No Longer at Ease
The second book in Achebe's "African trilogy": A classic story of personal and moral struggle as well as turbulent social conflict. When Obi Okonkwo—grandson of Okonkwo, the main character in Things Fall Apart—returns to Nigeria from England in the 1950s, his foreign education separates him from his African roots. He's become a part of a ruling elite whose corruption he finds repugnant. Forced to choose between traditional values and the demands of a changing world, he finds himself trapped between the expectations of his family, his village, and the larger society around him. With unequaled clarity and poignancy, Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease remains a brilliant statement of the challenges facing Nigeria today.
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Obi Okonkwo is the protagonist in this novel. His grandfather, also named Okonkwo, is the protagonist in the first novel in this trilogy, "Things Fall Apart." In these novels, Achebe uses a story to chronicle the history of Nigeria. If you have not read the first novel, the video below summarizes the plot of Things Fall Apart. Keep in mind the main character, Okonkwo, is the grandfather of the main character in this novel. (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer about Mr. Green from these highlighted sentences?
According to Mr. Green, why are Africans inferior?
This colloquial expression means that the men of Umuofia, a village in Nigeria where Obi Okonkwo is from, will protect and support one of their own--even if they are angry and greatly disappointed in that member.
Darkness often symbolizes ignorance, and light symbolizes knowledge. The people of Umuofia are celebrating that Obi Okonkwo is going to England for his education. It is understood that when he gets his degree he will return to the village and assume a post. He will repay his scholarship to the Umuofia Progressive Union and make the town stronger and more prosperous.
On invitations, RSVP, stand for "Respondez s'il vous plait," or in English, "Please respond." Invitations to weddings and celebrations are just one of the many practices of Western culture that have seeped into Nigeria. This novel takes place in 1950 and Nigeria is still under colonial British rule. Many of the Igbo people have also become Christians in the years since the European missionaries came.
You should recognize this as personification. While Chinua Achebe's overall writing style is mostly straightforward, he does occasionally use figurative language. Watch the video below which reviews many of the different types of figurative language. As you continue reading, be sure to notice any figurative language and what the writer's purpose is for using it. (This annotation contains a video)
Even though the rich man tells of the modern ways of the city Lagos, there is still evidence of racial division. Which line of text best supports this?
Clearly, Obi's friend, Joseph, does not have much money. He has only one room and very sparse furnishings. But, still, Joseph has his own house boy. This shows us the levels of poverty in Africa. Imagine how poor Joseph's house boy must be. Lagos is the most modern and populated city in Nigeria. Below is a picture of Lagos today. (This annotation contains an image)
The narrator is taking you back and forth in time. Now Obi has returned from his education in England and he is again in Lagos among the slums. (This annotation contains an image)
Obi now lives in the city of Ikoyi which is right next to Lagos. To what thing does he compare these two cities?
Of course, you recognize that T.S. Eliot is a famous poet. In fact, one of his poems is at the opening of this novel. Read Eliot's poem "Journey of the Magi." The poem is based on the three kings, or magi, who followed the North star to Christ's birth. Achebe chose the title of this novel from a line in the poem. You will take a closer look at the poem later on. (This annotation contains a link)
To describe the roughness of the sea, the writer uses which type of figurative language?
Funchal, Madeira is in Portugal. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is not true about Obi?
Obi refuses to accept this small bribe. He does not want to handle things this way, even though it is the Nigerian way.
This is an allusion to mythology. The Pierian Spring was in Macedonia and was a sacred source of knowledge of the arts and sciences. The poet Alexander Pope famously wrote about knowledge: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing/ Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring." (This annotation contains an image)
When the Nigerians speak of "book," they mean education, or more accurately, "white man's education."
Even though this is only about insects flying until they are zapped by the light, what purpose might the writer have for using it?
These are cigarettes. (This annotation contains an image)
A tragedy in the literary sense is a play or story dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character. Often the protagonist indirectly brings about his own downfall because of hubris (pride).
What does Obi want to change about Nigerian government?
According to many native African religions, a person's "chi" is his or her personal god. The Igbo understand three levels of deities: the creator god, minor gods that possess varying levels and different types of spiritual power, and the chi, a person's own personal god who may bring him good or bad luck at different times in life.
Which of the following is the best interpretation of this scene?
"Too know" young men are men who according to the Nigerians know too much. Their education robs them of common sense and customary ways.
What are the older men of the Umuofia village arguing about with Isaac Okonkwo?
Why are the men of the village particularly proud of Obi?
These lines are important because they relate to a major theme in the novel which is the conflict between the traditional Nigeria and the Nigeria that has been transformed by white men and Western culture.
Has Obi become an atheist?
Hannah, Obi's mother, is more _______________________ than Isaac, Obi's father.
Obi's memory here is of his young school days. He attends a mission school that the white men oversee. The colonization of Nigeria by Britain is a huge issue in this novel. Watch this clip from a BBC news feature that was filmed when Chinua Achebe died in 2013. Pay close attention to the story the woman tells near the end about the missionaries bringing the Bible. (This annotation contains a video)
Why is this an important line in this novel?
Mr. Green's tone and his character can best be described as which of the following?
An Osu is an "untouchable" according to the Igbo people of Nigeria. Read the article below about the Osu and how things have gradually changed. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on the BBC article, what is ironic today about many Osu people from Nigeria?
This memory is probably symbolic. The pencil represents Obi's education. The cutting of his mother, who we know is more bound to the old Nigerian ways, may represent the conflict between the Western and Nigerian culture.
Joseph is defending Obi, declaring him too much of a gentleman to take bribes in his position as Secretary to the Scholarship Board. Bribery is so entrenched in the Nigerian way that Joseph's friend does not believe him.
What can we infer is the difference between the work in the city of Lagos and the work back home in Umuofia?
One distinguishing commonality among all of the Igbo characters in the novel is their use of cultural idioms and folklore when making a point. Here, even though the old man is speaking of business in the city, he makes his point with a tribal expression. As a reader, you should be able to discern the meaning through context clues.
The interpretation of this cultural expression is which of the following?
Clearly, Mr. Mark has come to see Obi for a bribe to ensure his sister receives a scholarship to England. Mr. Mark does not want Miss Tomlinson, a European secretary to Obi, to hear. Obi wants to end this way of doing business.
The narrator tells you, "As soon as he said it light broke through." What has Obi suddenly realized?
What must the expression "a been to" mean?
This is an allusion to the Christian Bible. Joel was a prophet, so the narrator suggests that Greene's advice to Obi about the car insurance is like a prophesy.
According to the cultural expression Charles uses here, who is the "big tree"?
This scene suggests again the contrasting elements of Obi's life now. He loves his home country Nigeria and feels loyalty and pride towards her. Yet he reaches for a book of poems by the British poet, A.E. Housman. Whether Obi can balance these two cultures that both reside in him is a central theme in this novel.
To help describe why Mr. Green likes Africa, Obi alludes to a famous novel by Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness." In the novel, one man looks for another deep in the jungles of Africa, along the Congo. The men are there because of the ivory trade, but one man, Kurtz, using his presumed racial superiority, takes brutal control over the natives. Obi implies that Mr. Green only likes the Africa that the British preside over. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following expressions is closest in meaning to the highlighted proverb?
Not only does Obi owe the bank fifty pounds that he borrowed, he now owes Clara fifty pounds that has been stolen. As with any novel, conflict begins to build around the protagonist. This part of the plot is the rising action.
Obi's father, Isaac Okonkwo is a devout Christian. His mother is too, but she still clings to the Nigerian ways a bit more. Based on the article about the Osu, who will be more upset about Clara, Obi's mother or father?
The next question refers to the earlier article about the Osu. If you want to reread the article, the link is below. (This annotation contains a link)
"And they call themselves missionaries!"What point is Christopher trying to make when he says the line above?
It seems that the difference here is that Obi is against bribery on principle. Christopher believes that Obi should have taken the girl's offer because it was practical. She was going to get in front of the board no matter what, so Christopher feels Obi should have at least gotten a little something out of it.
Based on the context of this paragraph, what would Obi "squander" during his leave in Umuofia?
What distinguishes Isaac Okonkwo's room from Hannah Okonkwo's room?
Leprosy is a chronic skin disease caused by bacteria. It was once believed to be highly contagious and so lepers were banished from society and forced to live in remote leper colonies. Today the disease is very rare and treatable. (This annotation contains an image)
Hannah's dream probably symbolizes which of the following?
These memories of Isaac Okonkwo and his father take place in Chinua Achebe's first novel of Nigeria, "Things Fall Apart." (This annotation contains an image)
The Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim is a Nigerian church that began in the 1920's. It was created by Moses Orimolade Tunolase who believed he was called on by Christ. They are Christians, but they focus more on the New Testament. (This annotation contains an image)
Make a prediction as to what Clara is talking about here.
What is Christopher implying?
This simile means that the attendant's voice was _____________.
Remember the poem by T.S. Elliot from which the title is taken? Read it here again and then answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a link)
In the last stanza of the poem above, a line reads about "alien people." Think of Obi's situation in this novel. Who are the "alien people"?
Most cultures have stories that warn against too much pride. It is often the downfall of a tragic hero. Obi has been too prideful in his determination to be the "pioneer" of change in the ways of Nigeria. Now he regrets it.
This sentence best supports which of the following?
This folk story perhaps means that one cannot escape the sadness of this life by running away.
Obi's mother is a woman of action; Obi's father is a man of ___________________.
Death of a loved one, as horrible and tragic as it is, is a part of life. And life must go on--- so we go on with it.
Obi is wrestling still with his main inner conflict in this novel. He can't stand the corruption in his country and he vowed to change it. Which type of conflict is Obi struggling with? This video reviews the various types. (This annotation contains a video)
So Obi is now taking bribes. He still requires the candidates for scholarships to have the required educational credentials, but he is giving in to the old Nigerian ways of doing business and is catching up on his debts. This highlighted sentence is important, though, because it underscores the central theme in the novel. Obi is not "at ease" with himself. He is not "at ease" in his beloved country.
Read the following poem by Rudyard Kipling, "The White Man's Burden." Be sure to read the introductory paragraph before the poem. Be prepared to answer a quiz question about the poem. (This annotation contains a link)