Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 1, Chapter 4 : The Early Sixties | Summary



Clearing the table at Odenigbo's, Ugwu pleasures himself by sucking the leftover chicken bones from Olanna's plate. He derives sexual pleasure from this, as well as from overhearing and imagining Olanna's sexual relations with Odenigbo. Ugwu is doing well in school and spends his free time attempting to read Odenigbo's books.

Ugwu is excited about an upcoming trip to his village with Richard, who wants to attend the local ori-okpa festival because he wants to see Nnesinachi before she departs for Kano. Unexpectedly Ugwu's aunty comes and summons him home, saying his mother is very sick. Ugwu suspects his mother has died. Odenigbo drives Ugwu there immediately. On the drive Odenigbo comments the government should focus on feeding its own people with farming and "overcome this colonial dependence on imports." They bring Ugwu's very sick mother back to the house in Nsukka.

That night in conversation, Odenigbo expresses anger about the recent government-sponsored violence against the Tiv people who have been agitating for self-determination. Ugwu's mother rallies quickly when Dr. Patel treats her for an infection. She is polite and grateful but leaves the next day, claiming the smell of toothpaste makes her sick.

Odenigbo's mother arrives with a young housegirl, Amala, and displaces Ugwu from the kitchen. She is rude to Olanna when Olanna greets her warmly, accusing her of being a witch and saying, "I hear you did not suck your mother's breasts." She tells Ugwu she plans to consult a dibia, a traditional healer, to help her drive Olanna away from Odenigbo. Olanna leaves and goes to her flat. When Ugwu tells Odenigbo, he is dismissive.


This chapter illustrates the tension and interplay between colonial elements and traditional elements in the lives of the characters. Ugwu's mother is on her deathbed in the village, but she recovers immediately when brought to Odenigbo's house and given Western medicine. In the village the dibia treats people by intervening with the evil spirits that make them sick, but this was ineffectual for Ugwu's mother. But when cured, she hastily returns to the village. Her rejection of Western influence is symbolized by the smell of toothpaste making her sick, and she promotes traditional ways to her son by insisting he use an atu, a chewing stick, to clean his mouth.

Odenigbo's mother is also a woman of traditional ways and superstition. She promptly takes over cooking duties from Ugwu because, to her, it is inappropriate for a man to do this women's work. She sees Olanna as an unsuitable partner for her son because of her Westernized upbringing and education. In Odenigbo's mother's worldview Olanna is a witch because her own mother did not nurse her; and her ability to produce offspring, which signifies a woman's value in traditional Igbo culture, is questionable. She is confident a traditional intervention by a dibia is powerful enough to undo the nontraditional relationship between Olanna and her son. Educated Odenigbo says of his mother, "The woman has never been very reasonable." While Odenigbo promotes tribal identity as the one true identity for Africans, his progressive and political mindset involves a rejection of tribal superstition.

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