Adichie’s Language and Style in Half of a Yellow Sun

We will briefly look at  several aspects of Amamanda Ngozi Adichie’s language and style in Half of a Yellow Sun. This is just a starting point on the subject and you will need to extend your investigation into her writing if you’re keen to get to know more about features of the language and style of this powerful and deeply moving novel.
For more on the political and social context of the civil war in Nigeria at the time, go here.

Photo of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Achichie's Language and Style in Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie’s Language and Style in Half of a Yellow Sun                                                                                               

  1. One of the first things we notice about Adichie’s style is that she includes many Igbo words in the novel – often in direct speech when characters are addressing to each other, but not always. Sometimes Ugwu’s thoughts contain local words, too. English is the official language of Nigeria but there is a type of local English which many locals use as a lingua franca (a language people from the many different language communities can use when speaking to someone from another language). The effect of using the vernacular (local speech form as opposed to the English in which the novel is written) – greetings (kedu, jee ofuma), endearments (nkem, omalicha), local foods (arigbe, jollof rice, kuka soup), clothing (agbada,) – is to give a sense of actually being in Nigeria and hearing the characters speak using familiar terms in their own tongue. By mixing Igbo words into the English we get a definite flavour of Igbo Nigeria. So, too, by infusing into the descriptions of daily life the Igbo names for food, clothing, greetings, and so on, the setting and situation come vibrantly alive and real and filled with local flavour.
  2. Another important aspect of Adichie’s style is that she makes use of the techniques of realism. She does this because she is trying to create a fictional world that depicts the places and characters in such a way that we form strong images of what the places and people look like, sound like, move like, speak like, and so on. Take her descriptions of characters and situations, for instance:

The general lounge was crowded. Olanna sat opposite three little children in threadbare clothes and slippers who giggled intermittently while their father gave them severe looks. An old woman with a sour, wrinkled face, their grandmother, sat closest to Olanna, clutching a handbag and murmuring to herself. Olanna could smell the mustiness on her wrapper; it must have been dug out from an ancient trunk for this occasion. When a clear voice announced the arrival of a Nigeria Airways flight, he sprang up and then sat down again.  (p.27)           

Here, we can immediately imagine the scene as if it is before us. Adichie chooses words that convey precisely and concretely the images, sounds, textures and smells that together construct this tiny scenario. For instance, she sets up an evocative little scene using a contrast between a father’s ‘severe looks’ and his little girls who are ‘giggling’ in these unfamiliar surroundings. We can feel the father’s discomfort and uncertainty in the airport and his ‘severe looks’ suggest a fear that his children will let them all down by doing something improper in terms of the decorum (code of behaviour) of the airport.  Adichie places the children into ‘threadbare’ clothing and ‘slippers’ and we are given a real sense of their situation. Their best clothes are the ‘threadbare’ ones reinforcing the father’s sense of unease in this plush airport. The description of the grandmother works well, too.  The evocative sense-laden words ‘sour’, ‘wrinkled face’, ‘clutching a handbag to herself’, ‘mustiness on her wrapper’, singly and as a group, create a dynamic image of the old women. In an literary essay, you would have lots of information to use in a good, detailed point-example-explore chain. The contrast between the ‘mustiness’ of the wrapper and the ‘clear voice’ of the arrivals announcer highlights the difference between the little family and their surroundings, one poor and rural and the other slick and international.                                                                                       

The same is true about the natural landscapes that she constructs.  Choose any description and see how well it has been put together with precise, concrete imagery, sensory information, interesting contrasts, almost no use of metaphor, use aurally-rich words to enhance the sound/phonic quality of the description, and so on.

Now it’s your turn to extend and refine what has been raised in this brief look at some aspects of Adichie’s Language and Style in Half of a Yellow Sun. If you would like to buy a copy of this powerful and deeply moving novel, click this link Half of a Yellow Sun.

Photo of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Books
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Books

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