FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grad School Discussion Notes and Summary: Achebe's No Longer At Ease


BONUS LINK:  My entire (so far) grad school notes collection can be found here.
DISCLAIMER:  These are my notes that I created from reading the novel and from classroom discussion.  Generally speaking, the chapter by chapter summaries are my own, however, the other parts of the posts are what I hope are an amelioration of the classroom discussion. 

No longer at Ease Notes


This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
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.
T.S.Elliot

If there was a soundtrack to this novel it would be Biggie Smalls: Mo Money Mo Problems.  I would love to develop a screenplay for this novel.  It would make a good Sundance 'short'.  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twkh0YiInPM


General Notes:
- Pay attention to pidgin English, still widely used today.
- ‘na’ is not a negative; it means nothing for the most part. 
- Achebe is about the same age as Obi when he writes this novel.

Chapter 1
UPU sends Obi to London for school.  He doesn’t become a lawyer though, but instead becomes a senior level civil servant.  He’s found guilty of taking a bribe for 20 pounds.  UPU is more upset that he didn’t know how to take a bribe, NOT that he actually took one.
Chapter 2
Shows Obi and Clara’s relationship.  He likes philosophy and poems; she likes violent movies.  They argue about the movies often.  The corruption of the older generation is discussed.  Bribery is normal and cyclical.  The elevated role of returning soldiers is mentioned.
Chapter 3
Obi returns to Nigeria via boat.  On the boat he meets Clara (again) and kisses her. 
Chapter 4
Obi returns and is feted by UPU but they don’t like his humility.  Obi later has a drink with Joseph who thinks he should stay in the hotel and not save money by staying in his flat—Joseph thinks it’s below Obi now.  The reader sees Minister of State Sam Okoli (and Clara in his car).
Chapter 5
Oki interviews and is appalled by the inherent assumption of corruption.  During the interview you have a thread drawn back to Things Fall Apart: “Suicide ruins a tragedy (grandfather Okonkwo) and then to Obi’s current Nigeria: “A real tragedy is never resolved.”  This is a novel and a story that never resolves. 
He travels home by lorry and again sees corruption with police officers.  He’s welcomed home in his village.  Lamentations on the old way of life are expressed and Obi expresses nostalgia for the Igbo way of life.
Chapter 6
Obi’s homecoming brings his realization at how old his parent’s are, and also that their pension is too meager—he must help them, but he also must back UPU their 800 pound loan and help his brother John pay his school fees.  Obi recounts childhood difficulties as a Christian.  He wonders why Clara won’t let him tell anyone about her.
Chapter 7
Obi’s first day on the job.  His boss Mr. Green is a white jerk; all the others in the office kowtow to him.  Clara reveals that she’s an osu and Obi says he doesn’t care, although he does hesitate at first. He receives a lot of upfront money at his job. 
Chapter 8
Obi is warmly welcomed at monthly UPU meeting.  They agree to give him 4 months before he has to start paying them back.  Then they confront him about Clara—he flips out and storms out. 
Chapter 9
A man tries to bribe Obi.  Obi refuses.  Then the man’s sister comes and tries to bribe him with sex.  Obi refuses.  Clara comes home in the middle of the encounter.  She doesn’t understand what’s wrong with a little monetary bribe.  University degrees are universally regarded to be the key to success.
Chapter 10
The reality of Obi’s financial situation becomes clear.  With his position comes the bureaucracy’s fees and taxes.  He gets into a fight with Clara.  He takes out a loan from the bank for 50 pounds to pay for his car insurance. 
Chapter 11
Obi gets to be friends with his white secretary.  Clara loans him 50 pounds.  They go out dancing and Obi’s car is robbed of the 50 pounds.
Chapter 12
This chapters mark’s the beginning of a slippery slide for Obi.  Obi gets letter from his Dad requested that he come home to visit.  This means that he has heard about Clara.  Obi cheats on Clara with an Irish girl.  Later she tells him that the head nun says they can’t be seen with Africans.  Chris and Obi argue about sex and monetary bribes.  If everyone is taking a bribe and you abstain this upsets the system. 
Chapter 13
Obi visits home with both longing and fear.  Clara tries to break off their engagement before he leaves on his trip. 
Chapter 14
Obi gains ground in his argument with his Dad about Clara.  His mom says that she will kill herself if Obi marries an osu before she is dead.  Obi’s dad was Okonkwo’s son. 
Chapter 15
Obi returns to Lagos, almost getting into a huge traffic accident along the way.  He tries to explain the situation with his family to Clara but she isn’t happy and ends their relationship and also reveals that she’s pregnant.  They search for an abortion doctor.
Chapter 16
Somehow Obi gets the money for the abortion.  Clara gets the abortion and ends up in the hospital for several weeks with complications.
Chapter 17
Obi gets a salary advance to try to payback Clara.  She doesn’t want to talk to him. 
Chapter 18
Clara is finally released but won’t talk to Obi.  Obi’s mom dies but he doesn’t go back for the funeral—and can’t afford to send much money for it either. 
Chapter 19
Obi begins to take money and sex bribes and is eventually busted for a 20 pound bribe and arrested. 

Questions and ideas for further exploration:
1. Was corruption always part of African culture?  Or can it be traced to this pre-independence period? 
2. How would you compare the role of Soyinka and Achebe in both literature and in Nigerian politics? 
3. Examine the car as a metaphor for mobility (societal and infrastructure).
4. Examine English structure of Obi’s poems transposed over Igbo ideas as a metaphor for Obi’s dreams and desires. 
5. Examine Clara as a symbol for Nigeria itself—she’s Nigeria’s future; Obi’s mom is the past.  Her abortion is the “abortion of Nigeria’s future.”  She also like violent movies, perhaps a precursor to Nigeria’s violence.
6. What’s the trajectory of the main characters’ in Achebe’s books say about the concept of adaptation in Nigeria? 
*Interesting the things about which he has a moral dilemma—he is against corruption but cheats on Clara and during his slide does not hesitate to pay for an abortion. 
*In a movie treatment I would begin the film in stark black and white, letting corruption slowly seep in as sepia tones and color.
*In Nigeria today, they still pay rainmakers in the hopes that it won’t rain before special ceremonies. 

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