No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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No Longer at Ease | Chapter 18 | Summary



Clara stays in the hospital for five weeks. As soon as she gets out, she is given 70 days' leave from work, and she leaves Lagos. Obi hears about all this from Christopher, who hears about it from a nurse girlfriend of his. Christopher tells Obi that he should wait before trying to see her. He thinks she will come around.

Money worries descend on Obi. He had wanted to pay Clara back her £50. Instead he gets an annual income tax bill of £32. Miss Tomlinson tells him that from now on he should pay his tax in installments, advice that has no bearing on his situation right now.

Obi's mother, Hannah Okonkwo, dies. He sends what he can, but villagers talk about what a shame it is she did not have a better funeral, especially considering that one of her children has "a European post." At the Umuofia Progressive Union, people think that Obi "runs after sweet things." They also disapprove of how he doesn't come to union meetings anymore. One union member says that Obi's father was similarly indifferent about deaths in his own family. When Isaac Okonkwo's father (Obi's grandfather) died, Isaac supposedly said, "Those who kill with the machet [machete] must die by the machet."

The focus of the narrative turns back to when Obi first hears of his mother's death. When he sees the messenger walking toward him, he knows that it was about his mother. He is immediately grief stricken. He is granted a week's leave, but he only takes two days and does not go to Umuofia. He sees no point, since he would arrive she'd been buried. But he also avoids going because he cannot bear the thought of going to Umuofia and finding her gone forever. This thought brings him to tears. Afterward, he sleeps more deeply than he has in years. The next day, he wakes up feeling guilty. Distracted by grief, he mistakes shaving cream for toothpaste.

That day, many Umuofians come to Obi's house to mark the passing of his mother. Joseph arrives first, with bottles of beer for the guests. By tradition, the mood is not somber, and the focus is not on Hannah; instead, people talk and gossip. One guest, Nathaniel, tells a long, loud fable about a tortoise tricked into attending his mother's funeral. Everyone hears, and there is a pained silence.

That night, Obi once again sleeps well. He again feels guilty in the morning, but now the guilt is "not as poignant as yesterday's." His feeling of grief is also fading. He tries to rekindle the feeling of grief, but he realizes that he mainly feels calm now. He eats a big breakfast, and he thinks of the story of King David in the Hebrew Bible. David had refused to eat while his son was ill, but when he heard that his son had died, he ate again. "He, too, must have felt this kind of peace," Obi thinks.


Hannah's death is presented in an unusual way. Rather than presenting it as a scene, Achebe initially adds it as a kind of afterthought to Obi's long list of many worries. After three short paragraphs about Obi's tax troubles, the narrator adds, "On top of it all came his mother's death." Then the rest of the paragraph considers Hannah's death from the perspective of other people criticizing Obi's inadequate show of grief. By not coming to Umuofia and not giving enough money, Obi appears to have neglected his duty as a mourning son. And by presenting these facts before presenting Obi's experience, the narrator shows how misunderstood Obi is.

When the narrator does narrate the moment Obi receives the news of his mother's death, the event is summarized as though in the distant past. The moment the death telegram arrives is recounted as Obi's memory of the event. This puts the event at some distance from the reader: "Obi had been utterly prostrated by the shock of his mother's death." Readers do not see Obi share the experience with anyone else. Instead, he recollects it in the privacy of his mind. This adds to Obi's isolation and to his shocked sense of apathy.

Obi notices how well he sleeps after his mother's funeral. When he thinks about David in the Hebrew Bible, he notices how exhausting it is to anticipate a grim event. It is comparatively more peaceful to cope with the grim event's aftermath. But Obi also seems to be growing apathetic. He notices a diminishment of his feelings. Even grief does not last but begins to fade, along with the memory of his mother. In this state of mind, Obi will not be able to dredge up enough feeling to care about whether it is right or wrong to take bribes.

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