No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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No Longer at Ease | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

While Obi is driving back to Lagos, two mammy wagons run him off the road. The accident could have been fatal, but he is fine and his car only slightly dented. That evening, back in Lagos, Obi visits Clara. But first, a procession of Christians in white headdresses slows him down. When he reaches Clara, he tells her the basic outlines of what his parents said, but he distorts things, saying that everything will be fine. Skeptical, Clara asks him if he's finished his "story," meaning, his lie. She gives him back his engagement ring. She says, "There was something I wanted to tell you," but she adds that it doesn't matter now and that she'll take care of it. Obi becomes alarmed, but she doesn't tell him anything further.

Obi goes to talk things over with his friend Christopher. But Christopher expresses little sympathy. He says that they cannot "ignore all our customs." When Obi tells Christopher about his mother's suicide threat, Christopher laughs, thinking she did not mean it. Then Obi tells Christopher that he thinks Clara is pregnant. Christopher says that he will find a doctor for Clara.

Obi and Clara go to two doctors recommended by Christopher. The first one refuses to perform the abortion. "What you are asking me to do is a criminal offense," he says. He asks Obi why he doesn't just marry Clara, who is good looking. But Clara says that she doesn't want to marry Obi. The second doctor agrees to perform the abortion. They must bring him £30 by the following afternoon. He tells Clara not to eat anything. As they leave, the doctor asks Obi why he doesn't marry Clara, but neither Obi nor Clara answers.

Analysis

In this chapter, Obi is waylaid twice on the road, first by the mammy wagons and then by the procession of Christians. These two encounters symbolize the forces ranged against Obi: corruption, traditional religion, and Christianity. The mammy wagons resonate with one of Obi's first encounters with corruption in Nigeria, the driver who bribed a cop. After the near accident in this chapter, one of the mammy wagons stops to see if Obi is all right. Many of the women passengers exclaim over Obi's near miss, calling out, "Olorun!" This is a Yoruba name for God or the Supreme Being. There are three major ethnic groups in Nigeria: the Ibo, the Hausa-Fulani, and the Yoruba. This is one of the few scenes in the novel where Obi encounters a Nigerian who is not Ibo. But like many of the Ibo characters in the novel, the women on the mammy wagon are ardently religious. They tell Obi to give thanks to God for sparing his life. But symbolically, adherents of traditional religions stand in Obi's way. Just as the near accident with Yoruba people slows down Obi in reaching Lagos, traditional customs stand in the way of Obi's goal, marriage to Clara, who is an osu.

When Obi is slowed down by the Christian procession, he is again symbolically waylaid from his goal of reaching Clara. There is not specifically a Christian doctrine that forbids Obi's marriage to Clara, but his father, Isaac, is a Christian. Even though he doesn't have Christian grounds for forbidding the marriage, he is an impediment. Obi will also be thwarted in his goal of helping Clara have an abortion.

As the procession of Christians makes its way down the road, it holds up traffic. Obi feels "inwardly grateful" for this. So, the procession is also doing Obi a favor, in slowing down his inevitable meeting with Clara, when he will have to tell her what his parents said. This scene also shows Christians in Nigeria viewed from the outside, from the perspective of nonbelievers. The taxi drivers give "long and deafening blasts of their horns" in protest of the delay caused by the Christians.

In addition to being waylaid by others, Obi keeps getting in his own way in this chapter. Arriving in the city limits of Lagos, Obi thinks to himself that it would be best to go directly to Clara's. But then he goes home first anyway. After changing clothes, Obi leaves the house again, "not knowing definitely whether he was going to Christopher's or Clara's." He ends up at Clara's. He seems unable to pick a direction in this chapter: wherever he goes, he is thwarted, either by other people or by his own indecision. This foreshadows Obi's useless driving around Lagos after Clara in Chapter 16, when he helplessly chases after Clara, trying to tell her to cancel the abortion and marry him instead. No Longer at Ease, as a work of literature, is an interconnected whole. Its parts are interrelated, and this interrelation enhances the enjoyment of the work.

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