Half of a Yellow Sun – Chapters 1 & 2

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chapters 1 & 2

From the beginning of the book there is obvious political tension, which is the framework of the novel. We are introduced to the Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba tribes. And ideas such as Pan-Africanism and decolonizing. The first chapter is through Ugwu’s perspective who is Odenigbo’s (a professor and an Igbo man) houseboy. He is 13 at the start of the book. Odenigbo enrolls Ugwu in the staff primary school because, “Education is a priority! How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to understand exploitation?” (13). Who is doing the exploiting?

Ugwu has little experience with English or politics and his experiences listening in to his Master’s conversations with houseguests gives readers an introduction to the politics of Nigeria around the 60’s. The majority of this information is on pages 24 and 25.

Our second narrator is introduced in the first chapter. Odenigbo calls Olanna nkem meaning “my own.” She is sexualized from the very beginning, “she should be in a glass case like the one in Master’s study, where people could admire her curvy, fleshy body, where she would be preserved untainted” (29). The second chapter starts with her getting ready to board a plane to go back home before moving to live with Odenigbo. Her description of him is much different than that of Ugwu’s. She repeatedly describes him as confident. We see a different side of him aside from just Ugwu’s “Master.” There is a flashback to when Olanna and Odenigbo first meet. He reprimands a ticket seller for being racist against his own people (35). There is also a focus on class which is often shown through the color of teeth (34).

Olanna is continually sexualized throughout her narrative and her parents even go as far as using her as “sex bait” (44). She is distant with her immediate family but seems to feel more at home with her uncle and aunt. Her previous boyfriend’s mother saw her as “the Igbo woman [Mohammed] wanted to marry who would taint the lineage with infidel blood” (57). After talking with Arize it becomes apparent that Mohammed is Hausa. This is an obvious reference to the tension between tribes. Mohammed calls her a “bush woman” for not wearing a wig. Olanna seems ashamed by her parents when in Kano with her uncle and aunt, “The artificiality of her parents’ relationship always seemed harder, more shaming, when she was here in Kano” (54). The chapter ends with Olanna trying to deal with Miss Adebayo who treats her as unintelligent despite her Master’s degree and stating that she does not want to marry Odenigbo for fear that it might ruin their relationship.

Repeating Issues:

  • Hausa and Igbo tension
  • References to class (color of teeth)
  • Constant sexuality

Discussion questions:

  • What is the significance of changing narrators with each chapter? How do the viewpoints of Ugwu and Olanna differ?
  • What does Adichie achieve through the rampant use of sexuality? Is Olanna an over-sexualized character?
  • What is the importance of Olanna’s negative view on marriage? What about defying her parents?
  • Despite her “Englishness” Olanna feels more at home with her aunt and uncle who speak Hausa and Yoruba, how is this different or similar to the characters we have experiences in Nervous Conditions?
  • Why do you think there is a constant distinction between class?