Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 1, Chapter 2 : The Early Sixties | Summary

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Summary

Olanna travels to Lagos to see her mother, father, and twin sister Kainene. Her parents are successful businesspeople entertaining finance minister Chief Okonji in hopes of securing a contract. Chief Okonji offers Olanna a job, and she suspects her parents have promised him "an affair with her in exchange for the contract." She reveals her plans to move to work as a sociology professor in Nsukka, and her family expresses disappointment. They are unimpressed by Odenigbo and would prefer Olanna marry someone like Chief Okonji. Kainene says she will be managing father's factories and oil interests in Port Harcourt. Olanna wishes she and Kainene were close, like they were as children.

Olanna refuses an invitation to Chief Okonji's house. After dinner Chief Okonji drunkenly comes on to Olanna, and she refuses him and leaves. Olanna's mother, who disapproves of her politically radical daughter, tries to convince her not to move to Nsukka. Kainene tells Olanna her lover Richard received a university grant to write a book and is also moving to Nsukka.

Olanna travels to the rural village of Kano and visits her Uncle Mbaezi, Aunty Ifeka, and cousin Arize. She is closer to them than her nuclear family, and was even nursed by Aunty Ifeka rather than her mother. A chicken is killed and cooked in honor of Olanna's visit. Arize expresses admiration for Olanna's education and says she wants a husband and child. Olanna encourages her to develop her skills first. She goes to visit Mohammed, her Muslim boyfriend, to break up with him and tell him she is moving to Nsukka. He is sad but accepting.

Olanna moves in with Odenigbo and begins instructing Ugwu in proper housekeeping and personal hygiene. To his horror, she throws away the plastic flowers and replaces them with real ones. Ugwu objects: "But it die, mah. The other one don't die." Ugwu is suspicious of Olanna and only speaks to her in English until one day when she refrains from killing a lizard inside the house. After this he begins to speak to her in Igbo and share details of his personal life with her.

Odenigbo returns and introduces Olanna to his political friends. Miss Adebayo is dismissive of her, while Okeoma the poet and Dr. Patel find her attractive. Olanna longs to impress them with her political opinions, but her thoughts are unoriginal. Olanna is happy in her new life but refuses to marry Odenigbo, fearing "marriage would flatten [their relationship] to a prosaic partnership."

Analysis

Olanna's physical beauty garners much attention from men, and as her less attractive sister points out, leads her to being used as "sex bait." When war breaks out later, Olanna will learn to use her beauty to advantage herself and her family. However, she is far from being shallow. Olanna is deeply interested in progressive politics and her traditional culture, and is instantly attracted to Odenigbo's brash radicalism. She is an upper-class Igbo, who has been educated abroad, acquiring a "mimicking-the-oppressor English accent," yet she idealizes the simple, traditional life of her family in Kano. She feels embarrassed because she is not completely at home in the village: "the smoke irritated her eyes and throat" and "the sight of the cockroach eggs nauseated her." Her family in Kano receives her warmly, expressing admiration for her education and advantages: Arize admires Olanna for having more choices in her life, because she is a woman "that know[s] too much Book." Olanna rejects the superficiality of her parent's distant relationship and their fascination with material luxuries. Although she wants to please them, she does not want to be like them, and fears marriage, perceiving it as a stultifying force.

Olanna and her sister Kainene are products of colonialism: they are Nigerians who have left a tribal way of life to adopt the advantages of the oppressor. Their parents have made money in business and used it to educate their daughters abroad, and they live in style in the prosperous city, Lagos. While Kainene takes on the family business, "like a son" as her father says proudly, Olanna rejects business in favor of intellectual interests. Both daughters rebel by partnering with men who do not meet their parents' standards: Odenigbo is a radical professor and Kainene's Richard is a shy, bookish Englishman.

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