The Predicaments of Post-Colonialism

In fact, some weeks ago when the trial first began, Mr. Green, his boss, who was one of the Crown witnesses, had also said something about a young man of great promise. And Obi had remained completely unmoved. Mercifully he had recently lost his mother, and Clara had gone out of his life. The two events events following closely on each other had dulled his sensibility and left him a different man, able to look words like ‘education and ‘promise squarely in the face.

But now when the supreme moment came he was betrayed by treacherous tears.  Mr. Green had been playing tennis since five o’clock. It was most unusual. As a rule his work took up so much of his time that he rarely played. His normal exercise was a short walk in the evenings. But today he had played with a friend who worked for the British council. After the game they retried to the club bar Mr. Green had a light yellow sweater over his white shirt, and a white towel hung from his neck. There were many other Europeans in the bar, some half-sitting on the high stools and some standing in groups of twos and threes drinking cold beer, orange squash or gin-and-tonic.

‘I cannot understand why he did it’, said the British council man thoughtfully. He was drawing lines of water with his finger on the back of his mist-covered glass of ice-cold beer. ‘I can,’ said Mr. Green simply. ‘What I can’t understand is why people like you refuse to face facts. ’ Mr. Green was famous for speaking his mind. He wiped his red face with the white towel on his neck. The African is corrupt through and through. ’ The British council man looked about his furtively, more from instinct than necessity, for although the club was now open to them technically, few Africans went to it. On this particular occasion there were none, except of course the stewards who served unobtrusively. It was quite possible to go in, drink, sign a cheque, talk to friends and leave again without noticing these stewards in their white uniforms. If everything went right you did not see them. ‘They are all corrupt,’ repeated Mr. Green. ‘I’m all for equality and all that.

I for once would hate to live in South Africa. But equality won’t alter facts. ’ ‘What facts? ’ asked the British Council man, who was relatively new to the country. There was a lull in the general con-versation as many people were now listening to Mr. Green without appearing to do so. The predicaments of post-colonialism. An analytical study of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer At Ease No Longer At Ease is an African, post-colonial novel published in 1960. It is the story of an Ibo man, Obi, who is privileged enough to leave his village for a British education and a job in the civil service.

However, Obi struggles to find bearing in the chasm between a dying colonialism and stillborn independence. With the country on the threshold of independence, the novel speaks strongly of themes such as education, tradition, progression and corruption. The chosen extract is found in the opening chapter of the novel, and details the trial in which Obi is charged for corruption. It is henceforth the intent of this essay to examine how the aforementioned themes are established through the symbolism of key characters, character foils and the frame story technique adopted.

This topic was selected as the novel is set in the time period in which it was written, thus it is poignant to examine the perils of cultural assimilation and modernization within the novel as a microcosm of the struggles faced by postcolonial societies. The extract hence provides a good platform to discuss multiple areas and themes of the novel relevant to the question at hand. The interplay of the opening scene and framed- story within the extract facilitates an understanding of prominent, underlying themes – corruption, and the duality of education.

Deviating from the trial, the novel launches into frames- past events that culminate into Obi’s eventual demise, all of which are flashbacks designed to answer the pertinent question, ‘why he did it? ’ (line20) The frame within the extract begins with an exchange between Mr. Green and a British Council man that crystallizes the many prejudices harbored by colonials against the Africans; Mr. Green offers an insensitive and discriminatory explanation to Obi’s actions – ‘The African is corrupt through and through. ’(line26)

This in itself is heavily ironic; while Mr. Green accuses Obi and his people of being ‘all corrupt’(line35), he, a colonial master, fails to realize that it is his Western education and socio-economic policies that have paradoxically landed educated Nigerians such as Obi in their predicament. The onslaught of Western culture has essentially roped Africans deeper and deeper into moral calamity. Another example of irony is when Mr. Green declared ‘[he’s] all for equality’(line35) despite reproaching Africans for being corrupt and therefore inferior.

Achebe is hence able to subtly discredit the Western system of education using Mr. Green’s hypocrisy as a representation. Henceforth, the role of the opening scene and first frame is twofold; Firstly, they work in tandem to instill the over-arching setting – an inherently corrupt African society. This provides the occasion for the main narrative- Obi being charged for accepting a bribe, and, the issue addressed by the rest of the novel- how colonialism was a detriment Nigeria as a developing nation. Beginning with the end also allows readers to anticipate Obi’s arrest depicted in the novel’s closing scene.

This imbues the novel with a circularity that prompts readers to draw connections and understand the intimate relationship between the events detailed in the novel’s frames, and why Obi succumbed to corruption. Secondly, they put forth the duality of education. Here, Mr. Green’s hypocrisy (detailed in frame) and Obi’s trial (detailed in opening scene) encapsulate the superficiality of Western education- while it opened doors and opportunities, the social and moral predicament that ensued did little to emancipate Obi; rather, it entrenched him in greater problems, that of a struggle between two extreme cultures.

Secondly, the characterization of Mr. Green as an archetypal colonial figure, and a symbol of patriarchic colonialism contribute to the portrayal of the theme of tradition and progression. Achebe personifies Mr. Green as a racist individual, aghast at the incompetence of Africans whom were, in his opinion, inextricably ‘corrupt through and through’(line26). It is even mentioned that Mr. Green patronized the club to escape the very presence of the locals(line34).

Having understood the dynamics of Mr. Green’s character, the juxtaposition of Mr. Green and the UPU in the novel’s opening chapter, a symbol of traditionalist culture, hence highlights the two cultural spaces between which Obi is trapped. Having undergone a Western education meant that Obi was effectively void of a concrete identity, unable to assimilate completely or relate to either his cultural roots or a more contemporary, Western culture.

Hence the conflict within Obi is introduced and presented to readers via this subtle juxtaposition of Mr. Green and the UPU that foreshadows the conflict between traditional and modernist values, the source of Obi’s downfall. Henceforth, Achebe has used symbolism through characters – Mr. Green and the UPU, to illustrate the long-drawn conflict between traditionalist and modernist cultures that was prominent during the post-colonial era. Another literary technique Achebe has exploited to accentuate the cultural predicament Obi was ensnared in is that of a character foil. The theme of realism versus idealism is enforced here.

Within the novel, Christopher serves as Obi’s foil; He always offers an opposing view to Obi’s. Among the many debates Christopher and Obi engaged in, the most significant is thus the discussion targeting the morality of bribery. Here, Christopher symbolizes reality- the liberal yet corrupt values of European society while Obi represents idealistic, traditional African culture. The juxtaposition of Christopher and Obi henceforth magnifies the theme of realism versus idealism; it encapsulates Obi’s struggle to come to terms with an alien European culture that would debase his African values.

Henceforth, although Christopher advocates that Obi accept Elsie Mark’s offer, Obi holds fast, at this juncture, that the educated should ‘not take advantage of [their] position. ’ There is hence a distinct conflict between the irrefutable reality of a corrupt African society evidenced by Christopher’s stance, and the morality of idealistic Nigerian values, portrayed by Obi’s short-lived resistance to corruption; this thus acts as a microcosm of the transition that Obi is soon to undergo.

The influence of his colonial masters will cause him to lay down his idealistic traditional beliefs and instead hoist the flag of Western culture, marking his moral degeneration and corruptibility. This signifies the point in time where Obi’s idealism is displaced by reality- corruption. By embodying the flaws of the Western education system, and exemplifying the appalling work ethic of educated Nigerians scorned by Mr. Green, Christopher therefore foreshadows Obi’s regression, allowing readers to unlock valuable insight into the corrupt nature of the educated.

Henceforth, the character foil in the novel is pivotal in allowing readers to empathize with Obi’s susceptibility to the influence of colonialism. In conclusion, Achebe has successfully utilized the frame-story technique, symbolism and character foils to engender a conflict of tradition and progression within Obi. This has come to define the very essence of the African experience: colonization and decolonization, and the novel has successfully portrayed the tragic reality of how Obi was unable to anchor his character in the past, or in a utopian future.

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