In section three of Half of a Yellow Sun, we return to the early 1960’s, picking up again where section one left off. As the action of the war begins to pick up in section two, we are abruptly taken backwards to a simpler time, focusing now on sexualpolitics–not the politics of war. This structure allows the reader to view the relationships between Olanna, Odenigbo, and Richard through the lens of the war, and to compare it to the territorial disputes and the violence we’ve just read about. The events of section three–formation of identity, victimization, and reparation– are also indicative of war.
1. Olanna’s “secession”
After Olanna learns of Odenigbo’s infidelity, she attempts to remove herself from their live together and build her own independent identity, similar to how the people of Biafra secede from Nigeria after being mistreated and attempt to build their own independent state. Olanna “secedes” from Odenigbo by moving out of his apartment, focusing on herself, questioning own identity. “She did not have to be the wounded woman whose man had slept with a village girl. She could be a Fulani woman on a plane deriding Igbo people with a good-looking stranger. She could be a woman taking charge of her own life. She could be anything” (284).
Separated from Odenigbo and his strong and influential personality, Olanna realizes that she is free to choose and form her own identity, realizing that she doesn’t have to be dutiful to her “revolutionary lover” and his line of thinking. This potential to create ones own identity is similar to the way Richard thinks of the formation of Biafra in earlier chapters. “He would be Biafran in a way he could never have been Nigerian–he was here at the beginning; he had shared in the birth. He would belong.” (211)
Olanna, and Biafra’s, attempts to “secede” are met with opposition. If the narrative is tying these two struggles together, what does it say about the national conflict that Olanna ultimately decides against an independent existence?
Amala, the victim of Mama’s manipulation, forced to carry a child she does not want, can serve as a representation of the innocent victims of war. Amala is not given a voice in this conflict that centers around her body; we see that she wants to get rid of her pregnancy and, later, wants nothing to do with the baby.
“How much did one know the true feelings of those who did not have a voice?” (313), Olanna says of Amala. In this novel, there’s a large subset of people without a voice: the victims of the physical violence against the Igbo people. So far in this novel, we have seen only a contained, upper-class perspective.
What does this quote mean in the context of war and its victims? Is it problematic that this novel hasn’t yet provided us the prospective of the war’s victims? (Note the title of Richard’s book: “The World Was Silent When We Died”)
We see two different methods of “reparation” that re-form the broken relationship – direct punishment, and indirect intimidation. These can be viewed as an analogy for the way nations are often created and re-constituted.
When Kainene discovers the affair between Richard and Olanna, she burns his manuscript as punishment. This tells Richard that she plans to stay in the relationship because “she would not bother to cause him pain if she was not going to stay” (324). Her use of punishment is similar to restrictions and sanctions that are often put in place after a rebellion is quelled. Richard accepts his punishment and remains with Kainene, but their relationship does not re-gain its solid footing. The loss of his book is also a loss of his identity: “Perhaps he was not a true writer after all. He had read somewhere that, for true writers, nothing was more important than their art, not even love.” (324)
It is also interesting to note that Olanna’s decision to return to Odenigbo is motivated, in a way, by violence. After Edna tells Olanna about the deaths of four young girls at her church, Olanna says that Edna’s grief “made her helpless, brought the urge to stretch her hand into the past and reverse history.” Olanna thinks about “how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off. She thought about how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery. She would move back to Odenigbo’s house.” (306) She does not seem to have fully forgiven Odenigbo, but returns to him anyway. It seems Olanna is motivated entirely by fear– fear of misery, fear of being alone.
Both of these reunions come at a cost: Richard’s identity as a writer and Olanna’s independence are both compromised. Are they sublimating a part of themselves for a great, noble cause (love)? Or should they resist this form of oppression, a la the people of Biafra?