Old vs New

In Chimamanda Ngozi’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun, there is a lot of critique of high-class people, both native to Nigera and Britain. Throughout most of chapter 2, it would seem as though Olanna has a bit of a tense relationship with almost every character that is well-off or has some form of high status. Not only does she make it known that the people who serve them should be treated with basic human decency, but she also finds the people her family interact with to be insincere or selfish.

However, in chapter 4 this changes a bit, as she is the one on the other side of the tension when it comes to disliking the upper class. When Odenigbo’s mother—who they refer to as “Mama”— comes to visit, she makes her apprehension quite known once Olanna steps up to hug her. But before this even occurs, the audience is given a bit of an indication as to how she feels about the idea of being upper-class at all. Ugwu notices how she wears her dress like “she did not believe she was no longer poor” (94), and how she mentions that her and Amala are just “village people who only use firewood” (95). She even comments on how her son “wastes money” when she sees all the things laid out in the kitchen to use. Her constant reaffirmation that she is still a humble village woman contests with her view of Olanna. Not only does she not return Olanna hug as she comes in to greet them, but she also has her back turned to her during most of their exchange of words. Olanna still tries to get Odenigbo’s mother to warm up to her, and offers some type of assistance in the kitchen. However, Mama immediately brings up the fact that Olanna did not nurse from her mother—thus referring to her as a witch. This clearly upsets and confuses Olanna because she does not respond right away, leaving Mama to continue on about her not being able to trick her son, and how she should tell her other witch friends to leave him alone. Olanna ends up leaving to her own flat, which satisfies Mama as she reveals the reason of her coming, claiming that “they said she is controlling my son” (97).

The scene where they interact leans a bit on the archetype and characterization of both Mama and Olanna, and serves to highlight the tension between the two. For instance, when Mama is described by Ugwu as a woman who dressed as if she wasn’t sure of her status, it is the first hint we get that she is clearly not used to having things done for her, and her characterization is that of a strong, independent village woman, setting her apart from Olanna, who is then made to be the “insecure house wife” when the mother comes to visit and takes over the kitchen fairly quickly. The tension between the two becomes greater when Mama’s character makes comments on Olanna being a witch, and singing church songs in spite. She does not want Olanna to call her Mama, and instead wants her to “just leave [her] son alone”, going on to yell to the neighbors saying “there is a witch in my son’s house” (97). Again, with her archetype and characterization making her out to be this village woman who is still stuck in the past, she is a clear foil from Olanna, who’s character is educated and modern.

 

B4

 

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006

The Language of Belonging

The need to belong, and be part of an “in” group, is something every person has felt. This longing becomes complicated when the power dynamics of empires and social hierarchies come into play. The relationship between former colonizers and the formerly colonized during the 20th century demonstrates this nuances and difficulties of this desire.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), follows the experiences of a young houseboy adjusting to University life after leaving a rural village, his master’s lover who becomes a sociology lecturer at the University of Nsukka, and her twin sister’s lover, an English writer who moves to Nigeria to learn about Igbo-Ukwu art. Throughout the chapters that center on Richard, the Englishman living and writing at the University of Nsukka, the narrator emphasizes the tension between him and Major Madu Madu, a close friend of his lover, Kainene. The tension between Richard and Madu finds equilibrium as the two battle over their opposing identities.

During their conversation on whether or not a second coup is probable at Kainene’s parents’ home in Lagos, the two men engage in a linguistic battle of sorts. Richard responds to Major Madu’s denial by saying: “I went to Zaria last week, and it seemed that all everybody was saying was second coup, second coup. Even radio Kaduna and the New Nigerian” (Adichie, 172). It is important to note that Richard said this in Igbo, to which Major Madu responded: “What doe the press know, really?” in English (Adichie 172). Richard believes that Madu responds to his Igbo in English in order to force the conversation back into English (Adichie, 172). This choice in dialogue, happening across languages, highlights a social interaction that places Madu firmly within the “in” group and Richard firmly outside of it. This shift, in which Madu refuses to engage in his own language with the foreigner—who is able to move to Nigeria as a result of his country’s conquest and destruction of the region—forces Richard to revert to the language of a colonizer.

The allusions in this passage to the media also underline the tension between the men. Richard is an academic, who believes in ideological debate and the importance of information. By mentioning “radio Kaduna” and “the New Nigerian,” Richard is presenting his sources. He makes an argument based on media-supported reports and statements. These specific sources also demonstrate Richard’s desire to integrate fully into Nigeria and Igbo culture, because he is using local sources, instead of the “Colonies Magazine” which offered his first look into Igbo art and culture. Madu, on the other hand, dismisses the media due to his position in the army. He knows that there is information that the press does not know, and understands that the press is looking for stories and therefore capitalizing on the tension that he claims has always been present.

This scene is punctuated with a letter from Richard’s cousin, following the outbreak of the second coup. The passage begins with: “Is “going native” still used? I always knew you would!” (Adichie 172). The narrator makes note that “Martin had… that superior smile of people who were born to belong and excel” (Adichie, 173). This passage highlights the condescension of the British towards the Igbo in Nigeria, but also establishes that Martin—the image of the British “in” group—does not believe that Richard ever belonged to the English as it was. Therefore the writer navigates his interactions with Madu with the understanding that his own nationality does not uphold his English-ness.

 

B4

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Anchor Books, Random House, Inc, 2006.

Language as Beautiful as Magic

Sometimes meeting a new person is so unexpected that you don’t know how to react. You may be at a loss of words or find it extremely difficult to stop staring at your new acquaintance due to surprise, infatuation, or some other intense emotion. It’s as if your body is temporarily unable to function properly. Ugwu’s first meeting with Olanna in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is one that yields such a result: he is spellbound by her manner of speaking because he has never heard such beautiful English before.

Prior to moving in with Odenigbo, an eccentric university professor, Ugwu has limited experiences with the English language as he had to drop out of school to work on his family’s farm in a small rural village. But once he moves to the town of Nsukka as a houseboy, Ugwu rapidly improves his English, observing Odenigbo and his frequent party guests, who all converse in English. This habit of making mental notes about a person’s skill in speaking English becomes a prominent trait of Ugwu’s character, so it is no surprise that this action is exhibited when he meets Olanna, Odenigbo’s lover. And when Ugwu hears her voice for the first time, his view of the English language is changed forever: “He stood still. He had always thought that Master’s English could not be compared to anybody’s…Master’s English was music, but what Ugwu was hearing now, from this woman, was magic. Here was a superior tongue, a luminous language…it reminded him of slicing a yam with a newly sharpened knife, the easy perfection in every slice” (Adichie 27 – 28).

This first interaction between these two characters is the beginning of a friendship full of affection, learning, and trust. Ugwu’s initial impression of Olanna is one of admiration and fascination, as he finds her voice and command of language to be so lovely that he calls it “magic.” This is an example of metaphor since Ugwu compares Olanna’s style of speaking to magic, a concept that is not related to English, but shares the characteristic of being captivating. By labeling her voice as “magic,” Ugwu is emphasizing how charmed he is by Olanna’s voice and speaking abilities. Furthermore, there is the comparison of Olanna to Odenigbo: while Odenigbo’s voice is “music,” it cannot be compared to something as fantastical, otherworldly, and intriguing as “magic.” Ugwu even states that she has “a superior tongue” and speaks “a luminous language,” highlighting the amount of distance there is between the qualities of their voices.

https://goo.gl/images/RYBLMd

The other literary device that is present in this passage is analogy. This is shown when Ugwu compares the smooth flow of Olanna’s voice to the ease of slicing a yam with a new knife. Instead of simply stating how pleasant Olanna’s voice is, Ugwu goes into great detail by transforming the experience of listening to something completely different: food preparation. However, this is a familiar activity to Ugwu, which is why he made such a comparison. By doing so, it is easier for us readers to fully understand the level of satisfaction Ugwu feels when he hears Olanna speak English. Thus, these two literary devices work well together because of their similarities. Metaphor is closely related to analogy since both devices create comparisons to highlight a concept, such as Olanna’s English being compared to magic and easy yam slicing to show how enticing and pleasant her voice is.

These descriptions of Olanna by Ugwu are significant because they provide insight on the relationship between the two characters. The metaphoric and analogical language used to describe Olanna’s English shows how much Ugwu respects and admires her because his observations are full of praise. As the story progresses, we see Olanna noticing his affection and the shyness that he feels when around her. She also realizes how much he wants to speak English to her: “He always responded in English to her Igbo, as if he saw speaking Igbo to him as an insult that he had to defend himself against by insistently speaking English” (Adichie 59). Though it seems as if Ugwu is jealous of Olanna, this is just proof of how highly he regards her English abilities and how much he wants to improve and sound like her, demonstrating the power of language as a way for these two characters to learn how to appreciate and respect one another.

B4

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. Anchor Books, 2007.

Power and Resistance in Conflict and Self-Reflection

The ideal female is meant to be quiet, unassuming, but pretty to look at. The ideal female does not ask questions, will not demand attention, and most importantly succumbs to the will of men. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, the idea of the content, unquestioning female is demonstrated to be a completely unreal concept through the character of Olanna who initially embodies the entire notion of the 1960’s ideal female. Indeed, to characters of a lesser social status like Ugwu, Olanna is powerful through status, beauty, and articulate eloquence. However, to characters of equal or higher status, even despite her extensive education, Olanna is simply just “illogically pretty” (Adichie 65). This is particularly evident in her relationship with Odenigbo—an outspoken professor who often talks of the necessity for revolution and change in Nigeria. Their relationship appears to be one of the stereotypical dominant male and complacently dependent female, but this dynamic changes in circumstances of conflict, which allow Olanna to find her voice and question power dynamics within their relationship.

Whereas we never really get Odenigbo’s perspective, the dependence Olanna has on Odenigbo and the control he has over her is plain. It is not until another woman, however, enters into their ‘bliss’ that Olanna gains a little independence and sees the reality of her situation. When Odenigbo’s mother enters the couple’s home and proceeds to taunt Olanna by calling her a ‘witch’, this prompts Olanna to take action and leave. Yet, it is the betrayal caused by Odenigbo because he chooses to go home instead of searching for Olanna, that ignites Olanna’s self-assertion that was otherwise lacking. In this conflict, Olanna admits to her inferiority by thinking to herself that Odenigbo made her “feel small and absurdly petulant … She wished … she could love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying; need was the choicelessness she often felt around him” (Adichie 128). Thus, it is only through conflict that Olanna is able to admit that despite Odenigbo’s unquestioningly formidable character, she gives him more power by succumbing to him and his every wish.

Her interior voice grows stronger and more demanding, however, as the conflict between the couple continues. She gains confidence through her anger in the betrayal until she is finally able to exert power both over herself, and over Odenigbo. For when she very flatly rejects Odenigbo’s attempts to gloss over their problems, Odenigbo is shocked. Olanna continues though, and thinks to herself that

“she would not let him make her feel that something was wrong with her. It was her right to be upset, her right to choose not to brush her humiliation aside in the name of an overexulted intellectualism, and she would claim that right. ‘Go.’ She gestured toward the door. ‘Go and play your tennis and don’t come back here’” (Adichie 129).

In this moment, Olanna is suddenly no longer just “illogically pretty” but has evolved into a self-assertive, and demanding character—she is no longer the ideal female. The very end—her demand “go”—which comes from her intense, interior thought—destroys Odenigbo’s authority over her, while simultaneously giving power to Olanna.

Through intense self-reflection that come about from conflict, Adichie destroys notions of gender and power dynamics. Through the conflict between Odenigbo and Olanna, the inferior—Olanna—becomes the superior as she reflects on the relationship. This is reiterated in the way we do not see the perspective of Odenigbo, for it gives the entirety of the authority of the conflict to Olanna. The focus on Olanna allows for Adiche to demonstrate how the complacent female is not and cannot be complacent for very long—that complacency is not realistic. This theme of questioning and ultimately resisting power dynamics is thus relatable to the undercurrent of political and social unrest in Nigeria being discussed throughout the novel. Ultimately in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, conflict amongst seemingly inferior and superior characters allows for social constructions to be both revealed and questioned, and for power amongst character to change and balance.

 

Blog Post #4

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half a Yellow Sun. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

Olanna, Miss Adeyebo, and Projected Insecurities

The relationship between Olanna and Miss Adeyebo illuminates Olanna’s trouble balancing different aspects of her own identity. Throughout the novel, descriptions of Olanna indicate her concerns about fitting into Igbo society; she fears seeming uncomfortable, or unnatural around her family in Nigeria. At the same time, she does not feel natural in the University environment among Odenigbo’s friends either. Her insecurities are highlighted specifically in her descriptions of Miss Adebayo, and therefore their relationship is stunted, at least in part by Olanna’s private issues.

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One section of the novel begins with a description of Olanna’s first evening drinking wine and discussing politics with Odenigbo’s friends. Miss Adebayo greets Olanna with the exclamation, “He did not tell us that you were illogically pretty,” then adds “and what a proper English accent” (61). The narrator then explains that (according to Olanna) Miss Adebayo made these statements “with a pitying smile, before turning back to the radiogram” (61). After this specific scene, in which the characters debate philosophy and WWII and the Eichmann trial, Olanna’s narrative shifts into an overview of her developing relationships with Odenigbo’s friends. While she has short comments to make about Dr. Patel and Okeoma, a majority of her thoughts have turned to Miss Adebayo. Olanna explains, “It would have been easier if Miss Adebayo showed jealousy, but it was as if Miss Adebayo thought her to be unworthy of competition, with her unintellectual ways and her too-pretty face and her mimicking-the-oppressor English accent” (64). Olanna believes that Miss Adebayo does not respect her opinions, which makes her doubt the validity of her own opinions: “[Olanna] suspected that there was a glaze of unoriginality to all her ideas” (64). Near the end of the scene, Olanna’s mind races with assumptions: “Perhaps Miss Adebayo could tell, from her face, that she was afraid of things, that she was unsure, that she was not one of those people with no patience for self-doubt” (65). A passage that begins as an explanation of Olanna’s specific relationships with others delves into her own insecurities about herself.

This scene uses an omniscient third-person narrator which gives the readers access solely to Olanna’s thoughts. Olanna’s relationship to Miss Adebayo is defined solely through Olanna’s own perceptions, which hints that their relationship will be strained by Olanna’s insecurities. This illuminates Olanna’s insecurities both through her own direct descriptions of them, and through subtleties in her opinions about Miss Adebayo. For example, the sentence that starts with “It would have been easier if Miss Adebayo showed jealousy” does not explain what exactly would have been easier, but reveals that Olanna does not perceive Miss Adebayo to be jealous. The passage then reveals that “it was as if Miss Adebayo thought her to be unworthy of competition,” then lists three of Olanna’s own insecurities. The “as if” shows that this is Olanna’s assumption about Miss Adebayo, not an actual confirmed opinion.

This section also contains a lot of repetition, which gives a better idea of Olanna’s strained emotional state. For example, the line “her unintellectual ways and her too-pretty face and her mimicking-the-oppressor English accent” is written in a list form, beginning with “her” each time (64). She then repeats “she” when listing “she was afraid of things,” “she was unsure,” and “she was not one of those people” (65). The repetition of “she” and “her” gives a feeling that Olanna’s mind is wandering. She’s flipping through Miss Adebayo’s possible assumptions. This feature works closely with the narrator’s access to Olanna’s mind. The end effect is that Olanna projects her own insecurities onto other people. Although she is speaking about others, the repetition and the third person omniscient narrator (which focuses on Olanna) does not

These characters can therefore not have a real relationship, because Olanna’s opinion of Miss Adebayo is hindered by her own insecurities. Although it could very well be possible that Olanna’s views are correct (Miss Adebayo in all likelihood does leave the room or ignore Olanna’s comments), Olanna’s mind (as revealed through the repetition and the narrator) is concentrated mostly on her own issues, and not on the actual actions of Miss Adebayo. By solely using Olanna’s mindset to illustrate a strained relationship between Miss Adebayo and Olanna, the passage shows how difficult it is to separate another person’s actions from one’s own insecurities.

Works Cited:

Adichie, Chimamanda. Half of a Yellow Sun. Anchor Books, 2006.

Sexual Displeasure and the Strength of the Female

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, published in 2006, is a story that emulates a historic African moment. Adichie creates five characters to demonstrate the intensity of independence and allow the reader to connect with the text. Each character contributes to the many conflicts and tensions within the novel thus far. An overarching tension that Adichie continuously references is the sexual dynamic between man and woman. The relationship between Richard and Kainene specifically illustrates a sexual tension that ultimately challenges traditional definitions of femininity and masculinity.

After meeting at a party, Richard is immediately intrigued by Kainene’s “androgynous” body (Adichie 75). The two characters quickly form a relationship and, subsequently, a sexual one. However, sex does not go so smoothly for Richard and Kainene. Through several reoccurring sexual images, the reader can define the sexual displeasure that causes tension between the characters. Richard is unable to perform properly in bed and becomes ashamed of his body. This embarrassment holds strength over Richard and ultimately gives power to Kainene in the relationship.

It is unclear if Kainene realizes the power she has over Richard, yet the reader can analyze this power through different point of views including Richard’s. The couple’s first sexual encounter caught Richard off guard leaving him with anxiety and an inability to perform. This anxiety follows Richard in his next interaction as he becomes “so terrified of failing her again that seeing himself erect made him deliriously grateful, so grateful that he was only just inside her before he felt that involuntary tremble that he could not stop (Adichie 80). The “involuntary tremble” illustrates the lack of control Richard has when he connects with Kainene. His fear of “failing her” limits his ability to perform and demonstrates the constant anxiety Richard has to please Kainene. Richard’s perspective allows the reader to understand the pressure he experiences to pleasure Kainene as though it is more important than pleasing himself.

Adichie also uses tone to display the consequences of the sexual tension between Richard and Kainene. After Richard fails Kainene again, she suggests there are other ways to make their sexual relationship work. Kainene is unable to look Richard in the eyes as she looks “away as she exhale[s]” (Adichie 85). Her body language becomes distant by looking away as she is unable to connect with Richard in this moment. This angers Richard and causes a “swift surge of irritation, toward himself for being uselessly limp, toward her for that half-mocking smile and for saying there were other ways, as if he was permanently incapable of doing things the traditional way” (Adichie 85). Richard expresses a tone of frustration for both his actions and acknowledging the building tension it is causing between him and Kainene. His frustration stems from his idea of “traditional”. This relationship challenges tradition and redefines the roles of men and women. The tone in which Richard addresses his failure is both anger and confusion about “other ways”.

Together Richard’s point of view and tone work to illustrate the tension between the two characters. The sexual conflict shows Richard’s desire for tradition and Kainene’s acceptance of alternatives. This expands to show Richard’s place in the text as he examines the “traditional” lives of Nigerian people and hopes Africa will inspire his writing. Kainene, on the other hand, accepts the post-colonial Africa as her mother and father raise her in “other ways” outside of the “traditional” culture. This culture holds a high value on the “traditional” roles of women and Kainene’s sexual interaction is just one way in which she defies the norm. Kainene is raised in “other ways” by also is having an education which is a threat the “traditional” patriarchal society. Richard and Kainene’s relationship blurs the line of traditional definitions of femininity and masculinity within African tribes.

BP #4

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

What’s So Scary About a Female Academic?

Intellectual and empowered women have always been threatening. Or at least threatening to the structures of power that work to keep women in subservient positions and strictly domestic locations. There is no exception to this age old rule in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel Half of A Yellow Sun. The novel is set during the Biafran War in Nigeria and utilizes an intrusive narrator who provides three distinct perspectives on the unfolding historical event. The first narrative perspective is the young houseboy, Ugwu, then the high society beauty, Olanna, and finally the British expatriate, Richard. The novel opens by focusing on Ugwu’s characters as he makes the transition from village life into the home of a revolutionary college professor, Odenigbo. Odenigbo encourages his new houseboy to strive towards education and fosters a home environment in which intellectualism is central. In the opening chapter, Ugwu evaluates the many guests that Odenigbo invites to his home for intellectual debates. Interestingly, Ugwu’s character admires the male professors and writers but holds particular disdain for the reoccurring female guest, Miss Adebayo.

            Though little attention is paid to the male guests of Odenigbo, Ugwu provides almost two pages of details about Miss Adebayo, focusing particularly on her intellectualism and agency in male dominated spaces. For example, in his lengthy description Ugwu notes:

“She had asked him to wait so that she could give him a ride back to the campus, but he thanked her and said he still had many things left to buy and would take a taxi, although            he had finished shopping. He did not want to ride in her car, did not like how her voice rose above Master’s in the living room, challenging and arguing. He often fought the urge to…tell her to shut up, especially when she called Master a sophist. He did not know what sophist meant…” (24).

The first sentence of this paragraph introduces the idea that the dislike Ugwu feels for Miss Adebayo is deeply spurred by the authority she asserts despite her gender. The first clause in the first sentence gives power and the subjective position to the female pronoun “She” whereas “him” is used passively, as a direct object. However, Ugwu shifts this assertive feminine dynamic in the second clause where “he” becomes the subject and “her” becomes the direct object of the clause. Finally, by the end of the sentence Ugwu has erased the feminine pronoun completely. This technical structure mirrors the actual content of the sentence, wherein Miss Adebayo first attempts to help him, or assert agency, but is then rebuffed as Ugwu does not want to submit to what she “asked” of him.

Next, Ugwu shifts between talking about a personal experience to talking about Miss Adebayo’s relationship with his master with the words, “He did not want to ride in her car, did not like how her voice rose above Master’s”. Here, the only thing separating Ugwu from Odenigbo is a comma, showing the way in which Ugwu deeply associates his own identity with his master’s. Further, the way in which Ugwu desires to privilege Odenigbo’s “voice” over Miss Adebayo demonstrates the way in which Ugwu ascribes more value to male thought and intellectualism. Finally, Ugwu ends with the assertion that what he hates most is when Miss Adebayo calls Odenigbo a “sophist”, though “he does not know what a sophist meant”. Later on Ugwu is not bothered by other words he does not understand, such as “decolonize” and “pan-African”. However, he is bothered when Miss Adebayo uses a word he doesn’t understand and ascribes it to his master. Ugwu does not accept her use of academic words because of his privileging of masculine intellectualism. Further, he finds discomfort in the assertive way in which Miss Adebayo applies her intellectualism as an insult to Odenigbo, or Ugwu’s idealized picture of masculinity.

Though this may seem to be a minor detail in the text, Ugwu’s reaction to Miss Adebayo’s character highlights a current and persistent issue for women in Academia.  Where a feminist reading may assert western cultural values into this non-western setting, the specificity of this moment’s academic landscape lends itself more easily to a feminist lens. Ugwu’s fear of Miss Adebayo affirms his position in a patriarchal bounds of academia, wherein women are not meant to over power male thinkers.

BP 4

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

 

Blog Prompt #4: Half of a Yellow Sun (pp. 1-183)

Blog Post #4 Due: Tues 10/30, 12noon // Comments #7-8 Due: Tues 10/30, 11:59pm

Cover of Half of a Yellow SunAfter reading the first 183 pages of Half of a Yellow Sun, describe a specific tension, conflict, resonance, or affinity between any two characters in the novel.

Then, provide a summary of a specific scene, with relevant quotes, to illuminate the dynamics between these characters.

Follow this summary with a detailed close reading of 2 literary devices from the quotes you’ve cited to showcase the dynamics between these characters. In your close reading, you need to illustrate how these literary devices work in conjunction with one another:

  • Explicitly name / identify the literary devices you analyze
  • Describe what effects they produce
  • Explain how these effects are produced
  • Detail how these effects build on / interact with one another
  • Showcase why these effects are significant to understanding these characters’ relationship.

Reminder: Please carefully re-read the assignment sheet & rubric for both blog posts & comments. Make sure that each section of your post & each of your comments are meeting the specific requirements of these assignments.