Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun

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Themes and Colors
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Loyalty and Betrayal Theme Icon
War and Violence Theme Icon
Race and Culture Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Half of a Yellow Sun, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Loyalty and Betrayal Theme Icon

On the political level, Adichie shows a “betrayal” within Nigeria through the massacre of the Igbos, and also in the secession of Biafra and the powerful Igbo devotion to the Biafran cause. The book focuses mostly on the individual level, however, and its main characters experience personal loyalty and betrayal as well. The two central characters, Olanna and Kainene, are twin sisters who in many ways act as a microcosm of the Nigerian conflict, as they painfully break apart but are eventually reunited. The twins don’t look at all alike, and they are close in their youth but grow apart as they get older. Olanna then betrays Kainene by seducing her lover, Richard, and Kainene responds by totally cutting Olanna out of her life. In a similar way Odenigbo betrays Olanna by sleeping with Amala, his mother’s helper, and Richard betrays Kainene by sleeping with Olanna.

All of these betrayals cause great pain and times of personal reflection for the characters, but they ultimately lead to forgiveness and a stronger loyalty than before. Olanna takes Odenigbo back, Kainene burns Richard’s manuscript but stays with him, and Olanna and Kainene are eventually reunited and grow closer than ever. In her well-developed characters Adichie shows the human tendencies toward loyalty and betrayal, while at the same time showing how these impulses play out in the larger political arena.

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Loyalty and Betrayal Quotes in Half of a Yellow Sun

Below you will find the important quotes in Half of a Yellow Sun related to the theme of Loyalty and Betrayal.
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. 


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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.

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 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

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 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.