No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Course Hero, "No Longer at Ease Study Guide," November 1, 2019, accessed August 1, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/No-Longer-at-Ease/.

No Longer at Ease | Chapter 12 | Summary

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Summary

It is after Christmas. Obi's father writes to him, telling him that his mother is in the hospital again and that he should come visit. Also, his father has something to discuss with Obi. Obi realizes that this can only mean that his father has heard he plans to marry Clara, an osu, a member of a sacred and yet reviled caste who cannot marry outside the caste.

The letter weighs on Obi's mind at work. Mr. Green has Marie take dictation, and then he talks to Obi about "the so-called educated Nigerian" of today. Mr. Green speaks, in puzzled wonderment, about a young Nigerian who expects to have his university fees paid and to get some money for his girlfriend too. Nigerians should think about their sick and starving countrymen, says Mr. Green.

Obi goes to play tennis with his friend Christopher and two Catholic schoolteachers, Irish girls, Nora and Pat, whom Christopher and Obi met a few weeks ago. They had gone dancing, and Obi had kissed Nora. Today they go to visit the girls at the convent, where they are greeted by a stern Mother Superior. They have tea with the girls, but the girls finally admit that the Mother Superior has told them not to socialize with African men.

Afterward, they go to see two of Christopher's girlfriends, Florence and Bisi, but neither is home. They talk about Elsie Mark, who had offered to sleep with Obi if he would put in a word for her with the Scholarship Board. Christopher makes rather tortured arguments for why sex with Elsie Mark would not have constituted taking a bribe. Someone who flings herself at officials is not innocent, says Christopher. Further, if she was already having sex with other officials, what would have been the harm in Obi's also having sex with her? Unlike taking money, says Christopher, the "taking" of sex does not impoverish the giver. Obi and Christopher go round and round about the issue, all through dinner and into the night. But when Christopher finally leaves, Obi realizes that he is still thinking about his father's letter.

Analysis

The chapter starts with the censorious Mr. Green lecturing about greedy, entitled Nigerians. He in fact talks about citizens of a colonized nation, and it is hard to understand why a Nigerian student should not want some money for himself and his girlfriend, too. Mr. Green is typical of the hypocritical attitudes that Obi will be subjected to when he goes on trial for bribery.

In this chapter, Obi tries to flee from his worries by getting absorbed in running around with women, but the attempt results mostly in failure. From the start of the novel, various characters have lectured about the dangers of "the sweet things of the flesh." At the send-off party for Obi years ago, the Reverend Sam Ikedi had warned about Nigerian men who go to England and marry white women. In this chapter, readers learn that Obi has been playing around like his friend Christopher, dancing with and even kissing one of the Irish schoolteachers, Nora. However, the novel does not present white women as irresistibly alluring. The two schoolteachers seem thoroughly uninteresting, the narrator does not lavishly describe their appearance, and the date soon fizzles out.

Even after the date with the schoolteachers comes to nothing, Obi and Christopher keep cutting a swath through all the women they know and have heard of. After visiting Christopher's girlfriend comes to nothing, they resort to talking about women, specifically, Elsie Mark. Christopher employs a number of poorly reasoned arguments. He blames the women, pointing out that they are not innocent. He then says that letting a woman appear before a Scholarship Board does not do her any good. Since the man is receiving sex in return for a favor that does the woman no good, then it's not bribery. Finally, he also claims, again illogically, that it is not bribery if all the other board members are doing it. Christopher's mental gymnastics seem typical of self-dealing, self-justifying, unethical behavior. There is no clear argument in favor of such acts, so Christopher resorts to contradictory statements. His nonsense also shows what Obi is up against. To remain an upright man, he must keep confronting attitudes like Christopher's. Obi's tragedy is less about falling for the allure of money and sex and more about exhaustion. In the end his grief about his mother and girlfriend wears him down so that he can no longer resist corruption.

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