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.
Loyalty and Betrayal ThemeTracker
Loyalty and Betrayal Quotes in Half of a Yellow Sun
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?
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.