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The Impact of Education in "No Longer at Ease"

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The Impacts of Foreign Education in Obi Okonwo's Life as Depicted in No Longer At Ease

Irwandi Hidayat
F1F011040

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND CULTURE
JENDERAL SOEDIRMAN UNIVERSITY
FACULTY OF SOCIAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
DEPARTEMENT OF HUMANITIES
ENGLISH LANGUANGE AND LITERATURE PROGRAM PURWOKERTO
2014
Abstract
This paper titled "The Impacts of Foreign Education in Obi Okonwo's Life as Depicted in No Longer At Ease" will mainly focus on finding how foreign education changes Obi's Life. This paper will explore this issue by explaining how his foreign education affected his life and what impacts it brings to Obi's life.
This paper will use Post Colonialism Criticism to try to explain what happens to Obi after his foreign education. As a theoretical approach, postcolonialism asks readers to consider the way colonialist and anti-colonialist messages are presented in literary texts. It argues that Western culture is Eurocentric, meaning it presents European values as natural and universal, while Eastern ideas are, for example, inferior, immoral, or savage. What post-colonial literary criticism does is analyze literature written both by colonial powers and by those who were colonized in order to look at the cultural impact of colonization.
After further analysis are done regarding the impact of foreign education in Obi Okonkwo's life, the analysis concludes that there are three main impacts that are caused by Obi's foreign education. The first is the loss of identity that made Obi Okonkwo to feel uncomfortable whether he is Nigeria or England. This loss of identity has caused Obi to see all sorts of problems with his own culture, but on the other hand, he is not accepted by the Western either. The second impact is his growing disrespect of his own culture. Because of his education, Obi views his culture to be vastly inferior to western culture. The last one is an idealistic behaviour. After his education, Obi sees himself as a pioneer which means he sees himself as different and better that most nigerians.

Introduction

No Longer at Ease is a book written by Chinua Achebe, a famous African writer. Through his novel, he tries to deliver a message about how foreign education has affected Africans. For example, when Obi Okonkwo returns to Nigeria from England, his foreign education separates him from his African roots. The book tells the story of Obi Okonkwo, a young man who returns home to Nigeria, after his studies in England. Eager to make a difference in his newly independent home country, Obi finds that he has to balance his career ambitions, with the expectations of his family and tribe mates. He takes up a prestigious job with the civil service, where over time, he finds himself confronted with a series of personal and professional dilemmas. Over time, he’s overwhelmed, gets morally compromised, and eventually slides into debt, as he tries to meet competing personal and societal demands. Despite starting out with the best intentions, he ends up a tragic failure.
Using Chinua Achebe's “No Longer at Ease” as the main object of research, this paper will focus on the impacts that foreign education has brought to Obi Okonkwo's life. To analyse the novel, this paper will use Post Colonialism Criticism as the main theory. Broadly a study of the effects of colonialism on cultures and societies, Post Colonialism Criticism is concerned with both how European nations conquered and controlled "Third World" cultures and how these groups have since responded to and resisted those encroachments.

Research Question
1. How does Foreign Education change Obi Okonkwo's ?
2. What are the impacts of foreign education in Obi Okonkwo's life ?
Research Objectives
1. To explain how foreign education has changed Obi Okonkwo ?
2. To explain the impacts caused by foreign education in Obi Okonkwo's Life ?

Literary Review
a. Post Colonialism Criticism
Post-colonial criticism is similar to cultural studies, but it assumes a unique perspective on literature and politics that warrants a separate discussion. Specifically, post-colonial critics are concerned with literature produced by colonial powers and works produced by those who were/are colonized. Post-colonial theory looks at issues of power, economics, politics, religion, and culture and how these elements work in relation to colonial hegemony where western colonizers controlling the colonized.
Post-colonial criticism also questions the role of the western literary canon and western history as dominant forms of knowledge making. The terms "first-world," "second world," "third world" and "fourth world" nations are critiqued by post-colonial critics because they reinforce the dominant positions of western cultures populating first world status. This critique includes the literary canon and histories written from the perspective of first-world cultures. The ultimate goal of post-colonialism is combating the residual effects of colonialism on cultures. It is not simply concerned with salvaging past worlds, but learning how the world can move beyond this period together, towards a place of mutual respect. This section surveys the thoughts of a number of post-colonialism's most prominent thinkers as to how to go about this.
Post-colonialist thinkers recognize that many of the assumptions which underlie the "logic" of colonialism are still active forces today. Exposing and deconstructing the racist, imperialist nature of these assumptions will remove their power of persuasion and coercion. Recognizing that they are not simply airy substances but have widespread material consequences for the nature and scale of global inequality makes this project all the more urgent.
A key goal of post-colonial theorists is clearing space for multiple voices. This is especially true of those voices that have been previously silenced by dominant ideologies - subalterns. It is widely recognized within the discourse that this space must first be cleared within academia. Edward Said, in his book Orientalism, provides a clear picture of the ways social scientists, specifically Orientalists, can disregard the views of those they actually study - preferring instead to rely on the intellectual superiority of themselves and their peers.

b. Colonial Identity
The colonial situation manufactures colonialists, just as it manufactures the colonized. If we are to look at how colonization created the identities of both the colonized and the colonizer, we must recognize that historical situations are created by people, but people are in turn created by these situations. The way a person sees the world, both geographically and culturally, is dictated by their abstract understanding of the world. Although culture does exist as a tangible entity, it is the abstract ideologies of comparison between cultures that create cultural identities situated in social, economic, and political hierarchies. It is in this abstract world of ideas that the colonizer, by creating the “other” which was to be colonized, created his own identity in opposition to that of the colonized.

c. The Colonialist that accepts
The colonist who was either born in the colony or traveled there to better himself economically (often those who traveled and established themselves in a colony were from poor or working class backgrounds; only in the colony did they have a chance to make something of themselves) and embraces the colonial structure in which he was, in his eyes, entitled to was obviously the majority of the colonists. By accepting the role of the colonizer, he accepted the responsibility and identity of both himself and the colonized. Although the colonized are an interracial and necessary economic part of the colony, the colonizer must disown the colonized and defend his identity both intellectually and physically. He must accept the violence and poverty he sees daily; it is his job to rationalize the actions of himself and fellow colonialists because he needs to absolve himself of the atrocities committed in the name of economic and cultural superiority.
This man, perhaps a warm friend and affectionate father, who in his native country (by his social condition, his family environment, his natural friendships) could have been a democrat, will surely be transformed into a conservative, reactionary, or even colonial fascist. He cannot help but approve discrimination and codification of injustice, he will be delighted at police tortures and, if the necessity arises, will become convinced of the necessity of massacres. The contradiction of his lifestyle, even with the economic benefits and cultural justifications, takes a tool on his psyche. Deep down inside himself he lives with the knowledge of his actions, and no matter how much he justifies or rationalizes his behavior the colonist pleads guilty. But a person cannot live with such contradictions, and thus the colonist creates an identity to defend his actions. It is at this point that he creates the image of the colonist as a humanitarian, who just happens to gain economic benefit. In his eyes he is bringing “civilization” to the “savages.” As Social Evolutionary Theory teaches the colonialist; all cultures evolve into centralized industrial nations. He is helping these “backward’ countries reach their evolutionary goal. He is bringing high civilization to them, and yes there is some hardship, but evolution is rough; if the natives would just stop resisting this natural process and abandon their traditional ways, they could learn to live the right way.

Discussion

Obi Okonkwo’s foreign education provides him not only with knowledge of an academic nature, but also with a new lens through which to view society and its traditions. Obi manifests his new mentality throughout the novel, for example when he asserts the utter absurdity of the societal norm which forbids him to marry Clara because she is osu, as he observed no such restrictions upon marriage partners in Europe. However, Obi’s words here reduce the ostracism of the osu to a mere formality when the practice is far more deep-seeded and pervasive than he seems to indicate.

In one sense, the title of the novel suggests something pretty obvious. Someone once felt comfortable and is now feeling uneasy, and actually this is exactly what happens to the main character, Obi Okonkwo. The title reflects the discomfort felt by Obi Okonkwo. His university education in England has left a big changes in his life, and these changes and impacts are going to be explored in the discussion session

a. Loss of Identity

Obi sees himself as an educated Igbo, and he believes that he is still an Igbo despite his education. However, in reality, his education has isolated and alienated him from his own culture. Obi's identity is shaped by two forces, the Western culture and values and Igbo culture and values. Though Obi embraces Western values as evidenced through his education and his Christianity, we can see how this decision alienates him from his traditional Igbo culture. Because of his education, Obi as described in the novel clearly rejects a number of cultural traditions including polygamy, paying a bride-price, honoring a man because of his many "titles" earned through competitions, religious observance, etc.

“Look at me,' said Joseph, getting up and tying his coverlet as a loincloth. He now spoke in English. 'You know book, but this is no matter for book. Do you know what an osu is? But how can you know?' In that short question he said in effect that Obi's mission-house upbringing and European education had made him a stranger in his country---the most painful thing one could say to Obi.”

From this quote we can see that Obi's loss of identity has been noticed by Joseph. Joseph short question “How can you know?” is very on point about Obi's loss of identity. Obi was born and raised in a christian family and then continued his study in england. Not too mention that a lot of Nigerian custom is prohibited in Okonkwo's household because of how it is forbidden in christian teaching making Obi a stranger in his own land.

Throughout the novel, Obi has showed a loss of identity in the sense that he is does not feel comfortable and accepted in england nor in nigeria. In Great Britain, Obi discovered that he misses his country, Nigeria but on the other side, his education trained him to look down on his traditional culture. He felt homesick for his family, friends, and home and when he met fellow Nigerians in England, he was thrilled to chat with them in Igbo. When he met an African who did not speak Igbo and had to speak English, he felt ashamed, wondering if the people around him were judging them, as if they had no culture, no language. This process of becoming educated was also a process of him becoming even more and more alienated from his culture. Ironically, though Obi began to despise certain aspects of Igbo culture and life, he never felt comfortable or accepted in England. From all of these behaviour, it is clear that his education has caused Ibo to have "postcolonial identity". Post colonial identity is a feelings of discomfort in his home culture, and alienation in Western culture. But even though Obi felt uncomfortable among the British, and realized that he would always be considered "inferior," he became convinced of several things during his time in England. Obi's estrangement from his culture is the same problem that thousands of young people in Africa and India faced after their Western educations. They are at odds with their own culture, but at the same time they are at odds with the new culture that they had partly embraced. On the one hand, they saw all sorts of problems with the culture they had left behind, but on the other hand, they were not accepted by the Western culture they had tried to embrace. This is a phenomenon explored by many postcolonial writers. Colonial powers expended a great deal of effort and energy towards distinguishing between Western culture and colonized cultures; Western literature, philosophy, and popular culture portrayed colonized cultures as "inferior." Young people from colonized countries felt estranged from their own culture after their Western education, even while they were not accepted by Westerners.

b. Disrespect of African people and its culture

As it has been explained in the first point, Obi Okonkwo is described as someone who is alienated from his own cultures which is the result of his years of education in england. However, his education not only causes some sort of loss of identity but it also leads toward Obi Okonkwo's disrespect of his own culture. His disrespect of his own culture has been shown throughout the story, but the most highlighted one is his decision to marry Clara, an Osu. An Osu is a living sacrifice to a god. They and their children are untouchable and, for the most part, considered to be slaves to gods therefore cannot be married.

“Obi knew better than anyone else that his family would violently oppose the idea of marrying an osu . Who wouldn't? But for him it was either Clara or nobody. Family ties were all very well as long as they did not interfere with Clara. 'If I could convince my mother,' he thought, 'all would be well.”

As we can see in that quote, Obi is fully aware that marrying an Osu is a big taboo in his culture, but despite of that he still insists on marrying Clara who also have warned Obi that she is an Osu. His culture, his parents, his friends, even Clara, all of them has warned them about marrying an Osu. Considering that not even his heavily devouted father supports this marriage, Obi's insistence may seem too much and can be seen as a proof that Obi sees his culture as nothing but an outdated useless bunch of rules. This can also be a way for Obi to show his people that their culture is outdated and way inferior to Western culture. As if his marriage is his way of proving how wrong his culture is to his kinsmen. Obi's unwillingness to follow his indigenous culture is not only limited to choosing his life partner, Obi has also been shown unwilling to follow a simple custom like bride price law.

“I'm not in the senior service. You have just been telling me that I won't get the job because I told that idiot what I thought of him. Anyway, senior service or no senior service, I'm not paying five hundred pounds for a wife. I shall not even pay one hundred, not even fifty.”

Bride-price is a marriage custom common among many African ethnic groups, but is definitely part of the Igbo people's traditions. Bride-price is not "buying a bride," though many Americans mistakenly define it that way. Bride-price is an agreement between families, the groom's family and the bride's family. It transfers the bride's reproductive powers over to the groom's family. So essentially, the groom's family is paying the bride's family so that they can lay claim to the children that the bride bears. Unlike the taboo about marrying an Osu which slightly unreasonable seeing how it prevents certain people from marriage, paying bride price is just a normal and safe custom that has been in the african culture for a long time. Considering that Obi's job provides him a lot of money, Obi's unwillingness to pay is nothing but his persistence of wanting to want people to acknowledge the inferiority of his culture.

“Mr. Okonkwo believed utterly and completely in the things of the white man. And the symbol of the white man's power was the written word, or better still, the printed word”

From this quote it is clear that the written word symbolizes the power of Europeans. Obi decided that the written word is the best way to live. He suddenly found himself believing that if you want to lead a successful life then Western culture is the solution. Obi believes that Western culture is the right way to live which means that you need to be a Christian, read and write proper English, and behave like a European. This behaviour shows that his education in england has made obi to view his own culture to be inferior to Western culture and only by following the western way that Nigeria will improve. Obi's abandonment of his native culture seems inevitable given the fact that Obi left home to be educated in Europe and returns to occupy a European civil servant post in a westernized part of Lagos.

c. Excessive pride and idealistic view of the world

After several years studying in England Obi sees himself as a pioneer. He wants to change the corrupt system of bribery and nepotism, and he wants to marry a girl that traditionally is taboo. We can see how idealistic Obi is and coupled with his excessive pride shows how Obi thinks that he can change the whole system in a night. As explained before, the result of his foreign education is that Obi embraces western culture and feels that western culture is the right way of living. Therefore, after he comes back to Nigeria, he sees everyone to be inferior and the whole system needs to be changed and he is the one who is capable of changing all of the corruption in the government. This way of thinking is caused by the fact that Obi has always been smarter than most of the people around him combined with his isolation from Igbo culture and values, leads him to assume that he could follow his own path without consequences.

When the story goes back to the time Obi returned to Nigeria to, Obi appears to be a man of steel in his resolve to remain pure and incorruptible. And as it turns out the cause of his downfall is excessive pride combined with his belief that he can change the whole system in a night. His idealistic and excessive pride behaviour can be seen in this following quote.

“I am not going to listen to you any more. I take back my request. I shall start paying you back at the end of this month. Now, this minute! But don't you dare interfere in my affairs again. And if this is what you meet about,' he said in Ibo, 'you may cut off my two legs if you ever find them here again.' He made for the door. A number of people tried to intercept him. 'Please sit down.' 'Cool down.' 'There is no quarrel.' Everybody was talking at once. Obi pushed his way through and made blindly for his car with half a dozen people at his heels pleading that he return.”

So in this quote, Obi is in a Umuofia Progressive Union meeting, and when the president advises Obi to not going against the taboo of marrying an Osu, Obi just shouts angrily asking people to mind their own bussiness. From this quote it is clear that despite of his high education and social standing, Obi does not act mature at all, instead he shows the two qualities mentioned in the beginning, Idealistic and Prideful behaviour.

Conclusion

From the analysis conducted using postcolonialism criticism in the novel “No Longer at Ease” by Chinua Achebe it resulted into three parts. The analysis concludes that the foreign education has brought three impacts in Obi's Life. The first is the loss of identity that made Obi Okonkwo to feel uncomfortable whether he is Nigeria or England. This loss of identity has caused Obi to see all sorts of problems with his own culture, but on the other hand, he is not accepted by the Western either. The second impact is his growing disrespect of his own culture. Because of his education, Obi views his culture to be vastly inferior to western culture. The last one is an idealistic behaviour. After his education, Obi sees himself as a pioneer which means he sees himself as different and better that most nigerians.

Referrences
Bressler, C. E. (1998). Literary criticism: An introduction to theory and practice. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Mrarandi, Seyed Mohammad. 2012. Education as an Ideological Instrument: A Postcolonial Reading of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease. IDOSI Publications

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