Writing and Discourse: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun as a Civil War Narrative.

AuthorWosu, Kalu
PositionSpecial Edition on Nigeria - Critical essay


During the Industrial Revolution in Europe, the novel served the interest of the bourgeoisie in their quest for monopoly and profit. During the colonial period, it helped to establish a system of economic exploitation of the indigenous peoples of Africa. The twentieth century marked a major watershed in the development of the novel, especially in the 1950s when it became a "miraculous weapon" in the hands of anticolonial protest writers.

The 1960s ushered in the era of independence for most African countries. With independence came disillusionment and frustration. The Africans themselves were clearly not prepared for political leadership at any level, and this led to unprecedented political imbroglio. Helpless Africans watched as their first civilian governments were wiped out by military coups d'etat.

Nigeria was not left out, because on the 15th of January, 1966, a group of young Sandhurst-trained middle-level officers toppled the regime of Sir Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa leading to civil unrest which culminated in a 30-month Civil War. Once again, writers used the novelistic medium as a privileged form to express their disgust at the failed political leadership. These writers of the post-independence malaise (ACHEBE, SOYINKA, SARO-WIWA, ADICHIE, etc.) strove to create in the masses a prise de conscience as regard the cul de sac which nominal independence had become.

The Nigeria-Biafra Civil War provided some Nigerian writers with raw material for literary activity. Elechi Amadi's Sunset in Biafra (1973) narrates the author's bitter experiences with the authorities of Biafra during the war. This largely autobiographical work takes the reader through the author's odyssey, and his eventual return to his native Ikwerre land. His war narrative condemns the domineering attitude of the Igbos who, according to the author, dragged other ethnic minorities of the defunct Eastern region into a senseless and brutal war. Perhaps, Amadi's account of the events of those dark days in the turbulent history of Nigeria has been informed by the palpable fear by the Ikwerre of their Igbo kinsmen, especially the Aro who have lived with them for over four hundred years.

Cyprian Ekwensi's Survive the Peace (1976) deals with the issue of discomfiture during the years following the end of hostilities. The reader observes that those who survived the war are trying to piece their lives together in a post-war society ravaged by chaos, hunger, and disease. Some of the soldiers and ex -militia men who returned from the War turned their un-surrendered weapons against a civilian populace still smarting from the physical and psychological trauma of war. The end of the War therefore gave rise to a dangerous phenomenon which Nigeria has had to grapple with to this day: armed banditry. Yet, others seized the opportunity of the fragile peace to settle old scores. Other Nigerian writers of the civil war fiction include Chukwuemeka Ike (Sunset at Dawn, 1976); Eddie Iroh (48 Guns for the General, African Writers Series, 1977, Toads of war, African Writers Series, 1979). Their works all serve as commentary on that period in the chequered history of a country in turmoil, and which strives till this day to surmount the attendant problems of nationhood. But, by far the most enchanting of all Nigerian civil war narratives is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. This paper deconstructs the author's work to uncover the discursive dynamics that writing as ecriture exploits in the reconstruction of history with its ideological implications.

Half of a Yellow Sun: A Synopsis

Half of a Yellow Sun derives its title from the rising sun motif which we find in the Biafra flag and the coat of arms. The Biafra flag is made up of three horizontal bands of red, black, and green against the background of which a rising sun is foregrounded. According to Chinua Achebe (2012:151) the inspiration for the design of the flag was drawn from the Pan-Africanist doctrines of the renowned Afro-American, Marcus Garvey, and the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Achebe (2012: 151) expatiates:

The red in Garvey's conception highlighted the blood that links all people of African ancestry, as well as blood shed during slavery and liberation struggles around the globe. In the Biafran context it was used to represent blood during the pogroms and the quest for independence. The black was seen as the affirmation of "an African nation State" by the UNIA-ACL. In Biafra, it was a symbolic ancestral connection to souls of years past. The green in both Garvey's and Biafra's concepts stood for Africa's abundant wealth and resources, and its radiant future. The Biafran flag also highlighted these aspirations with a rising golden sun and rays representing the eleven original provinces in the republic. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun is a war narrative revolving around characters caught up in an intricate web of love, hope, betrayal, deception, hatred, deprivation and loss. Through the picaresque character, Ugwu, the reader is led into the lives of Odenigbo, a university teacher at Nsukka, and his wife Olanna. The couple, along with a retinue of friends, colleagues, and associates drawn from all walks of life (university teachers and professors, civil servants, and of course soldiers, etc.,) have high hopes of a greater and more prosperous Nigeria during the post-independence era, until such hopes are punctured by the horrors of the Civil War. The central characters in the novel are eyes witnesses to the bloodbath at the different theatres of war. Even the little Ugwu grows up from the naive villager who has come to stay with, and work for a kinsman in the university town of Nsukka, to a 'knowledgeable' young adult whose innocence was stolen in his prime. The author of Half of a Yellow Sun has relied on historical facts to craft her work of fiction. And what gives the text its freshness and fluidity is the authorial masterstroke which blends historical evidence with literary creativity.

Of Fact and Fiction: Historical Sources For Half Of A Yellow Sun

Historical events and people often act as impetus for the creation of fiction. A close reading of Half of a Yellow Sun reveals its rootedness in verifiable...

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