Chinua Achebe is one of the most popular African writers of the twentieth century, who presents the culture and traditions of early African tribes and communities in his works. Born in Ogidi, Nigeria, he depicts the life of people in Nigeria, colonialism, and its effects on their lives. His works are known for the spoken language that he uses in them and the satire aimed against European colonialism. No Longer at Ease is a novel which written in the year Nigeria became independent from European colonization. This is also a period when Nigerians experienced conflict between their awaited freedom and the European culture which they have been following for the past many years. The novel presents a young man ‘Obi’ who finds himself alienated from his traditional cultures because he pursued his higher studies in Europe, and at the same time, he is unable to completely adapt to the European culture.
The novel is a continuation of one of his earlier novels, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ which describes a Nigeria that is trying to fight the gradual colonial attacks with rebellions but later on fails in all its attempts. The story ends with the establishment of Christian missionaries and schools which compelled the traditional Nigerian people to convert to Christianity. The Nigerians, who at first resisted, become weak slowly. As a result, the missionaries convert many families and they are forced to follow Christian rules. In ‘No Longer at Ease,’ Achebe presents a Nigeria which has developed with advancements in all fields, which are obviously the results of European colonialism. Nigeria in the 1950s does not hesitate to send its youth to Europe for higher studies, since they had already taken colonialism, its effects, and white people for granted. The youth of Nigeria are unaware of their old traditions and customs which their ancestors had fought to hold on to. They are blinded by the developments in their society. However, since the roots of their culture remain in at least some families, Nigerians fail to completely accept the white culture. The cultural clash and the resultant identity crisis experienced by the protagonist, Obi, grandson of Okonkwo (Hero of Things Fall Apart), is the central theme of the story.
As a result of colonialism, more and more people were converted to Christianity. They followed Christian culture and beliefs. Achebe describes the corruption in Lagos, which the author finds as a consequence of colonialism, through Obi. Though the Europeans brought many developments to Nigeria, the new culture also introduced corruption into the minds of Nigerians. In the olden days, industrialization was almost absent in colonial Nigeria. Westerners were only interested in selling their products and not setting up industries in the land. The reason for this was that they were not ready to spend money on the industrialization of the place. Westernization came with colonialism. English education was introduced in Nigerian schools because most of the schools were run by Christian missionaries. Universities also began providing western education. By the 1950s, thousands of Nigerian youngsters had graduated from these universities. People started wearing western clothes and vehicles were introduced in society. Many towns developed into urban cities. In the story, Lagos is an example of development.
However, more than the gains, Nigerians suffered losses from colonialism. Since they were unable to adapt completely to the western culture, they developed a mixed culture, which confused them about how to do things and what to follow. They have no tradition that they can call theirs. Severe poverty remained a problem in Nigeria which happened as a result of the chaos during colonialism and the independence war which followed. The westerners exploited Nigerian labor to extreme limits. Corruption and human rights violations became rampant in society after the European culture was introduced to them. Ethnic conflicts also occurred as a result of the European establishments. The only time Nigerians could forge some unity was to fight for their independence. Colonialism also resulted in racial discrimination against black people, which prevails even now. They were considered of inferior birth by the white people, which automatically developed a low self-esteem about themselves among the black people. Even people who were educated from European universities were not considered equals by the white people. Slavery came about as a result of this kind of discrimination against the blacks. Total anarchy, decay, and downfall of the traditional societies affected the lives of the people to a great extent.
The fact that the Nigerians experienced a conflict about culture and traditions is evident from Achebe’s novel, wherein the main theme is this same conflict about culture in the mind of the hero, Obi. “The life and career of Obi Okonkwo prove that the advent of white civilization ‘loosed’ ‘ blood-dimmed tide’ of anarchy on African life.” http://www.postcolonialweb.org/achebe/jvrao4.html Even as he follows European ways and culture, he is surprised to see the change that has come about in Nigeria. Though he tries to adapt to the western culture, the conflict still remains as he refuses to marry his girlfriend against the wishes of his mother. Traces of the family traditions still remain alive in his mind.
Though the other people in the society support him in getting a good education, he is condemned when he becomes corrupted. Inside, they are still traditional, for they are shocked when they hear that Obi has resorted to corruption. They refuse to take a share of his mistake for fear of punishment by God. In the story, a surprised Judge asks how Obi, being an educated person could do such a crime? How he could change so suddenly? Colonialism is the reason for corruption in Nigeria’s society, which the Judge seems to be unaware of. Obi goes blind with the developed way of living in Lagos. Westernization has resulted in the development of cities and corruption. The judge says he is not surprised by such behavior because Africa is corrupt in every way. While colonialism caused the decay of moral values in Nigerian society, the judge puts the blame for the crime on Africa. This shows how inconsiderate they were about Africa and its people. Isaac Okonkwo, Obi’s father is a character with views very different from that of Obi’s. He follows Christianity and considers it the most important aspect of his life. His talks and actions support Christianity. The novel describes various kinds of characters, some of whom still follow the traditions, and others who believe Christianity is the right way. Overall, it becomes obvious that a majority of people are experiencing the conflict between themselves and the westerners, which has been portrayed well in the story.
Achebe narrates a theme of tradition versus modernization and its effects on Nigerian society. Colonization changed Nigeria and its people to some extent, but not fully. “Although the times have changed the legacy of colonialism hasn’t gone away. This novel is an articulate expression of the necessity of addressing still unsolved challenges.”The Europeans left them in confusion as to which culture to follow. Colonialism is the sole reason for the poverty and discrimination that they face even now, because of the exploitation they suffered at the hands of the white people. Achebe, who hails from Nigeria, gives perfect narrations of the lives and conflicts of the Nigerian people.