Half of a Yellow Sun, Pt 2

The pendular motions that Adichie’s novel takes becomes a device that allows for parallels and contrasts.

One parallel is that of the “old” world, as represented by spirits and superstitions, and that of the “new” world, which is inhabited by Olanna, Odenigbo, Kainene and Richard.  Ugwu is part of the “old” world.

In a gripping scene, Odenigbo’s mother lambasts Olanna for not having been breastfed by her mother, labeling her a “witch.” (122-123)  “It was servants who wiped her ike when she finished shitting,” (124) Mama continues, and reprimands Olanna for her university education.

Mama’s view represents a rigid outlook on gender roles, as she belives too much schooling will “ruin” a woman, and that men should have no place in the kitchen.  Despite the pan-Africanism that her son advocates in chapter 1, she wonders “who told them all that we were the same Igbo people?”

Another parallel develops between Olanna and her twin sister Kainene.  While we have already learned that Olanna subtly rejects her parents’ mindset/lifestyle, Kainene seems to buy into it a bit more.  “My father has obscene taste in jewelry,” Kainene says, showing Richard the lavish necklace he gave her, “but it’s his money.” (73)  She later manages the factories and oil interests of her father while accepting a rather large house in Port Harcourt.  She refuses to be “sex bait,” as we learned in Chapter 2, though her parents continue to “pawn” her off at parties, yet she admits that the house is “an enticement for the right sort of man to marry his unattractive daughter.”  (86)  In a way, Kainene is still buying into this system that renders her a man’s property, despite having rejected it earlier.

Both Olanna and Kainene seem to have issues with distancing themselves from men.  With Olanna, this comes in the form of her reluctanfce to accept Odenigbo’s marriage proposals.  On 128, she expresses her fear of needing Odenigbo, which would “give him power without his trying.” (128)  Kainene meanwhile does not seem to fully invest her emotions in Richard, as seen in her evasiveness toward him when Major Madu is around.

Recurring Themes:
Sexual frustration/inability (Richard, possibly Olanna)
Food (African food as opposed to British/American food)
Herbs and medicines
The Balewa administration, and Odenigbo’s criticism thereof

1) By telling chapter 4 from Ugwu’s POV, what commentary might Adichie be adding to Mama’s “old world” views? Ugwu is part of that world, yet it is Olanna with whom he sympathizes.
2)  What are we to make of the contrasting of Olanna and Kainene, and this idea of “need.”  As Olanna notes, Kainene does not “need to lean on others,” yet Olanna admits needing Odenigbo.
3) Richard seems to be the sole Caucasian character not embodying the stereotypical role of colonizer/God figure in the text.  On page 141, he is offended by Okeoma’s remark that he is “surprised, as if you never imagined these people capable of such things.”  In this case, art.  What are we to make of this?
4) Major Udodi, scolding Kainene, accuses white men of “pok[ing] women in the dark, but they will never marry them.” (101)  Might his words be somewhat ironic, considering the schemes of Kainene’s parents and the scene with Chief Okonji?

Apologies that this is a bit late.  Apparently I can’t copy and paste from a WordDoc, so I had the joy of writing this entry twice.

– David


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