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No Longer at Ease | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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No Longer at Ease | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


On Trial

No Longer at Ease is set in Nigeria in the late 1950s; most of the action occurs in the capital city of Lagos. At the beginning of the novel Obi Okonkwo is on trial for accepting a bribe. The focus of the novel then shifts back in time.

Five years before the trial, Obi receives a scholarship to study in England. The money comes from the Umuofia Progressive Union, a group of Ibo men from the village of Umuofia. They raise £800 for Obi's studies, expecting him to pay back the money in the next several years. At a dance in England Obi meets Clara, and he gets to know her a little more on the boat back to Nigeria.

Back Home

When Obi returns to Nigeria, his arrival is celebrated by the Umuofia Progressive Union. It is autumn 1956, and he gets a civil-service job with the Scholarship Board. Soon, a man who wants him to give his sister special consideration offers him a bribe. Obi haughtily refuses. The woman herself comes to Obi's house, offering him sexual favors, but Obi also turns her down.

Obi proposes marriage to his girlfriend Clara. She tells him that she cannot marry him because she is an osu, a member of a sacred Ibo caste that is traditionally considered unmarriageable for anyone outside the caste. Obi says that such customs do not matter anymore, and he buys her an engagement ring.

In December 1956 Obi goes to a meeting of the Umuofia Progressive Union in Lagos. He asks the union members for four months' grace before he starts repaying the scholarship loan. When the president of the union expresses displeasure, Obi angrily withdraws his request and storms off. Soon he begins to feel the financial pinch. He borrows a £50 overdraft loan from his bank. Clara loans Obi £50, but the cash is stolen from his car.


Obi goes home to Umuofia to talk to his parents about his engagement. Surprisingly, Obi feels that he wins some ground in the discussion with his father, Isaac Okonkwo, a deeply Christian man. Obi's mother, Hannah Okonkwo, clings more closely to Ibo traditions. She bitterly opposes the marriage, telling Obi that he must wait until she dies to marry this osu. If he does not, she will kill herself. This takes all the fight out of Obi. Depressed, he goes back to Lagos. When he tells Clara what happened, she breaks up with him, also intimating she is pregnant.

Clara and Obi go to a doctor to terminate her pregnancy. There are complications, and Clara stays in a hospital for weeks. Afterward she wants nothing more to do with Obi. Then Obi's mother dies. He sends as much money as he can, but the villagers are scandalized that he did not do more for his mother's funeral. Mourning causes Obi a personal crisis, and then he begins taking bribes. He pays off his debts. An undercover policeman offers him a bribe, and Obi is arrested. The novel ends where it began, with Obi on trial for bribery.

No Longer at Ease Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Obi Okonkwo goes to England to study.

Rising Action

2 Obi returns to Nigeria and enters the civil service.

3 Clara refuses to marry Obi because of her caste status.

4 Obi begins to experience a financial crunch.

5 Obi asks for a grace period for his loan and is refused.

6 Obi visits his home village of Umuofia.

7 Hannah Okonkwo threatens suicide if Obi marries Clara.

8 Clara breaks up with Obi and reveals her pregnancy.

9 Obi takes Clara to have an abortion.

10 Clara is hospitalized with complications.


11 Obi's mother dies, throwing Obi into crisis.

Falling Action

12 Obi accepts his first bribe.

13 Obi sleeps with a woman who wants a scholarship.

14 Obi takes a bribe and feels revulsion; he wants to end it.


15 Obi is arrested for taking that last bribe.

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