Half of a Yellow Sun: Media, Nationalism, Women, & Love

Media

Chapter 30 addresses the role of bias in Western media.

I think the bias that stands out most is the viewing of black lives as inferior to white lives and the lack of respect of other nation’s constructions of nationality.

“Thousands of Biafrans were dead, and this man wanted to know if there was anything new about one dead white man…the rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person,” (pg.462).

This moment is constructed by Adichie in a unique way: there are three white Western males with polar ideas about East-West, black-white political relationships.

Adichie places Richard in this scene as the “representative” of Biafra instead of Odenigbo. What kind of commentary does Richard’s presence make that Odenigbo’s would not?

Beyond the political, the scene gets personal as Richard feels compelled to speak about Kainene. Then the redhead said, “I had an English friend at college who really went for colored girls,” (pg.463).

The redhead is not only prejudiced against blacks, but also about Richard’s relationship with black women.

The inclusion of black women in their discussion is not resolved by Richard who says nothing to the redhead. This seems to be more proof of the presumptuousness of Western journalists.

“Richard knew his type. He was like President Nixon’s fact finders from Washington or Prime Minister Wilson’s commission members from London who arrived with their firm protein tablets and their firmer conclusions: that Nigeria was not bombing civilians, that the starvation was overflogged, that all was as well as it should be in war.” (pg.465)

This quote is a means to examine American and British means of essentially lying through journalism and speaking for a situation incorrectly.

The poem on page 470 appears to be a criticism of the Western media’s profiteering from the starvation of Biafrans and the inaction of the people that viewed these photos. The poem must be extremely significant because it is the epilogue to Ugwu’s book.

Does this poem sum up the purpose of not only Ugwu’s book, but Adichie’s as well in relation to the West and Biafra?

Forced Nationalism

Nationalism comes under a critical lens in Chapter 31.

The story told by the Igbo relative of Alice underscores the questioning of nationalism and makes it appear entirely artificial,

“The vandals took our town many weeks ago and they announced that all the indigenes should come out and say ‘One Nigeria’ and they would give them rice. So people came out of hiding and said ‘One Nigeria’ and the vandals shot them, men, women, and children. Everyone,” (pg. 481).

This quote is about the construction of nationalism that is forced.

The starving people are forced to shed their Biafran nationalism in the hopes of getting food.

Does Adichie include this quote in order to note that perhaps nationalism cannot be truly destroyed by force?

Throughout the novel the Biafran people lose everything. From the loss of half of a yellow sun patches on soldiers, to food, and to the remaining articles signifying their nationalism, loss is everywhere. However, this is a forced loss.

In chapter 37, the Nigerian soldiers raid Odenigbo’s house. Odenigbo keeps a flag in his pocket, however Olanna burns her Biafran money. Olanna says, “My memory is inside me,” (pg.539).

Just like Alice’s Igbo people were forced to give up Biafran nationalism in the hopes of getting food it seems that Olanna is giving up Biafran nationalism in the hopes of getting safety.

However, does memory symbolize a type of indestructible nationalism or merely a way to store past allegiances and give up on the dream?

Violence Against Women

Ugwu carries around guilt for raping the girl in the bar. For instance when Richard mentions his book Ugwu thinks, “The World Was Silent When We Died. It haunted him, filled him with shame. It made him think about that girl in the bar, her pinched face, and the hate in her eyes as she lay on her back on the dirty floor.”  (pg. 496)” And it is fascinating that after a book that seemed to be centered around Biafran nationality and war that the title of the book whose excerpts are strewn within Adichie’s novel reminds Ugwu of subaltern women. Thus, the novel seems to be a feminist text about the injustices and lack of attention paid to subaltern poor black Biafran women, as well as a comment on nationality in regard to this violence.

The scene where Ugwu rapes the bar girl posits the Biafran military and Biafra against the female Biafran. Aidichie constructed this scene in order to question nationality and gender. If the nation oppresses its women then how can it be free?

The evidence of oppression is even evident when the speech is given, “I take this opportunity to congratulate officers and men of our armed forces for their gallantry and bravery, which have earned for them admiration of the whole world. I thank the civil population for their steadfastness and courage in the face of overwhelming odds and starvation,” (pg. 514)

But, nowhere does it mention the women who were raped by Nigerian soldiers or Biafran soldiers and the atrocities they specifically suffered, although the speech directly references men in the military.  I think Adichie adds these text into her own novel to highlight the hushing of the female citizen in public broadcasts of nationalism.

Furthermore, even though Ugwu expresses deep shame and values the opinion of women in his life, in Biafra, “Ugwu was no longer just Ugwu, he was now one of “our boys”, he had fought for the cause,” (pg.499). Thus, for Ugwu’s suffering he gets praise and for the suffering of women they get shame, misfortune, and death.

What do you think the overall significance of Ugwu being a rapist and his subsequent efforts to document the voices of subaltern women? Is this a symbol for redemption or something more critical?

Richard and Kainene

Throughout the novel Richard is characterized as a man who falls in love with Kainene presumably for who she is and does not seem to exociticze her.

However, by the end of the novel Richard still expects to be marveled at as a white man, “It surprised Richard; he was used to his Igbo-speaking whiteness being noticied, being marveled at,” (pg.534).  And he gets in a seemingly racially motivated altercation with Madu, “Come back, he wanted to say, come back here and tell me if you ever laid your filthy black hand on her,” (pg.537).

It seems incongruous that Richard could love Kainene, but then harbor racist thoughts – muddled up with sexual insecurity and a need to be dominant – against Madu. Thus, Richard’s character represents a strange middle ground whereby after accepting Kainene’s death his life is described, “ life would always be like a candlelit room; he would see things only in shadow, only in half glimpses,” (pg. 537).

What do you make of the significance of Richard and Kainene’s relationship in the novel? Was it merely to show that racial boundaries can be crossed for love? Or to underscore the multitude of dilemmas surrounding black and white relations? Was Richard’s failure to overcome some racial pretentions a note about love being incapable of hurdling deep socialized racial notions that cause “nervous conditions” in relationships between blacks and whites? Is Richard an idiot?

Furthermore, Adichie includes the note that, “Richard showed them Kainene’s picture. Sometimes, in his rush, he pulled out the picture of the roped pot instead,” (pg.510).

It seems that there is something symbolic about the roped pot, but what is it? Richard loved Igbo art very much and Kainene very much. He even called Kainene his wife before she was actually his wife as a sort of proof to others.

Do you think Richard objectified Kainene? Or is his obsession for both the clay pot art and Kainene Adichie’s symbolism for true unwavering love of the “other”? 

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