Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 3, Chapter 23 : The Early Sixties | Summary

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Summary

Olanna visits Richard to discuss the aftermath of their liaison. They agree it is best not to tell Kainene, because she "doesn't forgive easily." When Richard suggests the liaison was a result of Olanna's emotional problems, she feels contempt and tells him "what happened took two." When Odenigbo suggests they marry, Olanna confesses she slept with Richard, and immediately realizes the trust between them has been forever damaged.

Edna Whaler visits Olanna, distraught that "white people had bombed the black Baptist church in her hometown." This forces Olanna to think about "how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery," and she moves back to Odenigbo's. Odenigbo tells her he severed his friendship with Richard by telling him off in the street in front of Harrison. They make love, and she calls Kainene afterward. Kainene is terse on the phone, but it is clear she does not know what happened between Olanna and Richard.

Amala gives birth to a girl. At Olanna's insistence, they visit her in the hospital. She feels morally superior to Odenigbo. Amala seems passive and defeated and will not look at Odenigbo. She refuses to touch her child, and Odenigbo holds the baby "with his arms outstretched as if he needed some distance." Olanna, however, enjoys holding the baby. When they leave Odenigbo says his mother has decided not to keep the baby since it is a girl. Olanna insists she and Odenigbo will keep the baby. Odenigbo is hesitant, and Olanna's mother tells her keeping the baby is wrong. She calls Kainene, who accuses her of keeping the baby "to please your revolutionary lover." When Olanna retorts, "She was so helpless. I felt as if I knew her," Kainene says Olanna is brave and agrees to attend the baptism.

Odenigbo's mother brings the baby and leaves quickly. Ugwu is worried because Odenigbo's mother believes the baby to be a reincarnation of her own mother, Amala. Olanna says reincarnation isn't real and Ugwu argues it is. Talking to Odenigbo, Olanna mentions Ugwu's claim Odenigbo's mother causes the infidelity and birth by using witchcraft. She says she believes in "a good God" and Odenigbo doesn't believe in anything. He responds, "I believe in love."

Olanna decides to call the child Baby until they can think of the perfect name. She finds herself taken with a mixture of excitement and doubt at her ability to raise a child. She calls Kainene, who has found out about the liaison between Olanna and Richard. Olanna feels relief it's no longer a secret, but when she apologizes, Kainene says the act is unforgiveable and hangs up.

Analysis

When Richard minimizes his responsibility for their liaison, Olanna feels contempt for him, just as she does for Odenigbo. Throughout this chapter Olanna continues to struggle with resentment at Odenigbo for breaking her trust. She deliberately broke his trust, but she accepts responsibility for it. In fact Olanna finds empowerment in taking responsibility for her actions. Newly empowered, she is the one who insists they see Amala and the infant in the hospital. Odenigbo goes along, but holds his child far away from his body, as if she is a reminder of the guilt he'd rather not face.

Olanna immediately recognizes Odenigbo in the infant's face, and when the nurse tells her Amala will not touch the baby, Olanna is silent. Perhaps she is thinking of her own cold mother, who refused to nurse her, and feeling empathy for the infant. When she holds the baby, they are both calmed and Olanna is moved by the experience; and without conscious forethought, she insists they will keep the child. Suddenly, she has the infant she has been longing for but was unable to produce. Adopting the infant is also Olanna's way of making peace with the situation and reclaiming her power in it.

Odenigbo projects his anger over Olanna's infidelity at Richard, even though Olanna says he should be upset with her, just as she is upset at him, not Amala. Kainene and Olanna were poised to become closer over Olanna's adoption of Baby, but Kainene immediately finds out about the liaison and Olanna knows she will sever the relationship. Deciding to seduce Richard, Olanna did not stop to consider her sister's feelings. She could have chosen anyone to even the score with Odenigbo, but she chose her sister's partner. It was a poor choice, and its effect on Kainene rather than on Odenigbo is what Olanna regrets.

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