This section of the novel seems much more politically charged than the first section. The Southerners have now succeeded and created Biafra, and war is looming, with the Igbo people being targeted as infidels. I chose to focus my reading of this section on Olanna and her development. By my reading, Olanna seems to be a possible representation of the Western point of view. She is Igbo/Biafran, but she also has been raised in a Westernized environment. Olanna has had an English education, speaks English (along with many other Romance languages) fluently, and has lived with relative wealth her entire life. She sees the unfairness that runs rampant throughout Nigeria, and she empathizes. However, her elite upbringing makes it difficult for her to truly grasp the seriousness of Nigeria’s political situation.
Olanna vists Arize and her family in their village. Her daughter Baby plays with the village children, and “Olanna did not want Baby to touch those children in their torn clothes, milky mucus trailing from their noses, but she didn’t say so; it shamed her that she felt that way” (162). Here Olanna is demonstrating her inner struggle with her elitist upbringing and her want for social change. Olanna does not want to mingle her own daughter with these “dirty” village children, but she also recognizes that this is not an appropriate feeling for a revolutionary’s (Odenigbo) partner to have. In this scene it is possible to view Olanna as a representation of the Western missionary. She sees that change is necessary but is hindered by her English lifestyle.
Olanna’s English-influenced life could also account for her apparent political naivete. This can be seen in Chapter 11, when Olanna is visiting Mohammed. The people begin to riot, and Olanna thinks, “Muslim students were always demonstrating about one thing or the other, after all, and harassing people who were Western-dressed, but they always dispersed quickly enough.” (184) Olanna is very quick to assume the riots are being caused by Muslim people, and she also is quick to assume that all Muslim students harass Western-dressed people. Olanna seems to have a very narrow political scope considering she is Odenigbo’s girlfriend, Odenigbo being the pro-succession professor that he is. Olanna being politically naive may be a jab at Western missionaries, if she is in fact a representative of this class of individuals. It could be argued that many Western missionaries do not truly understand what is happening with the native people; even though the missionaries attempt to sympathize with the natives, they still retain their “Western-ness.”
Olanna does develop some during this part of the novel. After seeing her dead relatives, Olanna’s eyes are opened to the severity of the Igbo’s situation in Nigeria/Biafra. On the train leaving the North, Olanna’s “eyes burned. She felt as if there were a mixture of peppers and sand inside them, pricking and burning her lids. It was agony to blink, agony to keep them closed, agony to leave them open. She wanted to rip them out.” (187) Her eyes are quite literally burning from the sight of her dead relatives and those on the train. They are also literally burning from the different aromas that surely fill the train’s cabin. This scene may also suggest a figurative burning. Olanna now realizes how serious things have become in Nigeria/Biafra, and this knowledge is painful, both physically and mentally.
Although Olanna becomes more politically aware during Part II, it seems that she still has an elitist mindset, at least where Baby is concerned. In Chapter 17 Olanna goes with Odenigbo to his home village, and Olanna worries that Baby is being given dirty fish by her grandmother (230) and that Baby does not have “the right kind of children to play with” (232). This and the above passages have left me with the following questions:
1) Is Olanna a representation of Western missionaries? If not, what does she represent, or does she not represent anything?
2) Why does Olanna continually adopt an elitist attitude toward Baby’s surroundings, even after the shock of seeing her dead relatives and having the war brought close to home? Is she just a protective mother, or does her elitist attitude stem from her own upbringing?
3) Could Olanna’s political “awakening” cause her to have an inner struggle similar to that of Tambu and Nyasha in Nervous Conditions?