Full Summary and Analysis of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun

This is a full summary and analysis of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Half of a Yellow Sun is considered one of the greatest contemporary African Anglophone texts. It follows the tragic story of characters living in Nigeria of the 60’s; just right after the country gained independence, narrated from the points of view of three characters: Ugwu, Olanna and Richard.

Background Summary of Half of a Yellow Sun

In the text, there seems to be no central characters really; instead the author creates a situation where all the characters are unique on their own and have their various perspectives on the events of the text. The three narrators are aptly chosen to critically examine the tragedy in the text. They are chosen from different economic classes, language and culture. Ugwu is from a poor home and is a semi-literate Igbo who sees the text through the eyes of his class. Richard is a middle-class foreigner who sees the tragedy in the text through the eyes of a bewildered stranger and foreigner. Richard is also used in the text to portray or connect to the British–the colonizers of the dysfunctional Nigeria. Olanna is an elite Igbo who sees the tragedy in the text from the angle of an aloof elite.

At the period/time this novel is set–between 1961 – 1970–, Nigeria experienced a civil war that is often considered the bloodiest and the most devastating civil war in Africa till date. Nigeria, newly independent, suffered from a whole lot of crises caused by the corruption inherited from the British and the ethnic favoritism and discrimination and envy among the ethnic groups. This matter worsened after the country’s independence, and while some of these Nigerians thought independence would alleviate their suffering and unite them; it worsened their suffering and further divided them.

The British are well-known for their divide-and-rule antics. They get into their colonies, and bring them together. When the citizens of these colonies are brought together, instead of uniting them, the British set on the task of running and planning on how to divide them for easy rule and administration. These people who may have traded and interacted among themselves begin to consider themselves as different people. It has repeatedly been called divide-and-rule style by scholars.

Thus, this is the same tactics that was applied by the British in the administration of Nigeria. Due to the nature of the stubbornness and the highly democratic standing of the Igbo, the British resented the Igbo, because most Igbo opposed their colonial rule over Nigeria and organized one of the longest anti-colonial war (the Ekumeku War) against the British in Nigeria. Therefore, it was pretty easy for the British to create enmity between Igbo and other tribes in Nigeria.

The Igbo with their high tendency for success and wealth acquisition and their braggadocio nature easily created enmity for themselves. Other tribes began to detest them. The hatred or dislike increased and fully showcased itself during the first coup, which was later tagged Igbo coup, and the second one seen as a counter coup against the first Igbo coup. The second coup resulted in the progrom of the Igbo in Northern Nigeria and then the civl war that caused the Biafran State the lives of over 2 million people, mainly children and women and the elderly.  

Summary and Analysis of the Events of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun starts as Ugwu is taken to Odenigbo to begin working for him as his house boy/servant in the newly established University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ugwu’s character development begins as one who is naive and ignorant of the processes of living in a modern environment. So, he takes a while before he becomes accustomed to staying in a modern environment–Odenigbo’s house, the university environment and Nsukka town.

Soon enough, Olanna, Odenigbo’s mistress is introduced. Odenigbo, who is a HOT senior lecturer with lots of hair and muscles in the university, falls in love with Olanna. Olanna is a beautiful, kind and intelligent young woman who acquired university degrees in the UK. They love themselves too much, but their love for each other encounters a lot of hassles and test–first their parents do not support their union, then Odenigbo sleeps with his house girl and impregnates her, Olanna sleeps with Richard, and the war devastates them, taking and testing most of the love that held them together.

Richard is also introduced at the beginning of the novel as having migrated from his middle-class home in the UK to Nigeria. He runs away from many things he is familiar with at home and decides to spend a good time in Nigeria discovering himself. However, his experience in Nigeria doesn’t turn out well as he gets into a rough friendship with Susan before he discovers Kainene, Olanna’s sister, and falls in love with her. The love is also tested as he cheats on Kainene with her sister, Olanna. The war equally makes him suffer.

Richard, Ugwu, Olanna and Odenigbo are all in the university town of Nsukka while Kainene is in Port Harcourt, their parents in Lagos and their relatives in the North when the whole crisis of the country and the novel begins. First, a coup (later tagged Igbo coup) comes up. The people are glad that an end to the corruption in the government has stopped. Then, the North seeing it as Igbo coup retaliates and executes a counter coup, after the counter coup comes the progrom leading to the civil war. In the progrom, Olanna and Kainene lose their relatives in the North.

These characters, like the short-lived country and other characters in the text, are not prepared for the war. Even though they are jubilant and somewhat defiant of the Federal Government’s ploy to make them continue remaining in Nigeria, and that they are buoyed by the massacre of their relatives, does not stop the carnage the war brought upon them. In the war, there were also cases of inhumane treatment, brutality, rape, murder, starvation, malnutrition, and the Biafran people still insisted on continuing the path to the succession and the war.  

The Nigerian/Biafran Civil War is very tragic for the people of former Eastern Nigeria as represented in the novel. Nigeria choose hunger as weapon of war and Biafran people starve to death, especially the children and the elderly. Kainene runs a refugee camp and it is through this camp the readers see the tragedy of the war.

The main characters of the novel are not exempted as hunger, violence, bombing, constant moving and loss of lives and properties ravage their lives in the war. Odenigbo loses his mother and becomes a different person entirely. He takes to drinking cheap gin and drifts away from the love he shares with Olanna. Ugwu regrets what they have lost and develops high sexual interest in girls Ugwu is conscripted in Biafran Army and badly wounded.

Richard works as a freelance journalist for the course of Biafra during the war, achieving, albeit briefly, what he had always wanted to be–a successful and well-read writer. This does not last, though, as he loses his status after the war. Kainene and Olanna discover that in the war, they are no longer elites as they become middle-class and are hard-hit by the tragedy of the war like other regular people. The war touches and changes every character’s life in the novel.

Towards the end of the war, Kainene goes for Afia attack and never returns. Thus, the pain of the disappearance of Kainene is felt by 80% of the readers of the novel even though her character isn’t that well liked. The other characters are all devastated about her disappearance, especially Richard and Olanna. At the end, they do all they can to find her, but it’s to no avail.

As the novel comes to a close, Olanna realizes she suffered a lot in the cold hand of the war, losing her relatives, her savings in Lagos and in the East, and the her sister. She ends the novel with “uwa m uwa ozo. Kainene will always be my sister,” with tears in her eyes.

Characters in Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun

  1. Olanna – Odenigbo’s mistress and later wife. Kainene’s sister. A lecturer in the newly established University of Nigeria.
  • Odenigbo – Olanna’s lover and later Husband. A lecturer in the newly established University of Nigeria.
  • Richard – A Brit. Kainene’s lover. An upcoming writer and journalist resident in Nsukka before the war.
  • Kainene – Richard’s lover. Olanna’s sister. Businesswoman and philanthropist.
  • Ugwu – Odenigbo’s servant/house boy.
  • Chief & Mrs Ozobia: The parents of Olanna and Kainene.
  • Okeoma – A prominent poet resident in Nsukka before the war. He is Odenigbo’s good friend. He dies as a soldier fighting for the Biafran side.
  • Ms. Adebayo: Odenigbo’s friend and a lecturer at Nsukka. She loves argument.
  • Eberechi: Ugwu’s girlfriend. She loses her live in the war.
  1. Mama: Odenigbo’s beloved mother. She dies during the war.
  1. Anulika: Ugwu’s smart sister. She and Ugwu cherish each other very much and tell themselves dirty secret. She is raped during the war.
  1. Aunty Ifeka: Olanna’s and Kainene’s beloved aunt.

Setting of Half of a Yellow Sun

It is set in Nigeria right after independence, between 1962 – 1970. War takes place within this period, 1967 – 1970. It is set mainly in Nsukka, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Umuahia parts of Nigeria.

Summary of Themes in Half of a Yellow Sun

  1. Theme of Love and Betrayal: The characters are in a great love entaglement; Odenigbo loves Olanna, Richard loves Kainene, even Richard fancies Olanna. This leads to the sex they had that made Richard cheat on Kainene. Before Kainene forgave this, it was late.
  • Theme of Conflict/War: The misunderstanding between the ethnic groups leads to the conflict in the text which results to violence and even a full-blown war.
  • Theme of Sexual Abuse: In the novel, especially during the war, women are sexually abused. Ugwu’s sister is abused and Ugwu also partakes in abusing another girl.

The Language/Style of the Novel

The language and diction is easy. It follows and is easily understood. There is use of third-person-narrative technique.

The plot of the novel is episodic.

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