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No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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No Longer at Ease | Chapter 7 | Summary



On Obi's first day at work, he thinks back to his first day of school 20 years ago. The inspector of schools, a white man named Mr. Jones, shows up at the school unannounced and yells at the headmaster, Simeon Nduka. Obi cannot tell what the disagreement is about, because Mr. Jones yells in English. Mr. Jones tries to slap Nduka, but Nduka, who had been a wrestler when he was young, throws Mr. Jones to the ground.

Now, on Obi's first day at work, he meets his boss, Mr. Green, who tells him he'll do all right if he isn't "bone-lazy" and is "prepared to use his loaf [brain]." A few hours later, Mr. Green scolds a subordinate, his assistant Mr. Omo. In turn Mr. Omo scolds one of his subordinates. Obi decides that he does not like Mr. Green and that Mr. Omo belongs to the corrupt old generation of Nigerians. Mr. Green calls Obi on the phone, scolding him for not already knowing various bureaucratic procedures and for not automatically addressing him as "sir."

A week later, Obi buys a new car, a Morris Oxford. He has with him a letter from Mr. Green, all he needs for the car deal to go through. He calls Clara, who feels excited about the car. They have been invited for drinks at Sam Okoli's house, and now Sam will not have to send his car. At the house Sam shows Obi and Clara his "radiogram," a combined radio and gramophone. It also serves as a recording device; he shows Obi how it records a conversation. Testing out the machine, Sam records himself. Then he plays himself back; while they listen, he provides commentary, saying, "All the same [white people] must go. This no be them country." Sam also boasts to Obi that he now has a white assistant who calls him "sir."

As they drive home, Clara appears upset. Obi thinks to himself about how different Clara is. With other girls, when he has said, "I love you," one half of him always thinks, "Don't be silly." But he loves Clara wholeheartedly. Finally, she confides what has been worrying her. She is an osu, meaning that one of her ancestors dedicated themselves to serving a certain god. Part of this way of life is a sacrifice; one's descendants are considered to belong to the osu caste, meaning they may not marry anyone who is not osu. Obi tells Clara that there is nothing to worry about.

When he returns to Joseph's house, Obi discusses Clara's confession. Joseph says there is still time to back out of the engagement. But Obi says he is going to marry Clara. He thinks the osu concept has no place in modern Nigeria.

The next day, Obi takes Clara to buy an engagement ring. They park in the car and send the driver away so they can talk. A policeman comes by, assuming they are a prostitute and customer. But then Clara says something in Ibo, and the policeman, also Ibo, becomes friendly.

That night, Obi tells Joseph that he and Clara are now engaged. Joseph tells him he is making a mistake, one that will affect his entire family. Marriages like this are not possible at this time, Joseph claims. Obi says he is being a pioneer. Joseph reminds him that he is the first son of Umuofia to be educated in England. He has to live up to their vision of him. Obi thinks his father will oppose the marriage. He thinks back to a time his mother cut her hand while doing the laundry. He had left a razor blade, which he used as a pencil sharpener, in his pocket. Recalling his mother shedding blood, Obi thinks that everything will be okay if he can convince his mother of the rightness of the marriage.


Obi's first day of school and his first day of work mirror each other. Both times thrust Obi into hierarchical social situations where a white authority berates a black subordinate, as Obi looks on. The white school inspector could do whatever he wanted, and what he wanted to do was yell at and slap his black subordinate, Simeon Nduka. But Nduka fights back, and he is victorious. The narrator remarks that "the tragedy of men like William Green" is that they can't slap their underlings nowadays. Slaps have had to be replaced by other kinds of bullying. At work Obi gets to see how the system plays itself out: a humiliated subordinate, Mr. Oso, turns his anger on someone under to him.

When Sam Okoli shows off his fancy new radiogram, he demonstrates how it can record conversations. Readers know that Obi will be charged with bribery before the end of the novel. It seems possible that a fateful conversation, accidentally recorded by Sam's radiogram, will play a part. But this is not what happens. Since author Chinua Achebe is clearly skilled, the attention paid to the recording capacity of the machine may have another purpose. The ability to record conversations puts Sam Okoli's words into the same machine with radio programs and record albums. This is another way Sam Okoli and prosperous Nigerians like him can demonstrate their success. As Odogwu said in Chapter 5, "Greatness is now in the things of white men." The radiogram is a way for Sam Okoli to insert himself into the greatness of white media.

The instrument of Obi's downfall is introduced in this chapter, but it is an unexpected one: the car. In this chapter the car is seen only in a positive light. It is the sign that Obi has arrived; now he is Sam Okoli's equal. But the car will also entangle him in a web of payments for its upkeep, licensing, and driver, leading to his decision to take a bribe. At this point none of that is apparent. What can be seen is that the car is part of Obi's entry into a complex social order with peculiar customs, including the mystery of affixing a stamp to a letter of agreement. Mr. Omo knows the customs, and he is delighted to have the chance to lord it over Obi and mock his ignorance. Sam Okoli also knows the customs, but here readers see the other side of Obi's inculcation into this new order. Sam Okoli is kind, inviting Obi to participate in the new customs by complimenting him on the car and asking him, "How is [the car] behaving?" Talking about cars becomes a way for both men to confirm they have arrived in the civil-servant class.

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