No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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No Longer at Ease | Chapter 2 | Summary



The chapter begins with Obi's realization that the four years he spent in England taught him what Nigeria means to him. But the Nigeria he returned to has changed from the one he had remembered. Also, he now lives in Lagos, a city he'd only barely known before he left for England.

When he was a boy in the village of Umuofia, Obi had heard about Lagos from a soldier home on leave from World War II. The soldier praises the wonders of Lagos, such as electricity and cars and the power of white people, who can do everything except "mold a human being."

Later, just before leaving for England, Obi spent a few days in Lagos with his friend Joseph, a civil servant. Joseph lives in a one-room apartment in Obalende, a neighborhood of Lagos. He teaches Obi about movies, music, women, and politics. One night, Joseph brings home a woman he is dating. Obi finds her artificial-looking and unattractive.

The novel shifts focus to a time just after Obi's return from England. He waits in a Lagos slum for his girlfriend, Clara, who runs an errand with her seamstress. This foul-smelling slum represents "the real Lagos," Obi thinks. He winces as he recalls a shallow poem he wrote about Nigeria while in England. When Clara returns, she and Obi drive off. They pass by drummers and dancers. They nearly run down a man on a bike. Then they drive to Obi's neighborhood, Ikoyi, an affluent and formerly all-white neighborhood.

Clara and Obi argue. She wants to go to the movies. Obi thinks of the movies as "these orgies of killing" and feels less enthusiastic about Clara's idea, so they did not go. Now Clara sulks. She previously sat through a lunch with Obi and his friend Christopher during which they talked about politics. Obi said the old generation of Nigeria turned corrupt too easily. The older civil servants resorted to bribery to rise to the top. Now younger people can rise on the basis of education, not bribery. During the lunch, Clara asks Obi's cook, Zacchaeus, to bring more soup. Zacchaeus resents her, but he complies.


This chapter shows the beginnings of Obi's growth from innocence to experience. This growth happens along two axes: the change from Nigeria to England and the change from village to big city. As a young man, before university, Obi knows nothing of the big-city ways of his friend Joseph. Obi shows his innocence by recoiling from the woman Joseph brings home; she metaphorically leaves "a nasty taste in Obi's mouth." The pillowcases at Joseph's place are decorated with the word osculate, a mathematical term that describes two curves touching, also a formal and ostentatious word for kiss. The narrator remarks that this word also leaves a bad taste in Obi's mouth. Thus, at this stage of Obi's life, before England, he is too naive for the sexual sophistication implied by the fancy word osculate.

In England, Obi becomes Nigerian. In an ordinary sense, he was of course Nigerian before he went to England. But the experience of being a foreigner in England makes him realize he is Nigerian. The Nigeria Obi envisions while in England is a beautiful, rural Nigeria. In his poem, Obi writes of "How sweet it is to lie beneath a tree / At eventime" in Nigeria, attended by "jocund birds" and "flimsy butterflies." His choice of adjectives marks him as a clumsy, unskilled poet. The poem also seems naive because of the way author Chinua Achebe contrasts its vision with the Lagos that Obi now inhabits. The poem discusses sweet and beautiful things, but Lagos assails Obi's senses with "a very strong smell of rotting flesh," which emanates from the carcass of a run-over dog.

Obi seems to be on the road to success after he returns from England. Once the naive man who looked on at Joseph's conquests, now Obi has a girlfriend, Clara. Joseph still lives in run-down Obalende, while Obi lives in prosperous and formerly all-white Ikoyi. But Obi's metaphorical road to success turns troubled when he almost runs down a cyclist on the streets of Lagos. The cyclist, like Obi, is a young man making his way in the world. His ambitions are "written for all to see" in lettering on his bike bag: "FUTURE MINISTER." Like Obi, he seems unaware of the hazards all around him as he carelessly crosses the road.

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