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For more than decades, the African continent was no stranger to being colonized by European countries which soon led to being called the “Scramble for Africa”. Colonialism is the act of taking over another country and gaining political control and authority, ultimately exploiting the resources of the country. Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, but the English’s involvement continued to stay until the end of the Biafran war. This is significant as the misfortunes that occurred from the civil war are the direct cause of colonialism as of Britain’s selfishness and desire for resources, eventually leading to the lives of innocent civilians being lost. In Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie retells the story of the civil war through a group of individuals with a diverse background and their struggles with war, identity, and colonialism. The legacy of colonialism through the book has altered identity, language, and created ethnic tensions within Nigeria. Adichie argues that colonialism will always drive individuals away from their roots.
The idea of identity within the novel is constantly questioned by colonialism. In the novel, the characters come from different walks of life which results in different beliefs due to their own identities from the certain ways they are brought up with. An example of this can be seen after Ugwu had burned Odenigbo’s socks: “His chest felt weighty; he did not know why he had ironed the socks, why he had not simply done the safari suit. Evil spirits, that was it. The evil spirits made him do it”. Through this quote, we can sense a difference in the superstitious and religious beliefs of Ugwu and Odenigbo. Both are Igbo, but one lives in a world full of “evil spirits” whereas the other does not believe in any sort of religion. After burning Odenigbo’s sock, Ugwu is convinced that the evil spirits made him iron the sock which eventually worries him about the thought of Odenigbo sending him back home. Due to this, Ugwu searches for a special herb called arigbe which is used to “soften a man’s heart”. Adichie uses parallelism to show how different Odenigbo and Ugwu are; As said again, both are Nigerians except they were raised another way as Ugwu has never gotten the opportunity for a full education versus Odenigbo, who is a well-educated university professor. Because of this, the two of them have dissimilar belief systems and view the world in opposite ways. Ugwu is superstitious and believes in the power of magical herbs, and spirits while on the other hand, we have Odenigbo, who has broken free from old traditions. He calls Ugwu a “stupid ignoramus”, most likely since Ugwu is uneducated and does not know anything. Achichie’s underlying idea is that one’s environment can influence one’s belief system more than some would be persuaded to believe.
Additionally, identity is held onto for certain characters within the book. Through colonialism, many aspects of one’s life can be taken away but there are other mechanisms for keeping identity strong. On Ugwu’s second day as a houseboy, he is demanded to sing for his master: “Sing me a song. What songs do you know? Sing!”. Within the situation of the quote, Ugwu is told to sing after having a discussion with Odenigbo about Mungo Park. The song that Ugwu sings is an “old song he had learned on his father’s farm”. Adichie uses symbolism through Ugwu singing to represent his belonging to his village and Igbo culture. Singing is used as an expression of one’s identity. As Ugwu sings the song he had learned on his father’s farm, he uses the song to show his identity and belonging to his village. Although Ugwu is now living away from home, he does not forget where he came from and from this, bringing the idea that there is no place like home. Identity plays a major role in relationships of characters and even their selves, which can sometimes lead to confusion.
Through colonialism, the language within Nigeria is heavily influenced by Britain. In the story, the ability to speak English with different characters shows how colonialism as affected the mindset of how certain people feel towards others. At the beginning of the novel, Ugwu has just met his new master and is completely captivated by Odenigbo’s English: “Master’s Igbo felt feathery in Ugwu’s ears. It was Igbo colored by the sliding sounds of English, the Igbo of one who spoke English often”. Within the quote, we can see that Ugwu is fascinated with Odenigbo’s English which eventually in the story leads Ugwu to idolize Odenigbo along with his partner, Olanna, who is also a well-educated English speaker. Adichie uses tone within the quote to create humor through Ugwu’s appeal of the English language. The sad reality although is that not everybody has access to education to learn English like others in the book and they do not have the resources. Odenigbo is an educated university professor whereas Ugwu is a poor village boy. Language is used to almost create a social divide, and this is significant because it shows how colonialism has divided Nigeria apart through assimilation, keeping the “elite” away from the poor. The thought of one being well-educated can be seen as a blessing or a curse. Furthermore, language can be used as a powerful tool. With most characters, they usually either speak in Igbo or English. An example of this is when Olanna visits Arize and they are walking through the market: “O di egwu! Like it indeed! Do you know how cheap the thing is?” Spoken by Arize, we see how she switches between Igbo and English in one sentence. Within the novel, Adichie uses bilingualism through italicizing the Igbo spoken to show the essence of identity as the characters can speak their native languages along with the language of the colonizer. As the characters speak in their native languages, they draw connections to their culture and country by keeping their identities close to them.
Bilingualism can be used as an expression of identity and a sense of peace and home for the Nigerians in the book. This is significant because Adichie does this to show how colonialism has not only affected Nigeria politically but personally as learning English was most likely forced upon the Nigerians. Although the characters may look smart being bilingual, the story behind their journey to truly learning is unknown. As a result of colonialism, ethnic tension and rivalry are widespread throughout the novel. Due to ethnic tensions, Nigerians easily can turn their backs against their people in less than a blink of an eye. This can be seen as a group of individuals laugh at a Rex Lawson song: “Our people say that the chorus sounds like mmee-mmee-mmee, the bleating of a goat. […] They say that the Sardauna sounded like that when he was begging them not to kill him. When the soldiers fired a mortar into his house, he crouched behind his wives and bleated, ‘Mmee-mmee-mmee, please don’t kill me, mmee-mmee-mmee!’”. Within the context of the quote, people are outside laughing at a song that has a bleating goat part in it and says that the Sardauna, who is the premier of the North, bleated like the goat before he was killed. All the others are laughing except for Olanna as she is disturbed. Aunty Ifeka reassures Olanna, telling her that “the Sardauna was an evil man,”but Olanna is still disturbed. Adichie uses a hyperbole within the exaggerated comparison of the Sardauna bleating like a goat while begging for his life. Adichie does this to show how ironic that the Nigerian’s can easily dehumanize their ethnic rivals as they all come from the same country and allow themselves to condone murder although the British have easily done the same to the Nigerians. In other words, the author shows this to allow us to realize that things aren’t always black and white. When faced with danger, sometimes it is easier to turn away from reality.
Moreover, ethnic tensions within Nigeria led to the cause of the war, disrupting the identity of Nigerians. Due to the rivalry between the North and South, the path to forming Biafra was gradually starting. An example of this is the rally held in Freedom Square in the novel and the crowd yells to Odenigbo to speak to them: “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!”. At this point in the novel, the creation of Biafra is coming together in the South. Adichie uses symbolism, specifically within the use of the Biafran flag. The flag consists of red representing the “blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black for mourning them, green for the prosperity Biafra would have” and “the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future”. This is ironic because although Adichie points out the symbol of the half of the yellow sun on uniforms of soldiers, who are supposed to be protecting the country, she juxtaposes the thought of a “glorious future” with scenes of rape and violence as this was most likely the reality for Biafrans, leading to the idea that nothing will be what it seems.
As the impact of colonialism grows, ethnic tensions rise as the Igbo are massacred up in the North which prompts the South to seek to create their separate republic, the Republic of Biafra. Adichie does this to demonstrate that colonialism is the problem of many problems, concluding that nothing ever good comes from colonialism. Whether it is the past or present, colonialism will continue its negative legacy on the ones who are affected. The identity of the characters in the book is affected as they struggle to find who they truly are through many hardships they encounter, leading to confusion and danger. Linguistics within the novel is an upfront example of how colonizers have made their marks on the Nigerians, taking away their pure heritage by replacing what is home to eventually making the Igbo believe that “a white man created Nigeria”. Ethnic tension and rivalry are the cause of colonizers embedding propaganda into the minds of many Africans. Colonialism will continue down its reign down the path to breaking down and removing the status of many individuals through its history.
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