Songs and Poetry
Throughout the novel there are songs and poetry that mean different things at different moments in time. When Obi is away at school his poetry is a kind of pull toward Nigeria, a calling and remembrance of home and yet, he writes these poems in English. While he is in Nigeria, there are many songs sung in his presence, some of which Obi also dissects using the English language but not without the Ibo pulling at his heart. It is as though, however, all of this poetry and song represents his desire for home and his heart’s need for it. He has studied poetry in England, but poetry also links him to home—these poetic contradictions are all appropriate to the novel’s ultimate struggle, which is that of the young man living under the end of a long colonial reign.
If allusions to English literature are what are constantly driving us toward England, it is the constant allusion to proverbs that drives us back to Africa. Achebe peppers his novel with proverb after proverb, making the novel specifically and strategically African. Achebe, like Obi, is using the tools of colonialism for his own purposes; he is making the European form of the novel his own.
The issue of language is omnipresent in the novel and is simply one of the many issues that arise out of a colonial society. Obi struggles between two tongues (Ibo and English) just as he does between two cultures. He was born into one language, and he obtained “knowledge” in the form of the other causing one of the basic problems throughout No Longer At Ease.
Mr. Green is symbolic of the European presence in Nigeria, as he is the epitome of the “paternal colonizer,” who has brought some good but mostly arrogance. He is very much the kind of Englishman who believes in the good of empires and thinks he can, as Obi points out, tell people how to live their lives.
The Umuofian Progressive Union
If Mr. Green stands for Europe in Obi’s struggle between tradition and European ways, then the UPU stands for the stubborn traditional ways of the past.
Omo stands for what Obi calls the “old African,” which is representative of a more submissive, (to the British) older generation of Nigerian. It is a generation that has more “fear” of the British than the younger generation, which longs for independence and freedom.