Before there is love, there is the preliminary stage of infatuation. It is in this stage where attraction and affection are first carved out between two people, as they navigate these feelings both together and as individuals. In Chapter Three of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, readers are introduced to this stage of infatuation and navigation within the budding romance between protagonists Richard Churchill and Kainene, recalled in the perspective of Richard. Romantic love plays a vital role in the dynamics between several of the novel’s characters, however, it is Richard’s recollection and interpretation of his early stages of love with Kainene that stand out in its unmistakable intensity.
Meeting for the first time at another nondescript cocktail party they were both brought to- Richard by his cavalier girlfriend Susan, Kainene by her enterprising father Chief Ozobia- they share a brief moment of connection. Following this brief meeting at the party, the two transition towards regularly meeting in a private suite of a hotel owned by Kainene’s father. And it is Richard’s experience of these private meetings that resonated particularly with me, as their dynamic seems to be completely established after only a few meetings. “Her silences were brooding, insular, and yet he felt a connection to her,” the passage reads, “Perhaps it was because she was distant and withdrawn. He found himself talking in a way he usually didn’t,” (Adichie 78) Initially, we are given an instance where Kainene’s detachment and indifference from others isolates the people around her, as viewed through the eyes of her twin sister, Olanna. However, for Richard, Kainene’s disposition is something he connects to and is animated by, allowing him to change. Yet it is the lack of change in Kainene’s disposition that highlights the lack of balance between the two, and makes Richard’s infatuation appear all the more intense and engulfing.
To illustrate Richard’s perspective more effectively, Adichie employs two literary devices following the quote from above. The first is an example of hyperbole and continues, “and when their time ended and she got up, often to join her father at a meeting, he felt his feet thicken with curdled blood,” (Adichie 78) This sentence evokes a sense of dread from the reader, as Richard’s emotional state catalyzes into this description of his physical state. There is the automatic association between Kainene’s departure and a feeling of being immobilized by dread at this. The image of Richard’s feet being thickened with blood is a grim, dramatic one, with ‘curdled blood’ sticking out in its extreme usage in a passage that has been relatively composed until this point. Through Richard’s physical state seeming to reflect his emotional state, however, we begin to understand his increasing dependence on Kainene, as he is both upset and physically feels like he cannot move his feet when it is time to leave their meetings. Soon, Richard reveals another layer to his infatuation with Kainene as he becomes absorbed in their meetings.
Through the specific diction chosen to describe Richard’s changing relationship with Susan, readers can begin to see how Richard’s meetings with Kainene have created a division between his reality with Susan. “He did not understand why Susan suspected nothing,” Richard continues to reflect, “why she could not simply look at him and tell how different he felt, why she did not even notice that he splashed on more aftershave now,” (Adichie 78) Previously, Richard indifferently notes his status as an outsider and keeping his emotions on the inside, but here, he appears to be perplexed when Susan does not notice his transformation since meeting Kainene. The specific words Richard uses to explain his confusion, however, only raises suspicion on his own mental state. He expects Susan to simply ‘look at him’ and smell that he has put on ‘more aftershave’ and automatically assume how he ‘feels’. However, looking and smellingare two actions that can only be applied to the external, therefore, by using these words in conjunction with an internal action, feeling, Richard contradicts himself. His infatuation with Kainene has led him to know a transformation has occurred within himself, however his investment in this transformation and in Kainene cloud his perception of how the rest of the world interprets this transformation. And as shown by Susan, they can’t interpret something that occurs within the mind of someone else, no matter how different they think they look or smell. Through Richard’s interactions with Kainene, he assumes his exterior reflects his interior, highlighting the general way this dynamic has absorbed him to the point that he does not understand other perspectives. His consciousness is suspended in a dream-like state, focusing on their private suite, his memories of Kainene, and his inner self. This, in conjunction with his dependence on Kainene already established, illustrates Richard’s absorption into their relationship. As the novel progresses, we see how this dynamic allows Richard to transform into a more established ‘man’. However, it is important to note that a transformation of this nature does not occur within Kainene. It highlights the imbalance in their relationship, and almost makes Kainene a method for Richard’s personal growth, rather than an individual he’s come to love over time. And this imbalance, while mainly innocent in this passage, sees itself transform into tension between the two as the novel progresses.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. p. 78