Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Quotes

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1.

They say you did not suck your mother's breasts.


Odenigbo's mother, Part 1, Chapter 4

Odenigbo's mother, a superstitious village woman who believes in traditional gender norms and in the power of witchcraft, accuses Olanna of being a witch. The basis of her accusation is that Olanna was nursed by a woman other than her mother, who, as a member of the new Igbo business elite wished to preserve the firmness of her breasts in accordance with Western beauty ideals. Odenigbo's mother, incapable of understanding how vanity could drive a modern woman to give up nursing her own child, explains the situation to herself by saying Olanna is a witch. Believing this, she believes she must protect her son from Olanna by driving her away.

2.

You have forgotten where you come from ... become so foolish you think you are a Big Man.


Anulika, Part 2, Chapter 7

Visiting his village after acclimating to life in Nsukka, Ugwu expresses disgust with the "rotten oil beans" smell of his sister Anulika's fiancée and the yam his mother prepares without the butter he has become accustomed to. Anulika expresses her scorn for the new distance between Ugwu and his people, saying he is foolish to think he can ever be powerful and influential like the "Big Man" he works for.

3.

Of course, we all hate somebody, but it's about control. Civilization teaches you control.


Susan, Part 2, Chapter 12

Susan, a British expatriate, expresses a racism rooted in the assumption that Nigerians need the "civilizing" influence of British hegemony. Susan sets up a dichotomy, where the British are civilized and the Nigerians are not, and the Igbo are particularly uncivilized given they've had less contact with the British than other groups such as the Yoruba. Susan lacks self-awareness, as well as any critical sense of her own racism, and sees herself as having more self-control than Nigerians despite her out-of-control drinking and jealousy.

4.

Even the grass will fight for Biafra.


Ojukwu, Part 2, Chapter 14

Soon after declaring Biafra's independence, Ojukwu makes an appearance at Nsukka University where he rallies the support and emotions of students, staff, and townspeople. Given the uncalled-for violence against Igbos in the North, Biafran independence, Ojukwu claims, is such a righteous cause even Nature will recognize and participate in Biafra's struggle.

5.

My life will change only if I want it to change.


Aunty Ifeka, Part 3, Chapter 20

After she learns of Odenigbo's liaison with Amala, Olanna visits her family in Kano to get some perspective. Her Aunty Ifeka scolds Olanna for wanting to leave Nsukka because of Odenigbo's actions. She tells Olanna she must never let a man's actions change her course and shares how she has not let her own husband's infidelities affect her life. This advice empowers Olanna, and she returns to Nsukka where she lives alone and pursues her own interests for a time.

6.

When I lost my whole family ... it was as if I had been born all over again.


Inatimi, Part 4, Chapter 27

These words of the Biafran freedom fighter Inatimi earn Kainene's respect. They also echo one of the novel's major themes: the rebirth, growth, or new power that can emerge from harrowing, senseless loss.

7.

We are all Biafrans! ... Do you understand me? We are all Biafrans!


Kainene, Part 4, Chapter 27

When a refugee woman spits on the ethnic minority doctor who is examining her, accusing her of being a saboteur, Kainene is outraged and slaps the woman. Her words reveal her newfound conviction that anyone who struggles for or with Biafra is worthy of being called Biafran, and Biafrans of all ethnicities must support one another.

8.

God always fights for the side that has more arms.


Alice, Part 4, Chapter 28

Alice's statement reveals her lack of investment in the Biafran cause. The war trapped her in Biafra after she followed an Igbo soldier there for love. The statement offends Olanna, who responds confidently God is on the side of the Biafrans because God takes the side of justice.

9.

There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.


Kainene, Part 4, Chapter 28

Kainene explains the change of heart allowing her to forgive Olanna for sleeping with Richard. After she witnesses Ikejide's death, Olanna's betrayal seems trivial by comparison. The horrors of war soften Kainene's unforgiving nature and lead to an unprecedented closeness between the sisters.

10.

He was not living his life; life was living him.


Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 29

The narrator expresses Ugwu's loss of personal agency following his conscription into the Biafran military. Ugwu feels alienated from the intellectual, educated identity he was developing living with Odenigbo's family. His feeling of lack of control leads to his drunken participation in the gang rape of a barmaid, something he neither wanted nor intended to do. Afterward, he is tortured by shame and guilt.

11.

One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person.


Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 30

Richard conceptualizes this as "the rule of Western journalism" when he hosts two American journalists in Biafra. They are mostly interested in portraying Biafrans as uncivilized, and they focus on minor Western casualties, rather than on reporting the genocide of Biafrans by means of starvation happening right in front of their eyes.

12.

We are all in this war, and it is up to us to decide to become somebody else or not.


Kainene, Part 4, Chapter 31

When Olanna complains the war has made Odenigbo into a person she doesn't recognize, Kainene asserts Odenigbo has changed not because of the war but because he has failed to rise to the challenges before him. Kainene has an inner strength that seems unruffled by exterior circumstances, something Olanna admires and envies about her sister.

13.

Please turn that thing off ... I want to hear the birds ... There is no such thing as greatness.


Ugwu, Part 4, Chapter 32

After being released from the hospital, Ugwu no longer cares for politics. His belief in Biafra has been destroyed by his experiences in the war, and he would rather hear the sounds of nature than Ojukwu's speech on the radio. He has seen through the revolutionary bluster that once captivated him at Odenigbo's house, and he now understands darkness, not greatness, is at its core. At the beginning of the novel, nature was all he knew; now, having received his education in politics and war, he finds nature more comforting and true than the empty words of supposedly great men.

14.

The white man brought racism into the world. He used it ... to conquer a more humane people.


Odenigbo, Part 4, Chapter 33

Toward the end of the war, Odenigbo asserts his belief the colonizer creates racism and uses it in the service of colonization. He is unconcerned by the racism within his own statement, which pits the inhumane "white man" against the "more humane" black man. Kainene is unimpressed by this conceit, pointing out blacks also conquer blacks. Her implication is racism is also a problem among Africans, a theme the text continually touches on.

15.

His writing ... suddenly made her story ... serve a larger purpose that even she was not sure of.


Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 34

After the war, inspired by Fredrick Douglass's autobiography, Ugwu begins writing down the stories of the ordinary Biafrans he knows. Here, the narrator explains the effect Ugwu's interest in Olanna's story has on her feelings about her difficult wartime experiences. By preserving such stories in writing, Ugwu is claiming power and voice for defeated Biafrans. Their losses become less senseless and more meaningful because he writes them down.

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