This is a study guide designed to guide students through a first reading of the second novel in Chinua Achebe’s trilogy about the Igbo community in Nigeria, a text full of social commentary focussing on one family and its ‘heroes’. The guide is designed to help students achieve the highest grades for this set novel in the current Cambridge IGCSE syllabus. It contains chapter-by-chapter questions & extension activities.
To study the novel in detail and appreciate its plot, characterisation, language and themes.
To understand the historical, social and cultural context of the novel.
Characters in the novel
Obi Okonkwo (Oh--kawn--kwoh): The central character of No Longer at Ease, one of the first of the prodigal sons of the African Igbo (or Ibo in English) community ofUmuofia (Oo--moo--oh--fee--ah) to be given financial help to go to England to be educated and ‘westernised’. He is in his twenties, very naive and inept as a suitor to his first girlfriend, Clara. He is determined to overcome the parochialism of the Igbo community that sponsored him.
Isaac Okonkwo:Obi’s father, The first black Christian missionary in Umuofla and Aninta. Okonkwo's oldest son, age twelve at the start of Things Fall Apart but an old man at this book's beginning. By nature, he is a sensitive young man. He later joins the missionaries and is rejected by his father.
Mrs Okonkwo:Isaac’s wife, mother of Obi, her only son who she disowns at death.
Clara: Daughter of a non-Igbo family, her sophistication captivates Obi who proves himself desperate to keep her as a lover and make her his wife.
Christopher: Obi’s worldly second friend in Lagos who shows him ‘the high life’ and acts as a his voice of reason.
Joseph: Obi's best friend in Lagos. He often represents the voice of experience. He has many girlfriends and knows how to ‘play the system’ (unlike Obi).
Mr Mark and Ms Elsie Mark:the first man to try to bribe Obi and his beautiful sister, the first girl to try to seduce Obi to gain a scholarship
Charles: the messenger at Obi’s office, helped out by Obi as a fellow Igbo.
Sam Okoli: a politician, a minister in the government cabinet and a very influential new friend Obi finds at the start of his time in Lagos.
Mr. Green: A stem, stereotypical white colonial administrator of the central Nigerian government, he follows regulations to the letter. He believes he has a very clear understanding of the people for whom he tries to administer a new government, but he is inclined to help the deserving.
Ikemefuna (Ee--keh--meh--foo.nah):A boy of fourteen when he is given to Umuofia by a neighboring village to avoid war. He is a clever, resourceful young man but is killed when the Oracle decides it, an event which takes place in ‘Things Fall Apart’ before the period of modernisation and independence which is the back-drop to ‘No longer At Ease’.
Agbala (Ahg--bah--lah) : The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves, she influences all aspects of Umuofian life (based on the real Oracle at Awka who controlled Igbo life for centuries). On page 105, she tells Obi’s grandfather to kill his foster-child in sacrifice to appease the evil spirits.
THE SETTING The novel is set in Nigeria towards the end of the period of British control in 1957. It centres on the tribe of people known as the Ibo.British influence and control over Nigeria and Africa's most populous country grew throughout the 19th century when it became ‘officially’ part of the British empire. After World War II Nigeria got independence - in 1960. Following nearly 16 years of military rule, a democratic government came in 1999. Nigeria has ethnic and religious tensions which led to a civil war between Christians and Muslims in the 1960’s to 1970’s. The government most of its money from oil but much money has been lost through corruption and mismanagement. In 2003 and 2007 presidential elections were fixed and so there was violence, but the elections of 2011 were generally regarded as credible and fair. Nearly a fifth of the population of Africa are Nigerian and it is the most powerful, rich African nation after South Africa.
Source: downloaded from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africa
Source: downloaded from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigeria
THE STYLE OF THE NOVEL Achebe has written this novel to show us what life was like in Nigeria directly before independence. He uses a number of techniques in order to make the writing authentic and you will need to comment on the effect of these when you are writing your forty-five minute response in the IGCSE Literature exam.
Achebe uses a simple style of writing in most of the novel, because he wants to tell the story in the way that it might be told by a member of the Ibo tribe. The beginning of the novel shows this clearly and also how simple language makes Obi’s crime/tragedy even sadder. There is much dramatic irony though about our tragic hero and this is sometimes difficult to spot: BEWARE!
Achebe uses many similes and metaphors to bring the narrative to life and he uses the sorts of comparisons that relate to the Ibo experience, for example:
‘Justice William Galloway, Judge of the High Court of Lagos and the Southern Cameroons, looked at a victim he fixed him with his gaze as a collector fixes his insect with formalin. He lowered his head like a charging ram...’(Simile in chapter 1, No Longer at Ease)
'Proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.'
(Metaphor in Chapter 1, Things Fall Apart)
‘Obi Okonkwo smiled a wan and ashy smile...’
(Metaphor in chapter 1, No Longer at Ease)
‘Treacherous tears came into Obi's eyes.’
(Personification/short sentence in chapter 1, No Longer at Ease)