ disagreement about their planned marriage. The traditional canker I seek to point out here is that, does a person’s identity as an osu or an outcast disqualify her from marrying? I found it so disheartening that Obi’s mother would promise to kill herself should Obi marry an osu. What a shame?
The novel takes its title from T.S Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi:
‘We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.’
I enjoyed reading this novel as very much as the other two in the trilogy. It was a fast read considering the short length of the book yet it carried a strong theme. It is highly recommended.