Some Themes in Half of a Yellow Sun
This brief listing of themes in Half of a Yellow Sun is only meant as a starting point in your exploration of the novel’s themes. The subject matter in the novel is challenging in so many ways as it portrays, in very real ways, the experiences of the people in the south eastern region of Nigeria at that time. Remember to use textual evidence (short quotes) to support your assertions about themes in your essays.
NOTE: There are several other articles on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun on my blog. I would urge you to read this blog post on themes in conjunction with the others. Go HERE for some background information on the War, and HERE for more on her style and writing.
- The Biafran War itself – what happened in the war and why did the country of Biafra not survive.
- Civil war and its effects on the ordinary civilians of countries at war: ordinary civilians get caught in the cross-fire of political and military battles that are not of their making or desire.
- The terrifying consequences to the individual and communities when deep-seated contradictions in a society sharpen and intensify are explored in the novel. Ethnic, religious and language differences become the spur to turn neighbour against neighbour, community against community and region against region.
- The effects of terror and violence on the individual psyche. Here, the nervous breakdown Olanna suffers after her experiences in Kano witnessing the massacres and what she sees during the train ride home is a direct consequence of the horror of violence, the total disregard for human life. Later when Ugwu, who was kidnapped and forced to join the army, is pressured into committing rape, he is later deeply remorseful for what he did. What this scene shows is how a perfectly decent young man can be brutalised by the violence and killing of war, and then do something he would never have under normal circumstances.
- The nature of love and relationships is also something that is explored at depth in the novel. Adichie is at pains to make her main characters – Olanna, Odenigbo and Richard make serious mistakes – unfaithfulness is the mistake they are guilty of and is something that could potentially destroy them. Odenigbo and Amala – a union that results in the child, Baby; Olanna and Richard have a momentary lapse and sleep together once leading to estrangement between Olanna and Kainene, Richard and Odenigbo. Kainene is largely exempt although Adichie does create a sense of unease around Kainene’s relationship with Major Madu (although the unease is largely a reflection of Richard’s concerns and jealousy). Ultimately, all is forgiven and everyone is reunited.
- Survival under the direst of conditions and how these extreme challenges bring out different responses from individuals, for instance, Odenigbo , the brilliant thinker, mathematician and proponent of radical politics is unable to remain steadfast in his beliefs and be strong as the provider in the family after the move to Umuhaia when only he has a job. Olanna is strong and steadfast, as is her twin, Kainene, who is practical and organised in all she does. The point Adichie is demonstrating is that individuals do not know themselves or how they will act until they are tested in extreme conditions. Odenigbo takes to drink in despair at what he sees around him.
- Social mobility and its consequences on traditional relationships between children and parents, see, Ugwu and his family, Olanna and her family in Kano, Odenigbo and his mother.
- Other themes? Of course there are more themes in this compelling novel. It is up to you to explore and develop the themes that you find most significant.