No Longer At Ease
by Chinua Achebe
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
In the third paragraph of No Longer At Ease, the judge assigned to Obi Okonkwo's case regards Obi the way a "collector fixes his insect with formalin" (1.3). The omniscient narrator in No Longer At Ease is no more sympathetic to Obi than this judge. The tone is coldly analytical, almost scientific in its precision, demonstrating in step-by-step fashion just how Obi deserted his lofty principles and started to accept bribes. Consider the following example:
Obi's theory that the public service of Nigeria would remain corrupt until the old Africans at the top were replaced by young men from the universities was first formulated in a paper read to the Nigerian Students' Union in London. But unlike most theories formed by students in London, this one survived the first impact of homecoming (5.1).
These two sentences reveal Obi's theories from an incredible distance, allowing us to analyze how African students who study abroad might form criticisms of their home country, generally speaking. At the same time, these two sentences provide us with some sympathy for Obi. After all, who wouldn't applaud Obi's attempts to reform a corrupt system, even if those attempts are merely writing a student paper while in college? Though the tone allows us to feel sympathy for Obi, recognizing the pressures that surround him, it also enables us to dissect and understand the impulses and influences that ultimately lead to his demise.