Each of the three narrations, Ugwu, Olanna, and Richard, has its own significance to the story.
Ugwu’s Narration: During Ugwu’s portion of the story we see him go through many sets of changes. At first he is moved to a new place with Odenigbo. Once he gets used to it there he is forced into change again when Olanna moves in. In the very beginning of Part Two Ugwu is back home at his mother’s hut. He talks about how “His mother’s food was unpalatable” and how “He could not wait to get back to Nsukka and finally eat a real meal.” He has become so used to his new lifestyle that going back to his old lifestyle is difficult. In Chapter 15 Ugwu understands that “Change was hurtling towards him, bearing down on him, and there was nothing he could do to make it slow down” (Beginning of Chpt 15). Ugwu’s narration shows the changes in his life as a result of the war and the changes in his life through maturity and through the progression of his sexual desires.
What else could Ugwu exemplify in the story?
Olanna’s Narration: Olanna’s narration often brings up unity or questions unity. At the beginning of Chapter 13 Odenigbo states, “Gowon himself has said that a basis of unity does not exist” and if “Gowon wanted to keep this country united, he would have done something a long time ago.” Towards the end of Chapter 17 Olanna says that “mass movements always made her feel empowered, the though that for a thin slice of time all these people were united by a single possibility”. It appears that the war also unites Olanna and Odenigbo in marriage.
Odenigbo often speaks as the “voice of reason” during many times in this section. Odenigbo argues with Miss Adebayo and explains, “You’re going back to your people in Lagos next week and nobody will harass you for being Yoruba. Is it not your own people who are killing the Igbo in Lagos?” When she becomes insulted he replies, “The truth has become an insult” (Beginning of Chpt 15). Odenigbo also gets upset with Olanna when she ackowledges how upset Mohammed must be. He replies, “What the matter is that you are saying that a bloody Muslim Hausa man is upset! He is complicit, absolutely complicit, in everything that happened to our people, so how can you say he is upset?” (End of chapter 17) After scenes like this where it’s as if Odenigbo puts people in their place, Olanna always appears to override his opinion and force him into an apology.
Are we supposed to see one as right or wrong? Is one rational or irrational?
Richard’s Narration: Richard is often seen as a very weak and insecure character. He constantly questions himself with Kainene and questions Kainene with Madu. Are we supposed to see Richard’s desire to be Biafran as his insecure nature showing and his desire to be a part of something? Or is his desire justifiable? “He would be Biafran in a way he could never have been Nigerian – he was here at the beginning; he had shared the birth. He would belong” (Mid Chpt 14).
Richard is also the narration of the “other” in the novel since he is from London and he is white. During Richard’s narration he further separates himself by saying things such as “life continued to hurtle on here in the normal way that it always had, as if nothing was happening in Kano” (Middle of Chapter 12). It frightened Richard that “he slept well at nights.” He states, “I’m still going on. Life is the same. I should be reacting; things should be different” (Middle of Chpt 14). “The massacres became external, outside of him; he had watched them through the detached lens of knowing he was safe” (Mid Chpt 14). Richard does not share the same pain as someone like Olanna who also witnessed murders take place.
Susan is also only featured in Richard’s narration and is the perfect example of ignorance in the novel. Susan makes comments that Richard often shakes his head at or has rude reactions to. Towards the end of Chapter 12 Susan states that the Igbo people are “relatively uncivilized; one couldn’t compare them to the Yoruba, for example, who have had contact with Europeans on the coast for years.” Susan also states, “It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, how these people can’t control their hatred of each other. Civilization teaches you control” (End of Chpt 12). When Susan is speaking to Richard she also refers to her people as “our people” and the Igbo people as “those people” or “they.” She tells Richard, “These people have no sense of peace, They’d sooner fight until the last man is down” (Mid Chpt16).
Richard’s role appears to be a little less distinct or obvious than Ugwu’s and Olanna’s. What exactly is Richard’s narration supposed to say about the novel as a whole? What does his narration contribute to the understanding of the novel?
Media has a role in part of the novel as well. Not only from the British point of view, but also from the Biafran point of view. Media really gets inside everyone’s heads and is constantly questioned and contested. The Taxi driver states, “There is nothing that they are not saying” (Beginning of Chpt 8). Odenigbo states, “The news was unreal, functioning only as fodder for the evening talk” (End of Chpt 8). “All everybody was saying was second coup, second coup. Even Radio Kaduna and the New Nigerian” (Middle of Chpt 9) to which Madu replies, “What does the press know, really?” Characters are repeatedly put in positions where one believes the media true and the other does not. There is also a very clear distinction between the news by the British and that of the Nigerian or Biafran. At one point the British Radio was on but the Nigerian Radio wasn’t saying anything. There are also many examples of made up media or framed media. ” ‘Ancient tribal hatreds’, the Herald wrote, was the reason for the massacres” and “Time magazine titled its piece MAN MUST WHACK” (Beginning of Chpt 14). Richard then explains that whack meant eat.
How does media play into the action of the novel? Does it help it progress or digress?