Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 4, Chapter 25 : The Late Sixties | Summary

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Summary

The narrative jumps in time to the late sixties. After Olanna and Odenigbo's wedding is interrupted by an air raid, Odenigbo builds a bunker in their yard. Olanna exchanges their money for the new Biafran currency. Their poverty worries her, and she misses her former luxuries, but Odenigbo seems hopeful and unbothered. He works at the Manpower Directorate and spends evenings with the Agitator Corps, educating people about Biafra.

Olanna has nightmares about Baby dying in an air raid. When Baby falls ill, Olanna is relieved, thinking, "If the heavens were fair ... since Baby was sick, she could not be harmed in an air raid." She takes Baby to the hospital and Dr. Nwala prescribes antibiotics, but he is out of medicine.

Olanna visits her friend and fellow teacher Mrs. Muokelu, who says she will get the antibiotics for her. Mrs. Muokelu tells Olanna about her vision of Ojukwu's success in battle with assistance from traditional warriors. "It means Calabar will never fall," Mrs. Muokelu concludes. Baby loses her appetite while taking the antibiotics, and Olanna fears she will die. Mrs. Muokelu brings Olanna dried egg yolk from the relief center, and Baby eats it all.

Olanna visits the relief center for more egg yolk powder. She feels "unethical: expecting to get food in exchange for nothing." The egg yolk powder runs out without Olanna getting any. The supervisor, Okoromadu, recognizes her from an interaction they had at an airport years ago when Olanna showed kindness to his grandmother. He says he will get her some egg yolk. When she comes back the next time, there is no food because soldiers have hijacked it all. A woman hands Okoromadu her infant, saying, "Then take him! Feed him until you open again!" Mrs. Muokelu returns the child to its mother.

Olanna tells Mrs. Muokelu she reminds her of Kainene, and Mrs. Muokelu offends her by saying Kainene smokes, like a prostitute does. The relief center is closed for a week, but the next time it's open Okoromadu furtively gives Olanna some corned beef. She is overcome with pleasure. As she walks away, she is surrounded by a group of "shell-shocked" soldiers who take her corned beef. Olanna and Mrs. Muokelu do not speak for two weeks until Mrs. Muokelu comes to the house and teaches Olanna to make soap.

Odenigbo's friend Special Julius comes over, bringing news: the British general Harold Wilson—later prime minister—has arrived in Lagos with two British army battalions. Odenigbo says this is nonsense and turns on the radio, just as an air raid alarm goes off. They take refuge in the bunker. Later that same day, the alarm sounds again, but Odenigbo does not enter the bunker. During the raid, Olanna runs out and finds him, caring for a wounded man.

Olanna says they will spend the following day in the bunker, but Odenigbo laughs and goes to work. Olanna is paralyzed with fear. She tells Ugwu to wait outside with Baby and be on the alert. Mrs. Muokelu arrives and claims Biafra will win because God is on Biafra's side and "our ogbunigwe is putting the fear of God" into the Nigerians. The alarm sounds, and they hide in the bunker. Afterward they learn the primary school where Olanna and Mrs. Muokelu teach has been bombed.

The following day there is an air strike but no alarm. In the bunker Olanna realizes if they all die, it will be inconsequential. She resolves, "The vandals would no longer dictate the terms of her life." After leaving the bunker, she makes soap. The following day, in her ruined classroom, she teaches her students the meaning of the Biafran flag, explaining the half of a yellow sun stands for the glorious future. This makes her feel "as if she had finally become an equal participant in the war effort." Olanna wants to throw a party with the few canned goods Odenigbo receives from the Red Cross. They make passionate love.

Analysis

In Chapter 23 Olanna says she believes in "a good God." Here, her faith assuages her fears when Baby falls sick, because she believes God's justice will not allow Baby to be harmed in an air raid if she is already sick. Olanna's greatest fear is Baby will die, and she believes it's about to happen when Baby loses her appetite. Brusque Mrs. Muokelu, who reminds Olanna of a man in appearance and of Kainene in her fearlessness, saves Baby's life by giving her egg yolk powder. The unrequested soap-making lesson she gives to Olanna also proves to be a saving grace. After the third air strike in two days, Olanna emerges from the bunker with a newfound strength of will. The very first thing she does is make soap, something Odenigbo tells Olanna he can't imagine her doing. Making soap is a cleansing, strengthening act for Olanna, and it symbolizes the self-sufficiency she chooses as she handles her newfound poverty and the stress of war with grace. The following day she gives an impassioned lesson to her students about Biafra. Her classroom has been destroyed by the shelling, but she teaches with more conviction than ever.

As part of her personal transformation, Olanna stops w

orrying about poverty by the end of the chapter. War and currency shifts have caused her to lose her savings in the Lagos bank, and all the money she has fits in an envelope. Olanna has never struggled for money, and the anxiety of it preoccupies her, even during lovemaking. She feels out of place in the relief food queue, because she has never in her life accepted handouts from strangers. After the third air raid she wants to celebrate Odenigbo's haul of a few cans of milk and some Ovaltine with a "war-time party." Some Ovaltine in their shabby, tiny rental house is a far cry from the glittering soirees Olanna has always attended with her family, but her joy at the prospect of a wartime party is sharp. She has learned to feel abundance within scarcity.

Like Ugwu, who frequently sees mental images of the people he cares about, and Olanna, who sees owls with burnt feathers after her family's massacre, Mrs. Muokelu has visions, but hers concern the circumstances of Biafra's inevitable success. Her vision is about Calabar, a major port city the Biafrans held until they were forced out by Nigerian troops with superior, more advanced equipment in a bloody battle. She sees "traditional warriors from Abiriba" driving the Nigerians from Calabar with bows and arrows. In ancient times the warlike people of Abiriba, who descended from Igbos in Calabar, maintained a powerful and organized standing army. Like the dibia at the Abba rally in Chapter 17, who tells the people Biafra will win because "my father never told me about a war where we were defeated," Mrs. Muokelu looks to the past for hope about the future. Olanna, who believes in a vaguely Christian God but not in visions, spirits, or reincarnation, dismisses Mrs. Muokelu's vision. Mrs. Muokelu also mentions the modern-day ogbunigwe, which were weapons systems developed and at the University of Nsukka and manufactured by Biafra's indigenous weapons industry during the war, as support for her argument why Biafra will win. These ogbunigwe, which means "instrument that kills in multitudes," included grenades, landmines, and missiles. They are much more effective than the bows and arrows that Mrs. Muokelu imagines.

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