Half of a Yellow Sun

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Half of a Yellow Sun Quotes

Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of Half of a Yellow Sun published in 2006.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

“There are two answers to the things they will teach you about our land: the real answer and the answer you give in school to pass. You must read books and learn both answers. I will give you books, excellent books.” Master stopped to sip his tea. “They will teach you that a white man called Mungo Park discovered River Niger. That is rubbish. Our people fished in the Niger long before Mungo Park’s grandfather was born. But in your exam, write that it was Mungo Park.”

Related Characters: Odenigbo (speaker), Ugwu
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old boy from the village Opi, has been brought to Odenigbo's house to serve as his houseboy. In exchange, he is provided with room, board, and an education at the campus primary school.

In this quote, Odenigbo expresses his discontent with the colonial history that he knows Ugwu will be taught in school. He advises Ugwu as to what he must write to do well in school, but also wants to make sure that he passes on the true history of Nigeria, not the history that British colonialism has written into the textbooks. This quote epitomizes Odenigbo's frustration with postcolonial Nigeria: the true answers for an independent nation are very clear, but obscured by the shadow that remains of the imperial British empire. In order to succeed and maintain social mobility, one must pander to colonial enterprises; but to preserve any sort of native identity, one must also defy them.


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“Of course, of course, but my point is that the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe,” Master said. “I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”

Related Characters: Odenigbo (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

In the evenings, Odenigbo's house becomes a salon for many of the faculty members at the University. Ugwu enjoys listening to the academics debate literature, science, and primarily, politics. In this quote, Master (Odenigbo) argues vehemently against the broad "Nigerian" identity that white British colonists imposed upon a diverse array of tribes that resided for centuries in one particular region of Africa. 

Odenigo identifies as tribalist (meaning he sees himself as "Igbo" rather than "Nigerian"), and works towards overthrowing the various sociopolitical structures that the British put into place. He points out that Nigerians see themselves as black only because the white British colonists told them they were, and that they live in a place called "Nigeria" because white settlers decided that a particular region was to be grouped under one nation. Odenigbo is vehemently against these ideas because they are artificial, foreign creations that diminish the importance and identity of all individual Africans, and also the Igbo tribe, which he and his ancestors have been a part of for as long as they can remember. This identity is not as fully recognized politically because it did not serve the needs of the British colonists (and indeed, most colonial powers tried to exacerbate conflicts between tribes or groups in order to maintain their power over a divided populace). In his quest to overthrow colonialism in the artificial Nigeria, Odenigbo first identifies as a member of his tribe, the Igbo, before seeing himself as black and Nigerian. 

Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“The new Nigerian upper class is a collection of illiterates who read nothing and eat food they dislike at overpriced Lebanese restaurants and have social conversations around one subject: ‘How’s the new car behaving?’”

Related Characters: Kainene Ozobia (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

After meeting at one of Susan's parties, Richard becomes infatuated with Kainene. They begin to meet for lunches at one of her father's hotels, which soon lead to somewhat unsuccessful trysts, due to Richard's inexplicable inability to sexually perform. Kainene, however, does not seem upset by his lack of arousal, and they resume their conversations as normal. 

In this quote, Kainene complains about her parents and the social class they occupy. She argues that they are undereducated yet wealthy, resulting in a banality that centers around their "nouveau-riche" purchases like foreign cars and expensive meals. Richard is fascinated with her biting wit and prescient observations, and her strong sense of self despite having grown up in the very social class she is deprecating. Though critical of the nouveau riche (people with "new money," often seen to be tasteless and garish) like her parents, Kainene exhibits some hypocrisy in that she very much benefits from the wealth and education she has received as a result of her family's sociopolitical status. Still, Richard is in awe of her determination to make her own way in the world as a shrewd businesswoman. 

Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

Ugwu suddenly wished that Master would not touch his mother because her clothes smelled of age and must, and because Master did not know that her back ached and her cocoyam patch always yielded a poor harvest and her chest was indeed on fire when she coughed. What did Master know about anything anyway, since all he did was shout with his friends and drink brandy at night?

Related Characters: Ugwu (speaker), Odenigbo, Ugwu’s Mother
Page Number: 113-114
Explanation and Analysis:

Ugwu's aunt comes to Odenigbo's house to tell him that Ugwu's mother is very sick, and that he must go to see her immediately before she dies. Odenigbo tells Ugwu and his aunt to get in his car, and that he will bring Ugwu's mother from her village so that she can be treated by a doctor.

In this quote, Odenigbo insists on carrying Ugwu's mother to his car, and Ugwu suddenly feels both embarrassed and angry. Though he previously idolized Odenigbo for all of his worldly knowledge, he suddenly comes to realize Odenigbo's shortcomings: as an educated academic, Odenigbo assumes that he must know how most village Nigerians live. Ugwo feels that Odenigbo's kindness in ensuring that his mother receives modern medical help is a kind of pity, and not entirely altruistic. Ugwu does not know that Odenigbo himself comes from a village similar to Opi. This lack of transparency between Odenigbo about his past and Ugwu about his present reinforces the problems with class in postcolonial Nigeria, where social mobility is available to some and not others, and there is a severe disparity in the ways in which the poor and the rich live. Even though Ugwu and Odenigbo eventually become as good as family, they will always remain a Master and his servant. 

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

She would not let him make her feel that there was something wrong with her. It was her right to be upset, her right to choose not to brush her humiliation aside in the name of overexalted intellectualism, and she would claim that right. “Go.” She gestured toward the door. “Go and play your tennis and don’t come back here.”
She watched him get up and leave. He banged the door. They had never had a quarrel; he had never been impatient with dissent from her as he was with others. Or it may simply be that he humored her and did not think much of her opinions in the first place.

Related Characters: Olanna Ozobia (speaker), Odenigbo
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

When Odenigbo's mother meets Olanna at Odenigbo's house, she accuses her son's girlfriend of being a barren, overeducated "witch" who is cursed because she did not nurse with her mother. Upset, Olanna leaves Odenigbo's house abruptly. When Ugwu tells Odenigbo what happened, he goes to Olanna's university-issued flat, where she rarely sleeps, and tells her not to worry about his mother, who he claims struggles with being a village woman in a modern world. Olanna is offended that he does not defend her (Olanna), but rather excuses his mother, and in this quote, she tells Odenigbo to leave. Olanna soon realizes that this is the first time they have fought, though Odenigbo quarrels nightly with the people who visit his salon. Olanna wonders if, like her parents and Miss Adebayo, he sees her as a pretty face whose education is dismissible and whose ideas are quaint but do not matter. She suddenly becomes ill at ease with Odenigbo's presumptuous intellectualism, and the confidence that she used to admire, and instead views it as pompous and pretentious. As a pretty rich girl, Olanna has fought her whole life to be heard for her thoughts and not for her status and appearance. This is a fight that few would pity, but it has left her weak and voiceless in many situations, and this quarrel marks the first fight in a long journey for Olanna to find her personal strength.

Olanna had wanted to give the scent of his mother’s visit some time to diffuse before telling him she wanted to have a child, and yet here he was, voicing her own desire before she could. She looked at him in wonder. This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.

Related Characters: Olanna Ozobia, Odenigbo, Odenigbo’s Mother (Mama)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Even before Olanna and Odenigbo reconcile, Olanna decides that she wants to have a baby with Odenigbo, as a kind of proof of their love and future together. While in bed one morning, Odenigbo sleepily tells Olanna that he wants them to have a child together. As Olanna has not yet voiced her wish to Odenigbo, she sees this mutual desire as a sign of the strength of their lasting relationship together, despite their occasional differences in opinion (and Adichie phrases this realization in a quite lyrical way). Odenigbo's brash, often overly-intellectualized opinions can sometimes erase his decisions of any kind of compassion or sentiment. By contrast, Olanna, though highly intelligent and educated, tends to follow her heart in matters of opinions and decisions, a difference that usually binds, but occasionally divides them.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

It was the look in Okeoma’s eyes that worried him the most: a disdainful distrust that made him think of reading somewhere that the African and the European would always be irreconcilable. It was wrong of Okeoma to assume that he was one of those Englishman who did not give the African the benefit of an equal intelligence.

Related Characters: Richard Churchill, Okeoma
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard moves to Nsukka for a university fellowship and soon becomes a part of Odenigbo's regular salons. At one such event, he tells Okeoma about the Igbo-Ukwu roped pots and art that inspired him to move to Nigeria to write. Okeoma accuses Richard of expressing surprise that "these people" could accomplish such artwork. In this quote, Richard is deeply offended that Okeoma would think his interest is condescending or racist in any way. 

By moving to Nigeria due to a genuine interest in Igbo-Ukwu artwork, and particularly after falling in love with an Igbo woman, Richard essentially believes that he is exempt from his native nation's colonial past. Thus, he is shocked when Okeoma accuses him of holding racist ideals that place African people on a lower level of intelligence, as colonial propaganda attempted to make people believe. Richard believes he is exempt from colonialism because he is a "good" white person who does not look down upon Nigerians, yet as Okeoma's criticism points out, it is this kind of thinking that precisely problematizes his interest in the country. Richard is not exempt from the privilege that comes from white skin and a British passport, and as he will come to learn, the story of Nigeria's struggle for independence will never truly be his to tell. 

Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

She opened the calabash.
“Take a look,” she said again.
Olanna looked into the bowl. She saw the little girl’s head with the ashy-gray skin and the braided hair and rolled-back eyes and open mouth. She stared at it for a while before she looked away. Somebody screamed.
The woman closed the calabash. “Do you know,” she said, “it took me so long to plait this hair? She had such thick hair.”
The train had stopped with a rusty screech. Olanna got down and stood in the jostling crowd. A woman fainted… She thought about the plaited hair resting in the calabash. She visualised the mother braiding it, her fingers oiling it with pomade before dividing it into sections with a wooden comb.

Related Characters: Olanna Ozobia
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

After the massacre at Kano, Mohammed hurries Olanna to a train that can take her back to Nsukka. Unfortunately, she is not spared the sight of her aunt and uncle's mangled bodies, and she realizes that Arize, too, is dead. On the train, she is surrounded by wounded and weeping people. In this quote, a grieving mother shows Olanna and other passengers what is inside the calabash she carries: the ashen, severed head of her daughter. While many of the onlookers have violent reactions of disgust to the child's head, Olanna is transfixed in morbid fascination with the girl and her hair. 

While the book depicts many images of the horrific violence that occurred during the war, this moment of an eerily calm mother carrying and showing the head of her child is one of the most haunting and enduring passages in the novel. Adichie employs this image to tie together the horrors of the war with the humanities of everyday life: even when her child has died and all she has left is a lifeless head, the mother cannot help but think of the effort that she put into braiding her daughter's thick hair. Though colonial and wartime endeavors sought to strip the Nigerian and Biafran people of their humanity through severe acts of violence, humanity and love endure, such as the care a mother takes each day to braid her daughter's hair, the love that does not die even when the daughter does, so much so that a mother is driven to save her daughter's head in remembrance. This image continues to haunt not only Olanna, but other characters who hear of it secondhand, throughout the novel. 

Part 2, Chapter 13 Quotes

Odenigbo climbed up to the podium waving his Biafran flag: swaths of red, black, and green and, at the center, a luminous half of a yellow sun.
“Biafra is born! We will lead Black Africa! We will live in security! Nobody will ever again attack us! Never again!”

Related Characters: Odenigbo (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Biafran Flag
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

The same day that Odenigbo asks Olanna to sign a petition demanding that East Nigeria secede from the rest of the country, Ojukwu announces over the radio that the secession has occurred, with the new nation christened "Biafra." A joyous rally of students and lecturers congregates in Freedom Square, where Odenigbo is urged to speak. In this quote, Odenigbo proudly waves the Biafran flag, depicting the colors red, black, and green, and a rising sun, expressing his joy at independence at last. 

As a "revolutionary," as Kainene is fond of calling Odenigbo, Odenigbo has grand dreams of freeing Africa from the colonial clutches of Europeans. Even though Nigeria is technically independent of Britain, the artificial structures left behind by occupation still very much govern the diverse array of tribes grouped under one Nigeria. As a nation born post-colonialism, Biafra has the chance to actively shed these structures and govern itself presciently against foreign influence. Odenigbo is ecstatic to be a part of a cause beyond the debates in his living room, and exhibits a passion at the podium that he seldom releases in his personal life.

To Odenigbo, Biafra is a chance at rebirth for both him and his Igbo people. Yet, neither he nor the joyous members of the audience know that a terrible civil war (largely inspired and supported by foreign powers) is about to ravage the nation. The half of a yellow sun on the flag becomes an important symbol throughout the novel: a rising sun on the horizon, half of a nation that will soon become whole. Yet the lack of a full sun may also come to represent pessimism, a half that remains a half and never comes to fruition. At the end of the war, it is up to each person to decide for his or herself whether the glass is "half empty" or "half full" in the seemingly futile fight for independence. 

Part 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

The notion of the recent killings being the product of “age-old” hatred is therefore misleading. The tribes of the North and the South have long had contact, at least as far back as the ninth century, as some of the magnificent beads discovered at the historic Igbo-Ukwu site attest. No doubt these groups also fought wars and slave-raided each other, but they did not massacre in this manner. If this is hatred, then it is very young. It has been caused, simply, by the informal divide-and-rule policies of the British colonial exercise.

Related Characters: Richard Churchill (speaker)
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

As the war rages on, Richard's Aunt Elizabeth sends him foreign news articles that report on the situation. These reports are often incorrect and full of prejudices against Nigerians and Biafrans. Angered, Richard writes an article to send to a British newspaper, correcting their assumptions that they purport to be facts. In this quote, Richard's article refutes the idea that Africans are inherently violent or warlike, but rather that British colonial policy created artificial divisions that have ultimately led to this inhumane conflict. 

This quote by Richard condenses much of the novel's political argument: though the rest of the world pins the root of the war on the African people's inherent inhumanity and violent tendencies, the true cause of the violence is the British colonist's artificial political structures that placed one tribal group in place to govern a variety of other tribes that happen to reside in close proximity to one another. As Richard (who is unable to resist including his love of Igbo-Ukwu art and artifacts in his article) points out, Northern and Southern tribes had peaceful interactions eons before the British even traveled to the continent. It is only when the British decided that the Northern tribes were more Europeanlooking and therefore worthy of governing the Southern tribes that conflict arose. Though it takes him some time to realize the full extent of the privilege that he receives from this very system, Richard acknowledges that as a white man he benefits from the very system that has caused the war, and seeks to use this position to implicate Britain, and the rest of the world that turns a racist or blind eye to Biafra, in this tragedy.

Part 3, Chapter 19 Quotes

Ugwu moved closer to the door to listen; he was fascinated by Rhodesia, by what was happening in the south of Africa. He could not comprehend people that looked like Mr. Richard taking away the things that belonged to people that looked like him, Ugwu, for no reason at all.

Related Characters: Ugwu (speaker), Richard Churchill
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

Ugwu eavesdrops on Richard and Odenigbo in the living room in Nsukka, where Odenigbo is criticizing the British Empire for the atrocities that they commit in Rhodesia (South Africa). In this quote, Ugwu thinks to himself that it makes no sense that white people feel that they can simply take things away from black people. 

Ugwu's heartbreaking confusion at the racist roots of colonialism, that white people are superior to black people, underscores the nonsensical logic of racism and colonialism itself. Oppression and exploitation have occurred throughout human history, but nothing as systematic and large-scale as the European conquest of the African continent (not to mention Asia and the Americas). To Ugwu, the theft of property and freedom only comes as a punishment if people commit a crime; therefore, he is fascinated by the idea that one can rule over another simply due to differences in the color of their skin. His logic, of course, is absolutely correct: there is no reason that this should ever occur, except for the fact that centuries of racism and colonialism have put structures in place that allow for the systematic exploitation of black Africans by white Europeans. Ugwu's passing confusion underscores why Biafra's cause is so important, even in its failure: that Biafrans sought to create their own nation, free of colonial influence, exerting the innate human independence they deserved and were stripped of by the British. 

Part 3, Chapter 20 Quotes

“You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?” Aunty Ifeka said. “Your life belongs to you and you alone, soso gi. You will go back on Saturday.”

Related Characters: Aunty Ifeka (speaker), Olanna Ozobia
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

After Olanna finds out that Odenigbo slept with Amala, she goes to Kano to find some solace with her extended family members. She tells her aunt about her situation, and in this quote, Aunty Ifeka replies unsympathetically to Olanna's complaining. A man, she asserts, should never come to define Olanna's life, as it is her life and hers alone. Thus, the decision whether to forgive him or to leave permanently should be hers alone and not be dependent on anyone else's desires or wishes. 

Olanna's desire to please everyone in her life--from her parents to Kainene to Odenigbo--often leaves her distraught when she is left with a choice that involves her own personal happiness. Olanna has always expected and admired Odenigbo's confidence, but as Aunty Ifeka points out, this admiration is often to a fault, as Olanna usually lets Odenigbo's decisions rule her life. For the most part, she has been content to become a part of his life rather than him becoming a part of hers, but she knows she has more self-respect than to let him be totally forgiven for sleeping with his mother's housegirl. The decision to forgive or to leave, Aunty Ifeka can tell, is completely ruining Olanna's life in the present. In this quote, she points out to Olanna that Odenigbo, or any man, should never have this much power over her: a man's presence, or lack thereof, should only ever be an aspect of her life, never the whole. Olanna's subsequent decision will be important, but should not be life-defining, as she has been making it out to be. 

Part 3, Chapter 23 Quotes

Or she should have told him more: that she regretted betraying Kainene and him but did not regret the act itself. She should have said that it was not a crude revenge, or a scorekeeping, but took on a redemptive significance for her. She should have said the selfishness had liberated her.

Related Characters: Olanna Ozobia (speaker), Kainene Ozobia , Odenigbo
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

After Olanna sleeps with Richard, they agree not to tell Kainene what has transpired between them. Olanna tells Odenigbo, who is shaken at the breach in Olanna's loyalty, and the fact that she would discard her morals to the extent that she would sleep with her twin sister's boyfriend. In this quote, Olanna, back at her apartment, wishes she had elaborated more on her feelings about her night with Richard. 

As the more attractive, "agreeable" twin, Olanna is perceived as morally and socially superior to Kainene, to a fault. Kainene, whose slender figure appears masculine to many, acts traditionally "masculine" in what seems to be a response to her sister's personality: she is sharp, sarcastic, and relies on shrewd logic in both her own life and in her career as a businesswoman. In a way, sleeping with her twin's boyfriend and not regretting the act is something that Kainene might have done if Richard cheated on her: challenge one morally reprehensible act with one that might be even more despicable. The danger and general badness of the act is delicious to angelic Olanna, and her lack of regret inspires a "liberation" in her feelings towards herself and Odenigbo's infidelity. Now that they are even--and in fact, she has the upper hand--she can forgive him, and herself. And more importantly, the very act of taking full control of her life and agency over her actions makes this seeming sin into an identity-affirming moment for Olanna herself.

Part 3, Chapter 24 Quotes

“I will never forgive myself if I lose you, Kainene.”
Her face was expressionless. “I took your manuscript from the study this morning and I burned it,” she said.
Richard felt a soar in his chest of emotions he could not name. “The Basket of Hands,” the collection of pages that he was finally confident could become a book, was gone… But it did not matter. What mattered was that by burning the manuscript she had shown him that she would not end the relationship; she would not bother to cause him pain if she was not going to stay. Perhaps he was not a true writer after all. He had read somewhere that, for true writers, nothing was more important than their art, not even love.

Related Characters: Kainene Ozobia (speaker), Richard Churchill (speaker)
Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis:

After Kainene finds out that Richard slept with Olanna, Kainene is understandably furious, and Richard spends a fitful night on the couch worried that she will leave him. In this quote, Kainene greets Richard with an eerie calmness the next day, and announces that she has burned Richard's sole copy of his book, which was near completion. Though Richard is aghast at the loss of his work, he mostly feels elation: this act of retribution means that she is not leaving him, presumably to watch his anguish over the loss of the manuscript. Richard realizes he cares more for Kainene than he does for his writing, and wonders if this means that he is not really a "true" writer. 

From the moment Richard was born to apathetic parents, Richard has been apologetic and guilty about his very existence, particularly based on the privilege he receives as a white Englishman in postcolonial Nigeria. Both his writing and his love for Kainene become his only anchors to the world in a way nothing else has before. He hopes to do some good for the world by writing a book about a Nigeria suppressed by the British, but finds himself falling deeper in love with Kainene than he ever could with Igbo-Ukwu artifacts. When Kainene announces that the book has been burned, he realizes his relief is significantly greater than his anger, and that he values her more than his writing. His existence, it seems, can perhaps be justified by his love for another person, not just what he will leave behind. 

Part 4, Chapter 25 Quotes

She taught them about the Biafran flag. They sat on wooden planks and the weak morning sun streamed into the roofless class as she unfurled Odenigbo’s cloth flag and told them what the symbols meant. Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.

Related Characters: Olanna Ozobia (speaker), Odenigbo
Related Symbols: The Biafran Flag
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:

After the school is shut down to be used as a refugee camp, Olanna and Ugwu teach classes in their backyard to children whose parents pay a small fee or provide payment in kind, such as gifts of food. In this quote, Adichie describes how Olanna proudly teaches her pupils to be patriots, and explains to them the symbolism of the Biafran flag. 

The colors of the Biafran flag signify both remembrance and hope, showing that the country will not blindly be created without remembering the bloodshed that occurred in the fight for independence. Biafra would be a state that knew the dangers of colonialism and the greed of foreign influence, and would be (ideally) impervious to repeating such corruption again. The titular "half of a yellow sun" that all soldiers bear on their shoulders represents an optimistic future, yet there is also something ominous about a sun that is never depicted as whole. Olanna, who has been told who she is and how to think by her parents, sister, random people who appraise her beauty, and Odenigbo her whole life, is elated to find something to truly believe in, something she is a part of in the beginning.

Part 4, Chapter 27 Quotes

“Of course I asked because you are white. They will take what you write more seriously because you are white. Look, the truth is that this is not your war. This is not your cause. Your government will evacuate you in a minute if you ask them to. So it is not enough to carry limp branches and shout power, power to show that you support Biafra. If you really want to contribute, this is the way that you can. The world has to know the truth of what is happening, because they simply cannot remain silent while we die.”

Related Characters: Madu Madu (speaker), Richard Churchill
Page Number: 382
Explanation and Analysis:

As Biafra is on the brink of losing one of its major holdings, Port Harcourt (where Kainene and Richard now live together after Richard fled Nsukka), Madu asks Richard to write articles for the Propaganda Directorate. As Richard has always worried that Madu did not like him and was in fact in love with Kainene, he is flattered by this, but also concerned that he is only being asked because he is white. 

Though Richard has subconsciously felt that the Biafran cause is his cause, too, since he has been present since its inception, Madu points out that it never has, and never will be, his struggle. As a white Englishman, he still has privileges in a postcolonial Africa and larger world that neither Biafrans nor Nigerians yet have. If he truly believes in the cause, Madu asserts, then the best thing he can do is use his privilege to bring the world's attention to the atrocities being committed in the war. 

For Richard, who has found a home in Biafra in a way he never felt at home in England (or Nigeria), Madu's words, like Okeoma's previous accusations at his internalized racism, shake him to the core. However, over time, he does come to accept that Biafra will never be his the way it is for those who are of Igbo descent. He harnesses his white privilege according to Madu's suggestions, and writes articles with the goal of bringing Biafra's struggle to the forefront of worldwide media coverage. 

Part 4, Chapter 29 Quotes

The skinny soldiers – with no boots, no uniforms, no half of a yellow sun on their sleeves – kicked and slapped and mocked Ugwu during physical training… the casual cruelty of this new world in which he had no say grew a hard clot of fear inside him.

Related Characters: Ugwu (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Biafran Flag
Page Number: 450
Explanation and Analysis:

Like Olanna feared, Ugwu is forcibly conscripted into the Biafran army. In the army compound, Ugwu notes the "casual cruelty" he encounters during basic training, receiving brutal treatment from soldiers who don't seem to champion (or even acknowledge) any of the principles of Biafra that citizens hear over the radio. 

Ugwu is shocked to see that the soldiers who are supposedly fighting for their freedom are just as crude and uncivilized as the Northern "vandals" who systematically slaughter Biafrans. The lack of the half of the yellow sun on their shoulders, so unlike the smart-fitting uniform that Okeoma wears, is a symbolism of this lack of adherence to patriotism or ideals. As is often the case in war, idealism is sacrificed to violence, and brutal men assume power, taking advantage of strife and fear. The sun is a symbol of a hopeful future, and in its absence, there is seemingly no hope left. Ugwu has been treated well thus far in his life--save a few mean cries of "Ignoramus!" from Odenigbo--and he is surprised at how casually he is treated cruelly by his fellow soldiers. The unorganized, internally crude nature of the army does not bode well for the war effort, and it places Ugwu's kindness and innocence on dangerous grounds. 

Part 4, Chapter 31 Quotes

“The vandals took our town many weeks ago and they announced that all the indigenes should come out and say ‘One Nigera’ and they would give them rice. So people came out of hiding and said ‘One Nigeria’ and the vandals shot them, men, women, and children. Everyone.”

Page Number: 481
Explanation and Analysis:

A man from Alice's hometown comes to tell her that her family, and everyone else in her town, has been murdered by the Northern "vandals." In this quote, the man tells her and other onlookers that the townspeople were lured out of hiding by the vandals promising they would give them food if they denounced Biafra by saying "One Nigeria." When the townspeople came out, they were slaughtered by the vandals. 

This horrifying event shows the mercilessness that has come to characterize the war. Even if there is to be "One Nigeria," these war crimes will not be easily forgotten by either side. This quote also highlights how dire the food situation has become in Biafra, to the point that people are willing to submit themselves to enemy soldiers in exchange for the promise of rice. Even worse is the thought that without the promised rice, the townspeople feared death from starvation. A war that began to stop the secession of Biafra from the rest of Nigeria has quickly turned into an Igbo genocide. 

“Yes, good. There’s something very lazy about the way you have loved him so blindly for so long without ever criticizing him. You’ve never even accepted that the man is ugly,” Kainene said.

Related Characters: Olanna Ozobia (speaker), Kainene Ozobia (speaker)
Page Number: 486
Explanation and Analysis:

At Kainene's house in Orlu, Olanna complains to her twin about how Odenigbo has seemingly changed into someone else since the war began. She voices her complaints about his excessive drinking and her suspicions that he slept with Alice. In this quote, Kainene replies that she is happy Olanna has finally stopped blindly accepting her love and confidence in Odenigbo without criticism.

As a beautiful and rich woman, Olanna has rarely questioned the good things that come to her, such as a university degree, jobs, and men. The major choices she has made in life lately have all involved Odenigbo, such as when she left Mohammed and when she decided to forgive Odenigbo after he slept with Amala, more for her sake than his. Kainene, who has had an equally charmed life albeit without Olanna's good looks and eager-to-please personality, has always been more shrewd and discerning regarding decisions that relate to her personal life. She praises Olanna for finally criticizing Odenigbo without loving him and his flaws blindly, a moment of bonding for two sisters who have been distant for so long. 

Part 4, Chapter 32 Quotes

Ugwu thanked him and shook his head and realized that he would never be able to capture that child on paper, never be able to describe well enough the fear that dulled the eyes of mothers in the refugee camp when the bomber planes charged out of the sky. He would never be able to depict the very bleakness of bombing hungry people. But he tried, and the more he wrote the less he dreamed.

Related Characters: Ugwu (speaker)
Page Number: 498
Explanation and Analysis:

While Ugwu is healing from his battle wounds and trauma, he helps out in the refugee camp, where he encounters more suffering than ever before. Haunted by nightmares, he begins to write of the atrocities he has seen, which lessens his night terrors. 

Like Richard, Ugwu realizes the solace that writing can bring by easing things stuck into the mind onto the page. Ugwu knows that there are no words to truly describe what he has seen and experienced, but he continues to try, and the more he writes the more his pain is lessened. Here, Adichie parallels her own writing, and accounts of the war included in the novel, to show that writing of the Biafran war is perhaps more important to its writers than it is to its readers--memoirs are a way to lessen suffering by putting them down on the page, a way to share the burden of the pain, to make sure that there is always a memory of what happened, even when everyone who was involved has passed away. Ugwu's reasons for writing are in direct contrast to Richard's however: Ugwu writes for himself, whereas Richard's novel is meant for a wider audience. The irony is, however, that the story we get snippets of throughout the novel is actually written by Ugwu, not Richard--as Richard eventually concedes to Ugwu, it was never his story to tell. 

When they listened to Radio Biafra, Ugwu would get up and walk away. The shabby theatrics of the war reports, the voice that forced morsels of invented hope down people’s throats, did not interest him. One afternoon, Harrison came up to the flame tree carrying the radio turned up high to Radio Biafra.
“Please turn that thing off,” Ugwu said. He was watching some little boys playing on the nearby patch of grass. “I want to hear the birds.”
“There are no birds singing,” Harrison said.
“Turn it off.”
“His Excellency is about to give a speech… It will be a great speech.”
“There is no such thing as greatness,” Ugwu said.

Related Characters: Ugwu (speaker), Harrison (speaker), Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu
Page Number: 500
Explanation and Analysis:

After Ugwu returns from the war, he usually walks away when Harrison insists on listening to the propaganda and platitudes broadcasted over the radio. In this quote, he insists, instead, that Harrison turn it off, saying that there is "no such thing as greatness." This is a brutally, tragically poignant statement, and in the context of Ugwu's experiences, one of the most powerful of the novel.

The war leaves Ugwu shell-shocked, and it is likely that he has PTSD, as evidenced by his nightmares. After seeing the cruelty of the armies on both sides of the war, and performing cruel acts himself (notably the rape of the bar girl), he no longer believes as fervently in the Biafran cause, or in any kind of ideal, as he had before he was placed on its front lines. He has been hardened by the "casual cruelty" and gang rapes he experienced, and is angered by the lies he hears over the radio. Ugwu no longer believes that "His Excellency" is so excellent if he continues to let the atrocities carry on with no end in sight. Ugwu, previously the voice of youth and innocence, has now lost much of his faith in humanity, or in any kind of meaning in life itself.

Part 4, Chapter 33 Quotes

Richard showed them Kainene’s picture. Sometimes, in his rush, he pulled out the picture of the roped pot instead. Nobody had seen her… On the drive back, Richard began to cry.

Related Characters: Richard Churchill (speaker), Kainene Ozobia
Related Symbols: Roped Pots
Page Number: 510
Explanation and Analysis:

After Kainene has been missing for two days, Olanna and Richard drive around in search of her. In this quote, Richard asks passersby if they have seen her, using a picture he keeps in his wallet to jog their memories. Occasionally, he accidentally pulls out the photo he keeps of the roped pot that inspired his move to Nigeria. No one has any information for Olanna or Richard, and when they drive home, Richard cries in despair.

While there have been many false alarms for the loss of the four narrative characters--Olanna and Odenigbo's impending break-up, Olanna's visit to Kano during a massacre, Ugwu's near-death experience--it is in fact Kainene whose disappearance remains a mystery in the final pages of the novel. She is the one main character whose voice we never hear as a narrator: like Richard's roped pots, she is objectified, othered, and analyzed by each of the other characters, in particular Olanna and Richard. The fact that Richard keeps the picture of the roped pots alongside his photo of Kainene symbolizes the fact that though he indeed loves Kainene and is lost in her absence, he has never quite shed his fascination for Nigeria due to his "othering" of its culture, a remnant of his native Englishness and white skin. 

Part 4, Chapter 34 Quotes

Ugwu was writing as she spoke, and his writing, the earnestness of his interest, suddenly made her story important, made it serve a larger purpose that even she was not sure of, and so she told him all she remembered about the train full of people who had cried and shouted and urinated on themselves.

Related Characters: Olanna Ozobia (speaker), Ugwu
Page Number: 512
Explanation and Analysis:

One day, while gently brushing Baby's hair, which is falling out from malnutrition, Olanna tells Ugwu that she cannot stop thinking of the little girl's head that she saw in the calabash on the way back from Kano. Ugwu asks her to say more, and writes down everything Olanna tells him. 

Like Ugwu's decreased nightmares after he began writing, Olanna begins to feel a sense of relief as she tells Ugwu all she saw that day in Kano and on the train back to Nsukka. The reader begins to suspect that perhaps the writer of "The World Was Silent When We Died" is not Richard, but in fact Ugwu. Ugwu's determination to record the atrocities Olanna has experienced, and the sense of release and understanding she feels, underscores the importance of recording these events for posterity, and of ensuring that events like these never happen again. It also emphasizes the tragedy of the neglect that Biafra felt from the world at large throughout the war--like Olanna's wish to be heard, Biafra wants to be heard and helped as people starve to death behind enemy lines, cut off from all food supplies. Here, Adichie shows the importance of narratives and memoir to give humanity to even the most gruesome of genocides. 

Part 4, Chapter 36 Quotes

Madu got up. Richard reached out and grasped his arm. Come back, he wanted to say, come back here and tell me if you ever laid your filthy black hand on her. Madu shrugged Richard’s hand off…
Darkness descended on him, and when it lifted he knew that he would never see Kainene again and that his life would always be like a candlelit room; he would see things only in shadows, only in half glimpses.

Related Characters: Richard Churchill (speaker), Kainene Ozobia , Madu Madu
Page Number: 537
Explanation and Analysis:

After Kainene's disappearance, Richard goes to Lagos to see Kainene's parents. At their home, he also encounters Madu. After years of pent-up anger and jealousy towards Madu, Richard summons up the courage to ask him if he loves Kainene, to which Madu replies that he does. Richard asks him if he has ever "touched" (slept) with Kainene, and Madu only laughs. Richard feels condescended to by Madu, and in this quote, he thinks a variety of furious, even racist thoughts towards the man he believes may have slept with the woman he loves. Instead of saying these things, he punches Madu, who punches Richard in return and causes him to fall unconscious.

Though Richard has found a home in Nigeria, and then Biafra, in a way that he never felt at home in England, this inner monologue reveals that he still feels an "otherness" for the Nigerian people. So great is his love for Kainene--at times, a kind of fetishization of the way she looks and acts, so different from what he looks like and his own personality--that he thinks the very worst thoughts he can towards Madu, which in his trauma easily descend into racism. Though perhaps subconsciously still ingrained with racist ideas, Richard would never deign to say these things out loud, and instead he expresses his grief through a punch, which the powerful, confident Madu responds to with an even stronger punch. As Richard slips in and out of unconsciousness, he thinks about how his world will be entirely different now without Kainene by his side, a symbol of how both she and Biafra have forever shaped who he is, despite his worries towards the contrary. He had defined his life around Kainene and Biafra, and now both are lost.

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