No Longer At Ease
by Chinua Achebe
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
The courtroom, the tennis club, meeting of the Umuofia Progressive Union
No Longer At Ease opens with Obi Okonkwo's corruption trial. Obi is presumed to be guilty by all sides, though the narrator doesn't seem to pass judgment. There are three important moments in the initial situation.
The first is when Obi is faced with the judge's comment that he can't understand how a man of such "education" and "brilliant promise" could have done with Obi did. Until that moment, Obi had tried to keep a stiff upper lip, but faced with this assessment of his character, he starts to cry.
The second pivotal moment is when Mr. Green, Obi's former boss, discusses the court case with a British friend. Mr. Green explains that all Africans are corrupt. He doesn't try to explain why or how they become corrupt, only that they are, and for this, he implies that they should never achieve self-governance.
The third moment is when the Umuofia Progressive Union meets and discusses Obi's case. They analyze the situation, saying it's "shameful" for Obi to go to prison when such a small amount of money is concerned (only twenty pounds), but admit that Obi's problem was that he accepted bribes without covering his tracks. According to the union, Obi foolishly assumed he was smarter than those who might try to uncover his corruption.
Obi learns that Clara is osu and proposes to her despite knowledge that all of his kinsmen and his family will oppose the marriage.
Obi is surprised when Clara doesn't want him to tell his family about her, but soon he learns the truth: she is osu, and this fact – that she and her ancestors are dedicated to a god – prevents them from getting married, according to traditional custom. But Obi has been educated in England, and he works for a British governmental system, with many European colleagues. He's not about to let his traditional culture prevent him from marrying the woman he loves. Despite warnings from his friend Joseph, Obi and Clara become engaged.
Clara's money is stolen.
Obi soon discovers that he isn't a very good financial planner. When his car insurance becomes due, he has no money to pay it, so he takes a bank loan. Clara gives him fifty pounds so he can pay back the bank loan, but then her money is stolen while they go dancing in a nightclub. Obi begins to feel like things are slipping out of his control.
Obi's mother tells him that she will commit suicide if he marries Clara before she dies.
Obi receives a letter from his father, saying they would like him to visit as they have some important things to discuss. Obi realizes now that somebody has told them about Clara. Now he needs to come clean. He is certain he can convince his parents to support his marriage to Clara, since they are Christians and never followed Igbo religious customs. But his father, Isaac Okonkwo, simply tells him that he can't marry Clara; this marriage will bring shame on his head and on his children's heads. Obi's mother, Hannah Okonkwo, tells Obi that if he marries Clara while she is alive, she will commit suicide.
Clara gets an abortion.
Obi tells Clara that his father is almost convinced to let them marry, but his mother needs more time. Clara realizes that he's lying, that their relationship is over. This is when Obi realizes that Clara is pregnant. He arranges for an abortion, going deeper into debt. When the two abortion doctors they visit ask him why he doesn't marry Clara, Clara snarls that she has no interest in marrying Obi. Clara's abortion turns septic, and she spends weeks in a hospital recovering. Obi tries to reignite their relationship by apologizing in writing, but Clara returns his letters unopened. When she is released from the hospital, she leaves Lagos.
Obi's mother dies.
To top it off, Obi's mother dies. Now Obi has lost both the women he loves. He grieves his mother's death alone in his Lagos flat. He sends money home to pay for the funeral, but he does not return home to be with his family.
Obi begins to accept bribes until the day he is caught.
Frustrated with his attempts to remain above corruption, now deeply in debt, and without the steadying influence of his mother or Clara, Obi begins to accept bribes and to have sex with prospective candidates to the Scholarship Board. He is caught accepting twenty pounds and the novel ends with everybody wondering why a young man with so much education and promise would ruin his career and his life by accepting bribes.