Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Plot Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapters 1–6|The Early Sixties

In 1961 Ugwu, a young, uneducated Igbo boy from a small village in eastern Nigeria, comes to work for Odenigbo, a politically radical professor at the University of Nsukka. Soon Odenigbo's girlfriend Olanna, the beautiful, London-educated daughter of a prominent Nigerian businessman, comes to live with them. Olanna's less beautiful but fearless twin sister, Kainene, lives in Port Harcourt, where she manages their father's businesses. Kainene begins a relationship with Richard Churchill, a shy British writer who came to Nigeria to study the ancient Igbo-Ukwu roped pots, which fascinate him.

As Odenigbo and Olanna's houseboy, Ugwu goes to school and learns English, and he begins to learn about politics as he overhears the spirited discussions that regularly take place among Odenigbo's learned friends. The discussions are often critical of foreign influence within Nigerian politics. Ugwu admires these educated Nigerians and works hard at his studies so he can be like them. Richard is a frequent guest at Odenigbo's, where he struggles to be accepted by the group, who regard his fascination with Nigerian culture as condescending. He is also struggling with the book he is trying to write about Nigeria.

Odenigbo and Olanna begin trying to conceive a child. Odenigbo's mother, a bossy, superstitious village woman, comes to visit, bringing a young village girl, Amala, with her. She doesn't feel Olanna is a suitable partner for her son, and her rudeness drives Olanna from Odenigbo's house.

Part 2, Chapters 7–18|The Late Sixties

The narrative jumps in time to January 1966. When Ugwu visits his village, he struggles with feelings of disgust and disconnection. His sister chides him for forgetting his roots. Back in Nsukka, Olanna and Odenigbo are raising a daughter whom they call Baby. They learn the Nigerian government has been overthrown in a military coup led by Igbo officers. Most of the officials killed in the coup are northerners of non-Igbo ethnicity. Odenigbo greets this news with enthusiasm. After the coup, Olanna travels to the north to Kano to visit her family who live in a village there.

In July a second coup lead by northern officers ushers in a wave of horrific, widespread anti-Igbo violence in the north. Refugees begin arriving in Nsukka and Port Harcourt, shaken, with news of the violence in the north. Olanna is in the north visiting family and friends in Kano. When she goes to their village to get her family and bring them to safety in Nsukka, she finds the village has been destroyed and all its Igbo inhabitants slain by their Muslim Hausa neighbors. Returning to Nsukka on a train packed with refugees, Olanna sits next to a woman who has her young daughter's head in a container on her lap. Meanwhile, Richard is returning from a trip to London, and at the Kano airport, he witnesses the massacre of Igbo employees by northern soldiers.

Olanna, traumatized by the vision of her slain family, becomes unable to care for herself, unable even to walk; she is literally crippled by what she has witnessed. Odenigbo's political friends are angered by the government's nonresponse to the Igbo massacres. When negotiations fail, Ojukwu, the military governor of the east, declares eastern Nigeria's secession and the establishment of an independent republic, Biafra. A wave of pro-independence fervor sweeps through the new country. Richard, disgusted by sensationalized accounts of the violence in the foreign press, writes an article criticizing Britain's divide-and-rule policy for fostering ethnic tensions, but it is rejected.

The question of war looms large, and a blockade makes food scarce in Biafra. In preparation for war, many people begin leaving Nsukka, and those who can, leave the country. Odenigbo and Olanna, who believed war would not come, flee Nsukka in a hurry as the bombing begins. Richard is shocked that war could become a reality, but Kainene takes a pragmatic view, saying there will be a war over oil and Ojukwu is woefully unequipped to fight the Nigerians.

In Odenigbo's home village of Abba, Olanna mourns her former life but tries to get involved in the win-the-war effort. Odenigbo spends his time organizing Biafrans for the war effort. He convinces Olanna, who turns down her parents' offer of passage to safety in England, to marry him, and she agrees. When Olanna and Odenigbo leave Abba for Umuahia, Odenigbo's mother insists on staying behind. Odenigbo and Olanna's wedding in Umuahia is interrupted by an air raid.

Part 3, Chapters 19–24|The Early Sixties

The narrative jumps back in time to the early sixties. Ugwu witnesses Odenigbo's mother using traditional magic from the village on Odenigbo and Amala, and he realizes they spend the night together when Olanna is away. Olanna, who is struggling with her feelings about not having conceived, returns from Lagos and confronts Odenigbo about his liaison. He refuses to take responsibility, and she goes to her family in Kano, who advise her not to let a man's actions determine how she lives her life. Returning to Nsukka, she learns Amala is pregnant with Odenigbo's child. Distraught, Olanna sleeps with Richard, her sister's partner, on the spur of the moment. They agree to keep it a secret from Kainene. She confesses sleeping with Richard to Odenigbo, who severs his friendship with Richard.

Olanna and Odenigbo visit Amala in the hospital. Both she and Odenigbo's mother reject the infant girl, and Olanna decides to adopt the child. When Olanna calls Kainene, Kainene has found out about the liaison between Richard and Olanna and she severs her relationship with her sister. Kainene burns Richard's manuscript, but this only strengthens his love for her.

Part 4, Chapters 25–37|The Late Sixties

The narrative jumps in time to the late sixties, when Olanna and Odenigbo have just gotten married in Umuahia. Baby falls gravely ill but gets better with antibiotics and proper nutrition. Olanna begins visiting the relief center to secure food, which is very scarce. They receive news that the British army is supporting Nigeria. During an air raid, the school where Olanna teaches is bombed. Olanna resolves not to live in fear, and she begins to tackle her daily life with renewed vigor and patriotism.

Ugwu begins spending time with a female neighbor, Eberechi, but struggles with jealousy over her sexual relationship with a soldier. Olanna forbids him to leave the refugee compound for fear he will be conscripted into the army. He becomes a teacher at the school Olanna now runs from her yard. Odenigbo learns of his mother's death and leaves for Abba to bury her.

Tanzania becomes the first country to recognize Biafra. Richard takes a job as a journalist for the Biafran Propaganda Directorate. The bombing of Port Harcourt begins; Richard and Kainene witness the decapitation of Kainene's steward during the attack. They go to Orlu, where Kainene, newly gripped by Biafran patriotism, runs a refugee camp.

Odenigbo returns from Abba, unsuccessful at having found his mother's body. He becomes withdrawn and begins drinking excessively. Olanna and Odenigbo are forced to move to a single room in a refugee compound, where tension and starvation plague the neighbors. Kainene, moved by her steward's death, reconciles with Olanna. Ugwu leaves the house and is conscripted, but Olanna manages to rescue him. While Olanna is in Orlu visiting Kainene, Odenigbo begins sleeping with Olanna's friend, the neighbor Alice.

Ugwu leaves the house a second time and is conscripted. In the army he begins reading a book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself. He is successful in battle but keeps to himself. At a drunken celebration at a bar, he participates in the gang rape of the barmaid, against his better judgment. Ugwu is wounded in an attack. Olanna is desperately worried Ugwu has been killed. Shelling begins in Umuahia and Olanna and Odenigbo go to Orlu, where they stay with Richard and Kainene. Conditions have become desperate, and starvation has become the norm. Refugees fight one another over the little food that is available, and Kainene's farming efforts fail for lack of rain. Richard escorts two American journalists around Biafra. They are racist, insensitive, and uninterested in the starving Biafran refugees Richard shows them.

A priest recognizes Ugwu when he is convalescing in a hospital, and soon Richard brings him to Orlu, where, inspired by Fredrick Douglass's book, he begins writing about the war. Ojukwu leaves Biafra, and Kainene leaves to trade behind enemy lines for salt and food. She does not return, even when the war ends in January 1970. Olanna and Odenigbo go back to Nsukka. Along the way Nigerian soldiers, who blame them for the war, humiliate them. They find their house in Nsukka looted and desecrated.

Ugwu returns to his village, where he finds out his mother is dead and soldiers raped his sister. He weeps for what was destroyed in the war. Ugwu tells Richard he is writing a big book about Biafra. Richard returns to Port Harcourt and finds someone else living in Kainene's house.

Olanna devotes herself to finding her sister. Their life in Nsukka resumes outwardly normal, but she is tormented by Kainene's loss. She consults a traditional healer for help finding Kainene and expresses a spiritual faith she never had before.

Half of a Yellow Sun Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Ugwu becomes Odenigbo's houseboy, and Olanna moves in.

Rising Action

2 Odenigbo impregnates Amala, and Olanna sleeps with Richard.

3 Olanna adopts Baby; Kainene stops speaking to Olanna.

4 Olanna's family is murdered; Richard witnesses a murder.

5 Biafra secedes, and the war begins.

6 Nsukka falls, and Olanna and others flee to Abba.

7 Olanna and others flee to Umuahia. She marries Odenigbo.

8 Richard writes for Biafran press. Port Harcourt falls.

9 Kainene runs a refugee camp and forgives Olanna.

10 Ugwu is recruited into the army.

Climax

11 Biafra surrenders, and the war ends.

Falling Action

12 Odenigbo finds his mother's grave.

13 Kainene is still missing behind enemy lines.

14 Ugwu begins to write the story of Biafra.

Resolution

15 Olanna consults a dibia in hopes of finding Kainene.

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