No Longer At Ease
How we cite our quotes:
Obi was away in England for a little under four years. He sometimes found it difficult to believe that it was as short as that. It seemed more like a decade than four years, what with the miseries of winter when his longing to return home took on the sharpness of physical pain. It was in England that Nigeria first became more than just a name to him. That was the first great thing that England did for him.
But the Nigeria he returned to was in many ways different form the picture he had carried in his mind during those four years. (2.1-2)
There is a lot of irony in Obi's homesickness. Alone in England during his education, Obi longs for his family, his culture, and his country. His has a romanticized picture of Nigeria, one formed during his period of isolation and his loneliness. Ironically, while he is being educated abroad, Obi is learning values that will eventually bring him to criticize his own culture. Be sure to check out Obi's "Character Analysis" for more on this.
Four years in England had filled Obi with a longing to be back in Umuofia. The feeling was sometimes so strong that he found himself feeling ashamed of studying English for his degree. He spoke Igbo whenever he had the least opportunity of doing so. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to find another Igbo-speaking student in a London bus. But when he had to speak in English with a Nigerian student from another tribe he lowered his voice. It was humiliating to have to speak to one's countryman in a foreign language, especially in the presence of the proud owners of that language. They would naturally assume that one had no language of one's own. He wished they were here today to see. Let them come to Umuofia now and listen to the talk of men who made a great art of conversation. Let them come and see men and women and children who knew how to live, whose joy of life had not yet been killed by those who claimed to teach other nations how to live. (5.73)
Isolated in England, Obi felt shame when he met his fellow Nigerians and couldn't converse in an African language. It made him feel bereft of his culture and language. When he had an opportunity to speak Igbo with another African, he took it. Speaking Igbo made him feel less homesick, and allowed him to take pride in his African heritage.
Obi felt better and more confident in his decision now that there was an opponent, the first of hundreds to come, no doubt. Perhaps it was not a decision really; for him there could be only one choice. It was scandalous that in the middle of the twentieth century a man could be barred from marrying a girl simply because her great-great-great-great-grandfather had been dedicated to serve a god, thereby setting himself apart and turning his descendents into a forbidden caste to the end of Time. Quite unbelievable. And here was an educated man telling Obi he did not understand. "Not even my mother can stop me," he said as he lay down beside Joseph. (7.73)
Clara's family is isolated because of their social status. Because Obi willingly embraces Clara, he enters into his own kind of isolation. But the isolation caused by Joseph's disapproval – and the disapproval that will soon come from others, including his family – fills him with a sense of righteousness that gives him power and resolve.