Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Conflicting Cultures Within the City

Sometimes outside influences can bring a wealth of good to a particular city. They can diversify the city and create new opportunities. However, this is not the case with Umuofia and the other towns of Nigeria, which are mentioned in the novel No Longer at Ease. These Nigerians are influenced in a negative way by English society, and consequently they must face conflicts between their old culture and the new one that is forced upon them by the English. These citizens are victims of imperialism and are forced to adapt a sort of double culture in their lives, which brings about unrest.

The main character Obi returns to England to find his expectations unfulfilled. He returns to a place of discord, bribery, and strife. He is not as respected as he should be upon his return because he has been highly educated at a prestigious university. At one point in the novel, the elder Odogwu says, " Today's greatness has changed its tune. Titles are no longer great, neither are barns or large numbers of wives or children. Greatness is now in the things of the white man" (Achebe 62). When Obi speaks of the woman he met in England, he is praised for not returning with a white woman. A carpenter named Matthew Ogbana says, "I say a black man who marries a white woman wastes his time" (Achebe 61). Obi's boss, Mr. Green, often disrespects Obi and disregards his prestigious education. He says, " I think the government is making a terrible mistake in making it so easy for people like that ( referring to Obi) to have a so-called university education" (Achebe 132). He seems to represent the unrelenting close-minded and hypocritical mentality of the British upon their invasion of Africa. This is especially apparent because of his decision to resign his duties upon the independence of Umoufia. Obi says that, "He must have come originally with an ideal- to bring light to the heart of darkness...but when he arrived, Africa played him false" (Achebe 121). Clearly, Mr. Green and all of England set out on a self- fulfilling conquest that bore no interest of the others in mind. These conflicts, as well as conflicts with religion show the negative influence that England has on Umuofia. Obi's grandfather placed a curse on Obi's father when he decided to leave home to join the missionaries, which shows just how taboo succumbing to the white man was in those times. Obi's father said he "went through fire to become a Christian" ( Achebe 157). The old religion of the Umuofians was mostly lost due to English influence and some Umuofians, such as Obi's father, resorted to violence because of this. In Augustine's City of God, he says, "I divide the human race into two orders. The one consists of those who live according to man and the other of those who live according to God" (Augustine 635). This illustrates that it is not easy to balance obligations between two ways of life within the city, and that infact, it may be impossible. Just as Obi's father paid a price for his religious choice within his city, we too will pay prices for our cultural obligations. It is not always easy to please two cultures while following your own desires and dreams. This is exemplified in the character Obi, who ultimately falls apart due to his conflicting obligations to both the imperialistic culture of England and his homeland of Umuofia. He fails at his job, he fails to take a wife, and he fails to completely please his family and city.

In today's cities, many people are surrounded by conflicting cultures, similiar to Obi's situation. For instance, immigrant families must learn a new language and new customs and they must adopt the new lifestyle necessary to fit into a city. America is filled with cities that are seperated by cultural districts. These people, and many others, must create a place of their own, while striving to abide by the customs of their homeland. They must learn multiple languages, etc. The culture of the city to which some immigrate may be too drastically different, so these people may choose to follow traditions from their old country. In most cases, they are constantly trying to balance the old and the new. It is not always easy for the older generation of immigrants to see their children fall away from the ways of their homeland, but in a way, it is somewhat necessary, although unfortunate. At any rate, to try and fulfill the obligations of two cities with conflicting cultures can certainly make one no longer at ease.