Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 2, Chapter 12 : The Late Sixties | Summary

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Summary

On the plane from London to Kano, en route to Lagos, Richard reads a love note from Kainene. He vows to propose marriage, and hopes she has forgiven "the incident with Olanna." At the Kano airport, Richard strikes up a friendly conversation with the customs officer, Nnaemeka, an Igbo. He is impressed by Richard's ability to speak Igbo and encourages him to write about his mother, a traditional herbalist, in his book. Suddenly, three soldiers burst in and demand, "Who is Igbo here? Where are the infidels?" They single out Nnaemeka, who denies being Igbo, but when he refuses to expose his Igbo accent by saying "Allahu Akbar," they shoot him in the chest. Pandemonium breaks out, and Richard wets himself and vomits before boarding his flight.

Richard goes to Susan's house, and she says blithely that the Igbo had violence coming to them "with their being so clannish and uppity and controlling the markets. Very Jewish, really." Richard doesn't tell her about the murders he witnessed in Kano, and Susan characterizes Nigerians as uncivilized and therefore unable to "control their hatred of each other." Looking in the mirror, Richard is shocked and ashamed by how unchanged and unmoved he is by Nnaemeka's murder.

The chapter concludes with an excerpt from Richard's book, which discusses the ways that Nigerian independence in 1960 was strategically arranged by the British to further their own interests, and characterizes Nigeria at that time as "a collection of fragments held in a fragile clasp."

Analysis

Richard is so preoccupied with his personal life he is numbed by the murder of Nnaemeka. He feels guilty for escaping unscathed, but the violence feels much less real than his feelings for Kainene, which make him feel "all things were possible, all things were manageable." The author hints something has passed between Richard and Olanna that has threatened the relationship between Richard and Kainene, but doesn't say what.

Susan espouses the colonizer's point of view when she expresses contempt for the violence in the country. As a British woman, she sees herself as civilized, and therefore able to control her hatred of others—unlike the Nigerians, who she characterizes as primitive and backward. This is an expression of a concept known as the "white man's burden," the colonizers' belief it is their duty to teach civilization to the colonized. Her characterization of the Igbo as "very Jewish" is a common viewpoint. Just like the Jews, who were resented by their fellow Europeans for being successful yet refusing to assimilate, the Igbo remain ambitious, intellectual, and business-minded, even when control of the newly independent country is granted by the British to the Northern Muslims. It is a horrifying comparison for Susan to make so flippantly, given the genocide of six million Jews during World War II.

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