Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 2, Chapter 18 : The Late Sixties | Summary

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Summary

Olanna is withdrawn after her visit to Umunnachi. Abba's residents are evacuating and Odenigbo announces they'll be leaving for Umuahia the following day, earlier than expected. Odenigbo's mother refuses to leave, quoting the dibia's statement that "Abba has never been conquered." Odenigbo urges her to come, but she says she will stay and look after the house. As they leave Odenigbo insists, "Everything will soon be back to normal."

The house in Umuahia is shabby and tiny, and Ugwu is dissatisfied. He believes it is not a proper location for the wedding. Odenigbo prepares for air raids by camouflaging the family car. Odenigbo's friends start socializing at the house and life seems normal. One of his friends, Professor Ekwenugo, works for the Science Group developing weapons for the Biafrans. Hearing about Biafra's successes, Ugwu finds himself wishing he could join the militia. When the news arrives that Biafran troops are advancing to Lagos, he is disappointed the war is ending without him contributing. The news is surprising because the British and the Russians are arming the Nigerian troops. Ugwu begins to take note of a young woman, his neighbor Eberechi, whose parents made her sleep with a visiting soldier.

A "rain-holder" comes to the house and performs a ceremony to keep it from raining during the wedding. Olanna invites Kainene, but she doesn't come. Olanna seems sad on her wedding day and refuses to hold the bouquet of plastic flowers offered her. Okeoma the poet, now an army officer, comes to the wedding. The wedding party dances to High Life music, a new song called "Hail Biafra, the Land of Freedom." The wedding is interrupted by an air raid. The guests take refuge on their bellies in the cassava patch. Olanna puts Okeoma's army shirt over her white dress to reduce her visibility. When it is over, two nearby houses have been destroyed and a child is crying inside the rubble. Odenigbo tells Olanna the Biafrans have been repulsed from Lagos and Nigeria has officially declared war. He refuses the wedding cake Olanna offers him and talks of building a bunker. That night Olanna thinks the thunder is a second air raid.

The chapter ends with an excerpt from The World Was Silent When We Died. The excerpt discusses the economic problems facing Nigeria upon its independence in 1960. The author argues the leaders of the new country mismanaged the fledgling economy, leading to a poor quality of life for most Nigerians. This unrest leads to the Igbo massacres, which in turn leads to the secession of Biafra.

Analysis

Both Odenigbo and his mother refuse to accept that life has changed. His mother stubbornly ignores the fact that everyone is fleeing Abba, insisting it's safe because the dibia said so. As Odenigbo pointed out when his mother offended Olanna by calling her a witch, his mother has trouble understanding and navigating life in a postcolonial Nigeria and relies solely on her faith in tradition. Odenigbo's insistence that normalcy will soon return is buffeted by the momentary military advantage held by the Biafrans. But after his wedding, in supposedly safe Umuahia, is interrupted by an air raid and the Biafrans lose their military advantage, he concedes normalcy may not be returning so quickly. Always a man of action, he decides to build a bunker, and is so distracted by this plan he can't eat his own wedding cake. His refusal of cake reflects the degree to which his attention is diverted from his family and toward the war. Ugwu's attitude is different than either Odenigbo's distracted preparedness or Olanna's sad acceptance. He finds himself longing to be part of history by taking an active part in the war.

High Life music is prevalent throughout the novel and is usually associated with Olanna. The style began in Ghana in the late 19th century and flourished in the 1950s in Nigeria. It is an upbeat, celebratory style of music featuring guitars, horns, and vocals that synthesizes African musical traditions with African American and European elements. Rex Lawson, the leader of the Nigerian High Life scene, was half-Igbo. The song the wedding party dances to is a new Rex Lawson song with pro-Biafra lyrics. In the novel High Life music functions as a motif conveying the theme that postcolonial Nigerian identity struggles with traditional and colonial elements, but a harmonious blend is possible. Like Olanna herself, High Life is neither traditionally Nigerian nor is it purely reflective of colonialism, but somewhere in between.

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