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Chinua Achebe: No Longer at Ease

Achebe’s second novel carries on with the story of the Okonkwo family. The story is set just prior to Nigerian independence and tells the story of Obi Okonkwo, the grandson of the Okonkwo of Things Fall Apart. Unlike his grandfather, he has been raised as a Christian (as was Achebe) and educated in England. He has also left his native village to go and work as a civil servant in Lagos. As a civil servant he is exposed to bribery. Initially he turns down the bribes but then things get difficult for him. He wants to marry Clara, whom he met in England, but she is an osu, an outcast. His family and friends try and dissuade him. His mother, who is ill, even says that she will kill herself if he marries Clara. When he returns to Lagos, Clara tells him that she is pregnant and he has to borrow money for an abortion for her.

Meanwhile, his mother dies. Obi is so upset that he does not go home for the funeral. At the same time he starts accepting bribes to help him pay off his debts. When has paid off his debts, he decides to stop accepting bribes but is caught with the last one. This is indeed where the novel starts (most of it is a flashback) and we see him on trial for bribery. Achebe’s point is clear. Without his connections to his culture, he has lost his way. This is confirmed by the T S Eliot poem from which the title comes (We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,/But no longer at ease here, in the old/dispensation,/With an alien people clutching their gods./I should be glad of another death.) Obi’s approach is primarily the Western intellectual approach. He has lost his chi and he lost his connection to his society.

Publishing history

First published 1960 by Heinemann