No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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No Longer at Ease | Chapter 8 | Summary



It is December 1956. Obi plans to attend the meeting of the Lagos branch of the Umuofia Progressive Union, held on the first Saturday of every month. He missed the November meeting. His friend Joseph boasts to his colleagues about his fancy, car-owning, civil-servant friend Obi. One of the colleagues says that Obi is the man to bribe for a scholarship. Joseph answers angrily, in pidgin (a fabricated language used during interactions between people who do have a common language): "'E no be like dat." Then Joseph delays getting ready for the meeting so that he and Obi will be late and everyone will see them arrive in Obi's flashy new car.

Their arrival at the meeting does cause a stir, impressing everyone. Then the conversation turns back to the matter at hand. A young man named Joshua Udo has been fired, supposedly because he was sleeping on the job. In fact, Joshua failed to pay his boss a £10 bribe for getting him a job in the first place, causing his boss to fire him. Joshua wants £10 for another job now. The union agrees to lend it. Another union member says the money is not enough. They should all check to see if their offices have a place for Joshua.

The next topic is a motion to censure the president of the union. Complaints arise about Obi's reception party a few months ago. The old people had drunk all the beer, and the young people must settle for inferior Lagos palm wine. An argument ensues.

Next, Obi has a turn to speak. He gives the sort of speech he knows the union members admire, full of compliments and proverbs in Ibo. Then he gets to the heart of the matter at last, occasionally switching to English. He asks the union to delay his loan repayments for the first four months. The president of the union initially says yes. Even an entire year's delay would be fine. Then the president says he just wants to add a few words. He starts backpedaling, still claiming that Obi is welcome to a grace period but saying that he wants to voice some concerns. He points out how much money Obi makes at his new job. That should be enough for a man, the president says, unless the man has gotten "into bad ways." He adds that he hears Obi is "moving around with a girl of doubtful ancestry."

Obi becomes furious. He threatens to sue the president, and he tells him never to interfere in his affairs again. He also refuses now to accept the grace period for the loan, and he tells the union members that he will never return to their meetings. He storms out of the meeting. In the car, he yells at his driver, "Drive off!" He leaves Joseph behind and has the driver take him to see Clara.


In this chapter, readers see the Umuofia Progressive Union in action. It is a generous group. They don't take the word of Joshua Udo's accusers; instead they take Udo's side, and they do more than just raise money. They try to find him a new job at their own workplaces. But this generosity has its price in the form of judgments, demands, and meddling. The story about the motion to censure the president for the quality of the refreshments also illustrates the cost of generosity. Everyone has an opinion, and part of being in the union means submitting to the interference and judgments of others.

At this meeting, Obi acts differently from the way he acted at the celebration of his return. Then, he dressed and spoke casually. He disappointed the villagers, who expected more from a man educated in England. Now, he arrives in style in a flashy car, and he makes exactly the kind of long-winded, proverb-studded speech he knows they like. All this submission to traditions and norms indicates Obi's awareness of his disadvantageous position of asking for a favor.

When Obi asks for the grace period, the president starts meddling. He inquires into whether Obi has gotten "into bad ways," spending more than he makes. The president also wants to know the truth of another rumor, that Obi moves "around with a girl of doubtful ancestry." As readers have already seen in this chapter, meddling is the price of communal generosity. Obi probably could have gotten the grace period, but he would have had to accept a lot of people sticking their noses in and making judgments about his personal life. He might have been asked to accept that the union would deny him permission to marry Clara. He is too proud for that, and he is too impatient with the union members' prejudice against the osu caste. Thus, Obi unwittingly seals his fate when he angrily storms out of the meeting of the Umuofia Progressive Union. The refused grace period might have saved Obi from needing to take a bribe.

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