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Half Of A Yellow Sun: Book Review

1448 words - 6 pages

In Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie attempts to use history in order to gain leverage on the present, to subvert the single story stereotypes that dominate many contemporary discourses on Africa. Written in the genre of historical fiction, Adichie’s novel transcends beyond mere historical narration and recreates the polyphonic experiences of varying groups of people in Nigeria before and after the Civil War. She employs temporal distortion in her narrative, distorting time in order to illustrate the intertwining effects of the past and present, immersing deep into the impact of western domination that not only catalyzed the war, but continues to affect contemporary Africa. In this paper, I will analyze her portrayal of the multifaceted culture produced by colonialism – one that coalesces elements from traditional African culture with notions of western modernity to varying degrees. I will argue that Adichie uses a range of characters, including Odenigbo’s mother, Ugwu, Olanna and Kainene, to each represent a point in a spectrum between tradition and modernity. Through her juxtaposition, she undermines the stereotypes that continue to characterize Africa as backwards and traditional, proving instead that colonialism has produced a cross culture where the two are intertwined.
Adichie portrays the persisting existence of traditional African culture through Odenigbo’s mother – who symbolizes the extreme end of traditional beliefs. When Odenigbo’s mother visits Odenigbo and Olanna at their apartment in Nsukka, she is immediately personified as the traditional Nigerian village woman. Unaccepting of modern attitudes and advancements, she “peered suspiciously at the stove, knocked on the pressure cooker and tapped the pots with her fingers” (Adichie 12). She criticizes Olanna for not having been breastfed, calls her an “abnormal woman” and a “witch”, and even adamantly refuses to grant Odenigbo permission to continue seeing Olanna. Odenigbo’s mother believes that “too much schooling ruins a woman”, and strongly advocates for the traditional role of women as housewives (Adichie 124). She conforms to traditional sexist ideas and objects to Ugwu cooking, stating that he “does not belong in the kitchen” because he is a boy (Adichie 96). Additionally, she strongly believes in the dibia, or healers who are notorious for their abilities to exploit medicine and influence a man to “kill his own brother because of a land quarrel” (Adichie 96). Her unwavering perceptions and customs are governed by those handed down to her by her elders. As Odenigbo explicates, his mother is “trying to make her way into a new world with skills that are better suited for the old world” and that “the tragedy of our postcolonial world…is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.” (Adichie 129). By using the diction negotiate, Adichie emphasizes that colonialism had brought about a change that left some Africans, particularly the older...

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