No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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No Longer at Ease | Chapter 16 | Summary



Obi wonders where he will get the £30 for the doctor's fee. Christopher offers no help; he is such a spendthrift that he gives a whole month's shopping money to his cook, telling him to make it last. Obi also considers and rejects the idea of going to the president of the Umuofia Progressive Union for the money. In the end, Obi decides to borrow the money from Sam Okoli without telling him why.

The next day, the doctor takes Obi's money and tells him to return at five. Obi goes outside, but he sits in his car, unable to drive away. He fears something bad will happen, and he has a premonition that he will not see Clara again. When Clara and the doctor emerge from the office to go to the hospital, Obi has an urge to run after Clara and ask her to marry him. But he doesn't do this, and she and the doctor drive away. Then Obi drives around, trying to come upon the doctor's car by chance so he can stop Clara, but his efforts are useless.

At five, Obi returns to the clinic. He waits for an hour and a half before the doctor returns. The doctor tells him that he is keeping Clara in the hospital for observation. He says that Obi may see her in the morning, but he warns Obi that she might not want to see him.

At home, Obi skips dinner. He tries to read A.E. Housman's poems again, and once again he finds the slip of paper bearing the poem he wrote about Nigeria. He crumples up the paper and throws it on the floor.

The next day, Obi goes to the doctor's clinic. He doesn't have an appointment, and the other patients are annoyed, thinking Obi is throwing his weight around as a middle-class, educated man. When he pushes his way into the office, the doctor tells him that Clara is in the hospital with complications, though he also promises that she will be fine. On Obi's way out through the waiting room, one of the patients curses him as a "beast of no nation." Obi rushes to the hospital. A nurse there tells him that Clara is "very ill" and is not allowed to have visitors.


All along, Obi has been ambivalent about the abortion. He acts in contradictory ways, both driving Clara to the appointment and also rushing around Lagos, hoping to find Clara and propose marriage to her.

When Obi rejects the idea of going to a moneylender, the narrator says that Obi would rather commit suicide. In Chapter 2, Obi had said the suicide at the end of the Graham Greene novel The Heart of the Matter was a "happy ending." By this, he meant that the suffering ended. Real tragedy, in contrast to what happens in novels, "is never resolved," Obi says in Chapter 2. So, in this chapter, when Obi rejects the idea of a moneylender and the suicide it would lead him to, he is also positioning himself for real tragedy, the kind that is never resolved.

Obi also rejects the idea of asking the president of the Umuofia Progressive Union for the money. The narrator says that he would go to a moneylender before doing that. But this is also a way of saying that Obi would kill himself before going to the president, since the narrator has already made the order of Obi's preferences clear. Obi's thoughts about the president underline how trapped he feels by his community. Instead of feeling supported by the aid of his community, he feels they are interfering: "It would appear as if ... his townspeople could tell him whom not to marry." In rejecting the townspeople's help and their judgments, Obi says to himself, "I haven't descended so low yet." This statement is ambiguous. Obi's plain meaning is that he has not yet fallen so far. But the implication is that he does have further to fall. This underlines the fact that No Longer at Ease is a tragedy. It is Obi's kind of tragedy, real tragedy, which is never resolved.

In this chapter, Obi has his second encounter with his youthful poem, "Nigeria," and with A.E. Housman's poems. In Chapter 10 Obi had reread his poem and managed a rueful smile about its idealism. In that poem Obi had pictured Nigerians aiding each other: "Forgetting region, tribe, or speech / But caring always each for each." But now tribal customs separate Obi from others and condemn him to tragedy by preventing his marriage to Clara. Even Obi's speech and dress and manner separate him from others, as when he goes to the doctor's office the day after Clara's abortion. The working-class patients see Obi as a pushy, well-off, well-dressed man who flouts the rules and pushes in ahead of them. The curse of one of the patients stands in sharp contrast to Obi's poem about Nigeria. In the poem Obi was a man who belonged to a unified nation, but in the doctor's waiting room he is cursed as a "beast of no nation."

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