No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Course Hero. "No Longer at Ease Study Guide." Course Hero. 1 Nov. 2019. Web. 28 July 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/No-Longer-at-Ease/>.

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Course Hero. "No Longer at Ease Study Guide." November 1, 2019. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/No-Longer-at-Ease/.

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Course Hero, "No Longer at Ease Study Guide," November 1, 2019, accessed July 28, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/No-Longer-at-Ease/.

No Longer at Ease | Chapter 17 | Summary

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Summary

At the office, Mr. Green inquires politely about Obi's vacation. Obi has been dealing with such momentous events that he doesn't even know what to say about his "vacation." It doesn't matter, because Mr. Green just wanted to rant anyway. He says that the "local leave" system was set up for English civil servants who were pining for home so they could "go to a cool place like Jos or Buea." It is "shameful" for African civil servants to abuse this system, Mr. Green says. "And you tell me you want to govern yourselves," Mr. Green concludes. After he leaves, Miss Tomlinson says that there is some truth in what he says. "I don't mean about you," she adds. Changing the subject, she says that Obi looks run down, and he tells her that he has "a slight touch of malaria."

The narrator reveals that Obi had succeeded in seeing Clara at the hospital, though this scene is not dramatized. She turned to face the wall. The other patients saw this, and Obi had "never felt so embarrassed in his life."

Later that same morning, after Mr. Green's rant about local leave, Obi goes to Mr. Omo to ask for an advance on his salary. Mr. Omo says it is "possible ... under special conditions." He implies that the special conditions have to do with whether he feels like it. He adds that Obi needs to account for the local leave money he spent. That is, Obi received £25 for mileage; anything not accounted for must be returned. Obi realizes that now he owes his office £10. He decides he could tell the office he had gone to the Cameroons, a trip long enough to justify the mileage claim. He also thinks about the £20 a month he has to repay the Umuofia Progressive Union. This money is "the root cause of all his troubles," he thinks. He decides to stop paying it, and he also decides not to say anything to the union about it. If they ask, he will say that he has family commitments. "[The union] would not take a kinsman to court," Obi thinks.

A messenger arrives with a letter. Obi's heart races, but then he sees that it is a letter he wrote to Clara in the hospital, returned unopened. After the disastrous visit, when she refused to speak to him, Obi had written her a letter. He had apologized for having wronged her. "If you give me another chance, I shall never fail you again," he had concluded the letter. He had gone to the hospital early in the morning and left the letter with a nurse.

Analysis

Mr. Green's rant boils down to saying that it's fine for Europeans to exercise privileges but wrong for Africans to claim the same privileges. It is fine for a homesick Englishman to take two weeks' "local leave" and seek cooler weather, but it's wrong for an African to use that leave to "go on a swan" (take a leisurely vacation). He says that Obi has "too many privileges as it is," which implies that Mr. Green thinks there is an appropriately meager way for Africans to live, as befits their station in life. He also claims, "There is no single Nigerian who is willing to forgo a little privilege in the interests of his country." This is a grave insult to Obi, who is willing to forgo privilege in the interests of his country. He has repeatedly refused bribes because he has high ethical standards about public service.

In a way, Mr. Green's rant only adds insult to injury. The real injury, the ongoing crisis, consists of Clara's hospitalization and Obi's money problems. The workaday racism Obi encounters in the office is almost comic relief compared to what Obi has been dealing with, except that it's not comical—this too is part of Obi's tragedy, that he is expected to submit to this treatment. Here too the limits of Miss Tomlinson's superficial workplace friendship are exposed. She is ultimately just an outwardly nice racist, agreeing with Mr. Green's rant about overprivileged Africans while adding, "I don't mean about you."

Obi is beginning to crack under the pressure. Until now, he has done everything right. Because of Clara's actions, he has respected his mother's wish about his marriage. He has respected Clara's wish to terminate her pregnancy. He has respected the union's desire to hear fancy, proverb-laden speeches. He has accepted that buying and maintaining a car is a civil servant's duty. And until now, he has accepted that he must pay back the Umuofia Progressive Union. In flouting the union's customs, Obi is striking out at his most harmless oppressor. He would get in terrible trouble if he rose up against his racist boss. The union, by contrast, is unlikely to retaliate: "They would not take a kinsman to court," Obi thinks, correctly.

But this is only Obi's first rebellion. It will be followed by his accepting bribes, which has more fateful consequences. However, it is also a very passive kind of resistance. Instead of telling the union to go to hell, Obi plans to just quietly stop the payments. With the bribes, too, Obi is also passive. He doesn't go looking for trouble. He just stops actively resisting trouble, in that he stops refusing to be bribed. Obi's tragedy occurs by way of exhaustion. Battered by the death of his mother and the abandonment by his girlfriend, he doesn't so much start doing things wrong as give up on doing them right.

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