Half of a Yellow Sun Discussion Questions

1) What significance is there to Odenigbo’s code switching? (Code switching is the act of actively dipping in and out of two languages that a user is fluent in, in this case English and Igbo) Ugwu describes Odenigbo’s speech almost entirely in terms of how it relates to his English usage. Are we seeing a deeply ingrained sense of English superiority here, or is Ugwu simply reacting positively to a man he deems to be educated? Are the words and phrases that Odenigbo uses in English chosen arbitrarily, or are they purposeful and meaningful?

2) Ugwu’s servitude to Odenigbo is one of the unaddressed ironies in the book. Whereas Odenigbo asks “How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to understand exploitation?” (13), he and his colleagues actively exploit the uneducated class of Nigeria in the form of “house boys”. Is this system just? Odenigbo treats Ugwu well, but we hear stories of (and see an example in Amala later) of house boys being treated poorly. The very title “house boy”, especially being applied to grown men, is demeaning. Are we seeing an example of human nature in the stratification of Nigerian society, or is this another influence of colonialism?

3) The porter, in the very beginning pages of Chapter 2, after finding out that Olanna is Chief Ozobia’s daughter, congratulates her by saying “Well done, madam.” What does he mean? Is he congratulating her on her marriage honestly, or does it take on a shallower tone, as if he assumes her marriage to Odenigbo was merely a means of moving up the social ladder? Could her marriage even be described in terms of moving “up” a ladder?


4) Kainene is described as being “the one who, because she did not try to please their parents, left Olanna with that duty.” She herself mentions that “The benefit of being the ugly daughter is that nobody uses you as sex bait” (44-45) Olanna then laments the mysterious rift that seems to have formed between the two sisters. Why, indeed, does it seem that this rift has formed? Olanna portrays herself as someone in constant opposition to her parents, just as Kainene is, so could it be common jealousy? However, Olanna’s resistance to their parents’ wishes has always seemed rather subtle, whereas Kainene’s has been more direct. Is Kainene perhaps disappointed that her sister is so unwilling to stand up for herself?