‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ centers on themes related to war, politics, and how the conflict in African countries affected their overall development. The novel also described the role of the western world in shaping the outcome of the historical Biafran war.
War and Politics
The civil war of Nigeria lasted for three years and claimed the lives of millions of people. The story of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ shows how the marginalization of Nigeria led to the civil war. At the beginning of the novel, there was disunity between the northern and eastern people of the country. The north and east had separate political agendas, which created more hatred between them.
The political tension resulted in a coup, which everyone soon believed to be the work of the easterners. The coup fueled intense hatred for the easterners, and after it failed, there was a massacre, which led to the death of thousands of Igbos. The political instability of Nigeria set the stage for disaster, and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ portrayed how the political tension led to a war that claimed many lives. ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ explored many hidden aspects of the civil war as the book made its characters‘ lives an open book.
The Identity of Nigeria Post Colonial Era
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ shows an image of what Nigeria was before the civil war. As a new country with great potential, prosperity rocked the nation and people in its early years. However, the book exploited a weakness in the country and showed how that weakness divided the people; that weakness was identity.
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ showed that Nigeria never had an identity after gaining independence. Rather than the projected unity everyone believed, there was a lack of identity among the people and the leaders themselves. This lack of a unified identity would be what led the easterners to feel left out of the country’s politics, and this same feeling would be what made the northerners come to despise the easterners. ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ showed that hatred was not the only cause of the civil war, but the lack of identity post-colonial era was a huge factor.
Pain and Regret
As a primary theme, pain defined the emotionality of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun.’ From the book’s beginning, Odenigbo felt pained by the unfairness in Nigeria’s politics. He showed his bitterness by telling Ugwu there were two sides to the story of Nigeria, the generally accepted story and the actual story, which created a division between the north and east. However, Odenigbo was not the only one to feel pain. Everyone passed through pain and suffering that was too much to bear.
Kainene discovered her lover slept with her sister; Olanna found out that her man slept with a village girl; Richard realized Kainene was never coming back; Odenigbo lost his mother and friend, and Ugwu discovered his sister got gang-raped. Following the pain was a deep feeling of regret. Ugwu felt regretful as he remembered what happened with the bar girl. Olanna regretted her actions and the same for Richard. Though they felt pain and experienced suffering, every character tried to fight the pain.
The Westerner and Post-Colonial Nigeria
The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie referenced the influence the western world had on Nigeria after its independence. However, an integral element expressed in the novel was the role British citizens played in the war. Richard was a British national who loved Igbo art and dreamt of becoming a writer who told the story of the Igbos.
However, Richard got thrown into a war fought by the east and the rest of the country. Desperately trying to show the world the truth of Biafra, Richard tried writing two books, one being about the Biafran war and the other being about art. He fails to complete both books but successfully writes about the civil war to the western press. Richard’s character was a way of showing that no one could tell the story of Africa better than Africans who faced suffering firsthand, according to Chimamanda. His character also described the influence of western country nationals on the civil war.
Women Empowerment and Marriage
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ showed women determined to fight against all the obstacles that came their way. Olanna got betrayed by Odenigbo, who got Amala pregnant, and unable to handle the pain, she left for Kano to see her aunt, who stated as quoted below:
You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Your life belongs to you and you alone.
The statement made by Olanna’s aunt showed how strong women should be even in the face of problematic situations. It tells women to be more self-determined and to show the world they do not bow to anyone. Kainene was the epitome of self-empowerment as she handled her father’s company with resourcefulness and brilliance and showed that a woman is just as capable as a man.
Analysis of Key Events
- Ugwu moves into Odenigbo’s house to work as a houseboy.
- Olanna decides to move to Nnsuka, where she moves in with her lover, Odenigbo.
- Richard meets Kainene, Olanna’s sister, and leaves his girlfriend, Susan.
- Kainene leaves Lagos for Port Harcourt while Richard leaves for Nnsuka, where he befriends Odenigbo and Olanna.
- Four years later, a coup caused the death of many northern leaders. However, the coup fails, and Gowon becomes head of state.
- Violence erupts in the north, and thousands of Igbos die during the crisis.
- Colonel Ojukwu announces secession and calls all Igbos home, declaring the east a free state called Biafra.
- Odenigbo flees Nnsuka after the Nigerian government declares war on Biafra.
- Olanna and Odenigbo get married. However, an air raid occurs during the reception.
- The story returns to the pre-war era when Odenigbo sleeps with Amala and Olanna finds out.
- Olanna gets drunk and sleeps with Richard. She tells Odenigbo what she did.
- Amala gets pregnant, and Olanna accepts the baby as her own.
- Kainene finds out about Richard and Olanna but does not leave him.
- The story returns to the war period. The Nigerian government places an economic embargo on Biafra, preventing the entry of food.
- Ugwu gets forced into the Biafran army and gets nicknamed the target destroyer.
- Ugwu partakes in raping a bar girl.
- Ugwu is injured during an operation and is thought dead.
- Ugwu gets reunited with Odenigbo and everyone.
- Kainene tries to trade behind enemy lines and disappears.
- Ugwu learns that his sister was gang-raped and ends up writing a book.
Analysis of Symbols
The Biafran flag
Chimamanda’s book, ‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ got named from the symbol on the Biafran flag, which featured a yellow sun over stripes of red, black, and green. The Biafran flag symbolizes hope and a glorious future, and the sun neither rising nor setting on the flag shows how the newly formed nation tried to struggle for its freedom. However, though the flag meant a bright future, it, unfortunately, projected dying hope for both the soldiers of Biafra and the Igbos, who were losing to the Nigerian army.
During the civil war, the Nigerian government placed an economic embargo on the east, which saw a halt to the entry of food and weapons for the Biafran soldiers. However, they still fought with wooden rifles. The wooden rifles symbolize perseverance as the Biafran soldiers fought, knowing they were outmanned and outgunned.
The Girl’s Head in a Calabash
When Olanna traveled to Kano, she witnessed the killing of the Igbos by the Hausas, and though she was able to escape, she lost her aunt. While traveling out of the north, a woman invites the passengers to see the content of her calabash. Olanna looked, and she saw the head of the woman’s daughter. The girl’s head in a calabash symbolizes the horrors and pain of war. Wars bring pain, sorrow, and suffering, and the head in the calabash shows how war destroys everything people love.
Richard was a lover of Igbo-Ukwu art, and his love for Igbo art led him to travel from his country to Nigeria, where he met Kainene and befriended Odenigbo and Olanna. Before coming to Nigeria, Richard was intrigued by an image of roped pots that featured complex metalworking and showed how intellectual the Igbos were. The roped pots symbolized the Igbo intellect and Richard’s love for Igbo-Ukwu art and its people.
What are the main themes in Half of a Yellow Sun?
The main themes in ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ are war, violence, and politics.
What does the Biafran flag symbolize?
Each feature on the Biafran flag symbolizes a key detail important to the Igbo people. The red color symbolizes the blood of Igbo people slain during the ethnic-related violence of 1966, the black color symbolizes mourning for the people who died during the war, the yellow sun symbolizes a glorious future, and the green symbolizes prosperity.
What happens at the end of Half of a Yellow Sun?
In the end, Biafra loses the war and gets reunified with Nigeria.