Exploring Education and Corruption in Chinua Achebe’s ‘No Longer at Ease’.

No Longer at Ease is the second book in Achebe’s trilogy, the first being Things Fall Apart, and the third, Arrow of God.

Obi Okonkwo returns to Nigeria from Britain after completing his English degree, for a job in the civil service. Despite the salary he’s paid and other benefits, he soon starts experiencing economic hardships. He needs to make monthly payments back for his scholarship, send money home, and his own living expenses. Initially, Obi strongly refuses to be a part of the corruption that runs through the system but with the financial hole he’s sinking into, how long can he reject the bribes?

Achebe takes us through the course of corruption in Nigeria, and how the idealism of youth to change a broken system can easily be destroyed by so many surrounding circumstances. The corruption is shown here at all kinds of levels; the white man, the police, taxi drivers, ministers, doctors, and many others.

Another important theme that largely occurs in the story is that of the high expectations of certain societies on the educated, new professionals who’ve just started making money. Obi has just returned from England, with his prestigious education and his civil service job which to them means a river of money. He’s also the first to go study abroad in his village and was paid for from the pockets of people back home who took from the little they had to put together the scholarship. Expectations are high, and so is the “black tax.”

No Longer at Ease is a good work of social and political commentary. Chinua Achebe has written work that looks deeply into the structure of corruption, education, and politics not only in Nigeria but throughout Africa. It is also interesting how the novel ties in with the other ones. I have only read Things Fall Apart, and although brief, the link between the two is skilfully revealed. It is enjoyable, it can drag at times but eventually as the events unfold it becomes more interesting. Personally, between the two I’ve read, Things Fall Apart is the best.

‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’ by C. McChesney, S. Covey and J. Huling

This highly recommended and bestselling business book is a set of practices that have been tested by many organisations, to help them turn plans and strategies into action. Although the book helps organisations, it is just as helpful for individuals. The book gives advice, based on experience and practice, on how to achieve goals, have meaningful work, and get successful results and stay focused in the midst of a “whirlwind” of priorities.

Discipline One: Focus on the Wildly Important

By focusing on less you get to achieve more. Instead of focusing on or trying to do everything at once, select one or two most important goals, and focus your finest efforts on those instead of giving mediocre focus on many goals at once. This will also help you become clear about what matters the most.

Discipline Two: Act on the Lead Measures

Some actions have more impact than others, and those are the ones you should identify and focus on. This is the discipline of leverage. Your lead measures are those of the most high-impact things you should do to reach your goal(s). These are measures you can predict and influence.

Discipline Three: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

When you’re keeping score you tend to play differently. When you’re tracking how you’re scoring, you become emotionally engaged and the result is a high level of performance. This is about engagement – knowing whether you are winning or losing the game.

Discipline Four: Create a Cadence of Accountability

You have to follow through with consistent action and operate with a high level of accountability. Commit to moving the score forward. Report on your commitments, review the scoreboard, and clear the path and make way for new commitments. This discipline is where the actual execution takes place.

The above has been simplified so that an individual can be able to understand and put it to practice. The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) can make a difference in your personal life too and the book is written in such a simple way that it’s not difficult to take what it advises an organisation, and chop it down to suit you as an individual or a small organisation.

Execution is challenging and this is what this book is for, giving you a framework of how to break through those challenges. When priorities are a mountain it becomes difficult to straighten them or get them done effectively. Here you’ll find ways to prioritize your time and focus on what matters the most. Goals differ, some are achievable and others aren’t, some are more important than others. The book helps you narrow down what matters the most.

It seems simple but you have to keep at it, commit. It’s one of those books you might want to keep revisiting as you go along, highlight important parts, or keep notes on the most important rules/guidelines. Depending on how fast you learn, it can be repetitive but that can be beneficial if you want to get every bit of detail and thoroughly understand it. It’s worth having.

Living with a sense of alienation and self-destruction in Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’.

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

College student Esther Greenwood receives a scholarship to go work for a magazine in New York for a month. She and eleven other girls live in a women’s hotel and although the sponsor wines and dines the girls, as well as shower them with gifts, for Esther, it’s all unsatisfying. She battles with self-identity, melancholy, and views of femininity.

After the end of the programme she spends the rest of the summer with her mother.

From then on she becomes more unstable than ever and thoughts of suicide increasingly gnaw at her brain. After an overdose of pills, she awakes at a hospital and eventually ends up at a private psychiatry hospital. Through different kinds of therapy methods she improves and in the end, is due to start her winter semester at college.

The struggle with mental illness is deeply explored in the story through the journey it takes us from Esther’s battle, breakdown, and recovery. There’s something biographical about it too, as Sylvia Plath committed suicide not too long after the publication of The Bell Jar. The novel parallels her personal experiences.  

Sylvia Plath – Britannica

The novel also makes a critical observation of the expectations imposed on women in the 1950s in America. The roles laid out for women were so restricted and we see this in Esther’s anxiety, unhappiness, and lack of fulfilment.

The Bell Jar also brings to the surface, the difficulty in understanding oneself, and the occasional inability to recognise oneself. The disparity between how one presents themselves to the world and their inward experiences can cause great challenges in how one builds self-identity and result in a disjointed sense of self.

This is Plath’s only novel and it is a strong and honest one. Although the main character is female and the themes in it deeply explore issues concerning women at the time, it can be read and applied to anyone, as all kinds of people can see themselves in the issues that it scrutinizes.