Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 1, Chapter 3 : The Early Sixties | Summary

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Summary

Having left London to pursue his interest in Igbo-Ukwu art and write a book about Nigeria, Richard has fallen into a casual live-in relationship with another expatriate, an older woman named Susan who works for the British Council. Susan is possessive of Richard, but only grows angry when he talks to white women. She throws parties for expatriates, businesspeople who make Richard uncomfortable by expressing contempt for the local people. Richard longs to travel but Susan pushes him to move in, so he does.

Richard meets Kainene at a cocktail party. He is instantly attracted to her, but she seems unimpressed by him. After the party he tracks her down and invites her on a date. She says yes. They meet at her father's hotel and talk about their backgrounds. She asks him, "Did you come to Nigeria to run away from something?" He says his interest in Africa drew him here. They begin meeting regularly. When he tries to make love to Kainene, he is impotent.

Richard meets Kainene's parents at a dinner party at their house, and they are unimpressed with Richard's interest in tribal culture and that he is a writer. Olanna, however, treats Richard warmly, attempting to include him in the political conversation.

Tortured by guilt over his infidelity, Richard breaks up with Susan and moves out. He resolves to use African herbs to cure his impotence. Kainene says Olanna will introduce Richard to Odenigbo, "her revolutionary lecturer lover," and asserts Odenigbo's radical socialism is incorrect because the Igbo have always been capitalists.

On his way to Nsukka, Richard stops at Igbo-Ukwu to see the site where the ancient roped pots he so admires were found. He asks questions of the villagers about the artifacts' discovery. Although he idealizes ancient Igbo culture, Richard feels uncertainty about his place in Nigeria as well as his book project.

Richard gets settled in Nsukka with Olanna's help. She finds him a houseboy, a middle-aged Igbo named Harrison who idealizes and takes pride in his knowledge of European culture, particularly his ability to cook European dishes. Richard asks Jomo, Odenigbo's gardener, for herbs to cure his impotence. With halting uncertainty, Richard begins to write. He becomes a visitor at Odenigbo's in the evenings and finds himself fascinated by Odenigbo's charisma and by Olanna's beauty.

Richard begins visiting Kainene's lovely house in Port Harcourt. He is surprised at how ambitious and busy she is. On one visit he meets Major Madu Madu, Kainene's friend from the army. Madu's presence irritates Richard, and he is suspicious Madu and Kainene are lovers. Richard also meets Madu's friend, Major Udodi Ekechi, who asks Kainene what she is doing with Richard, calling relationships between Nigerian women and white men "a new slavery."

The chapter closes with an excerpt from the prologue of a book entitled The World Was Silent When We Died. The prologue tells of a woman Olanna saw on a train during the war, which is yet to happen in relation to the events of this chapter. The woman is carrying her daughter's head in a gourd basket, and the writer, who is not identified, draws parallels between the Biafran genocide, the Holocaust, and the Rwandan genocide.

Analysis

Despite his respect for and fascination with traditional Nigerian culture, Richard finds himself in an awkward position in the country. Most expatriates, like Susan's crowd, are there to exploit the business opportunities (and the people). Colonialism during this time is justified by the idea colonized peoples need the help of a parent nation to run their affairs correctly, and the condescending positions of these expatriates is part of colonialism's legacy. Parentalism is coupled with racism, signified by the crude racist jokes told at parties and Susan's inability to see Kainene, a black woman, as a threat to her relationship with Richard. Such attitudes are even internalized by natives like Harrison, who rejects his own culture in favor of the colonizer's. In the novel the foods the characters prepare reflect their attitudes toward colonialism. Harrison takes pride in "not cooking Nigerian foods, only foreign recipe." In contrast Ugwu prepares traditional Igbo dishes like jollof rice.

Richard has been drawn to Nigeria by his admiration of 9th–century Igbo-Ukwu art, largely because the metal-casting techniques used to create the roped pots were more advanced than anything in use on the European continent in that era. He has rejected his own British culture in favor of his idealized conception of a pure Igbo culture. However, he cannot escape his position as an outsider, either internally or externally, signified by his impotence with Kainene and by Jomo's assertion the traditional impotence herbs "no work for white man, sah." Richard wants to write about the herbs, but Jomo says they are "not for writing, sah." Because of this alienation, Richard struggles to find an authentic voice as he attempts to write about Nigeria. The admiration of an outsider like Richard for a culture that is not his own is merely another expression of the colonial influence that has altered Nigerian life forever. Despite Richard's good intentions, which are anchored in his respect for and his romantic conceptions of traditional Igbo culture, Richard is unable to achieve the control within his own writing that would grant him the power to tell a story that is not rightfully his to tell. Adichie does not grant Richard the ability to narrate life in Nigeria because, as an outsider, he cannot and should not control this narrative.

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