Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 3, Chapter 20 : The Early Sixties | Summary

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Summary

While Odenigbo's mother and Amala are at Odenigbo's house in Nsukka, Olanna visits her parents after consulting a gynecologist about her fertility in London. She tells her upset mother she will talk to her father about his infidelities. Olanna's mother is upset primarily because her husband has bought his mistress a house in a prominent Lagos neighborhood where many of her own friends live. Olanna confronts her father about the matter of the house, saying it is disrespectful. He agrees to "do something about it."

The following morning Olanna encounters her mother berating a new employee, an older man in his 60s, for stealing a bag of rice. After Olanna criticizes her mother for berating the man, Olanna's mother agrees to give him another chance. When she downplays the theft to Odenigbo over the phone and points out her own father makes a business out of stealing money and keeping people poor, Odenigbo surprises her by taking her mother's side. Before Olanna leaves, her mother tries to set her up with an engineer.

Olanna returns to Nsukka as Odenigbo's mother and Amala are preparing to leave. Reading their body language, she immediately becomes suspicious. She confronts Odenigbo about her suspicion that he "touched Amala." When he doesn't deny it, she goes outside and watches a hawk snatch a baby chicken from its mother, and begins to cry.

Olanna moves into her own flat. When she visits Odenigbo characterizes himself as Amala's victim and their liaison as "a brief rash lust." She goes to Kano to clear her head. Arize furiously condemns Odenigbo. Olanna tells Aunty Ifeka she is thinking of moving to Kano. Aunty Ifeka sternly tells her she must return to her life in Nsukka because it is wrong to let a man's actions determine her own. Aunty Ifeka tells her about her own marital struggles and declares, "My life will change only if I want it to change."

On the plane back to Nsukka, she sits next to a businessman. She catches him looking at her and he strikes up a conversation, saying, "The problem with Igbo people is that they want to control everything in this country." When Olanna reveals she is Igbo, the man is shamed and can't look her in the eye. As a result of this interaction, she decides, "she could be a woman taking charge of her own life."

Olanna returns to her own flat, ignoring Ugwu's request that she forgive Odenigbo. She keeps herself busy and becomes friends with her neighbor Edna Whaler, a black American woman, who often laments the fiancée who left her before their wedding. Edna encourages Olanna to talk to a priest. She goes to see Father Damian, but is disappointed at the bland platitudes he offers until he suggests that she should see forgiving Odenigbo as something that will benefit her rather than him. "What will you do with the misery you have chosen? Will you eat misery?" the priest asks her.

Odenigbo visits Olanna's flat to tell her Amala is pregnant and to ask for Olanna's help. He continues to evade responsibility for his infidelity, now blaming his mother for it. This repulses Olanna, and she struggles with feelings about her own infertility. She sequesters herself in her flat, and Edna calls her weak, saying, "Why do you need so much outside of yourself? Why isn't what you are enough?" Olanna decides to get drunk.

She runs into Richard at the store while buying wine and invites him to come drink with her. They discuss Kenya's independence and Richard's book, which he is now calling The Basket of Hands. Olanna seduces Richard, and the sex makes her feel "as if she was throwing shackles off her wrists."

Analysis

In this chapter Olanna's mother, Olanna, Aunty Ifeka, and Edna Whaler are all depicted as dealing with their partners' infidelities. Olanna's mother is concerned about social embarrassment and has Olanna confront her husband instead of doing it herself. Aunty Ifeka, in contrast, finds empowerment by convincing her husband "if he brings disgrace to me in any way, I will cut off that snake between his legs." Olanna and Edna Whaler, however, are both distraught. Olanna deliberately evens the score and reclaims her power by sleeping with Richard, an act she undertakes without considering how it will affect Kainene. The author presents infidelity on the part of men as a common occurrence and shows a range of possible responses. Several characters suggest to Olanna her own well-being is more important than her feelings for Odenigbo, and she takes the advice to heart. Infidelity is linked to the feminist idea that a woman can choose to be in control of her own life. However, the war that will soon descend on Nigeria challenges this notion.

Both Olanna and Odenigbo are presented as morally flawed or incomplete in this chapter. Odenigbo is flawed because he refuses to take responsibility for his actions, which have hurt Olanna deeply. He presents himself as a victim of the act rather than a perpetrator of it, which disgusts Olanna because she has always been attracted to his strength and leadership qualities. Olanna is flawed, as her friend Edna points out, because she lacks a solid sense of self. She looks to those around her, especially Odenigbo, to reveal who she is.

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