Half Of A Yellow Sun By Chimamanda Adichie: Character Analysis

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN BY CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE: CHARACTER ANALYSIS Chimamanda Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun is a story about the Biafran war of the 1960s.It opens with the arrival of the thirteen-year-old village boy, Ugwu, at the home of his new employer, Odenigbo, a university professor. Ugwu is willing to learn fast, as he begins a new life in the civilized and rich home of Odenigbo and his beautiful mistress, Olanna, whom Master describes as “a very special woman” shortly before her arrival. Ugwu is a very intelligent character, whose experiences and keen observations provide insight into
a number of social issues handled in the novel. This study takes a look at Adichie’s portrayal of Ugwu as a totally realized character: ambitious, devoted, scholarly, courageous, uncomplaining, resourceful and intuitive. UGWU AS AN AMBITIOUS CHARACTER One very remarkable thing the reader immediately notices about the character Ugwu is his eagerness to learn fast. To his aunty that brought him from the village (Opi) and also to Master, Ugwu makes a clear promise: "I will learn fast" (pp. 4, 11-12). This shows that he is an ambitious person whose determination is to excel in whatever he does. True to this promise, Ugwu soon becomes a good cook whose creativity is obvious in the way he prepares chicken boiled in herbs, pepper soup, spiced jollof rice, etc. Master and his numerous intellectual visitors can no longer hide their delight in Ugwu’s delicious soups, stew, etc. Ugwu’s ambition is, however, not limited to doing his housekeeping duties well; he is eager to study and become an educated person as well. Even when he is conscripted into the Biafran army, his eagerness to learn fast and excel in everything yields great dividends in his mastery of the ogbunigwe. This earns him the nickname “Target Destroyer” and makes his colleagues ask: "You learn this from that book you read?" (pp. 362-363). His ambition to author a book is commended towards the end of the novel by Richard, who exclaims: "This is fantastic, Ugwu… Very ambitious." (p. 424). This is after Richard has read part of Ugwu’s manuscript, a clear evidence of his ambition to become an author. Thus, Ugwu is portrayed in the novel as a fully developed character. What the reader notices is a transformation in the life of this character - a transformation that comes as result of his eagerness to learn fast and to excel in everything he does. The illiterate village boy at the beginning of the novel is writing a book towards the end of the novel. UGWU AS A DEVOTED CHARACTER Ugwu is such a devoted servant that not only his zeal for doing things well is clearly noticeable to the reader but also his demonstration of great love and loyalty for his master and madam. He has so much respect for Master that he evaluates other characters according to the degree of respect or disrespect they show for Master’s views. For instance, his strong dislike for Miss Adebayo is as a result of what he perceives to be her lack of respect for Master: "He did not like to ride in her car, did not like how her voice rose above Master’s in the living room, challenging and arguing." (p. 19). Master testifies to his guests about Ugwu’s dedication to his duty: "More friends visited on weekends, and when Ugwu came out to serve their drinks, Master would sometimes introduce him – in English, of course. ‘Ugwu helps me around the house. Very clever boy.’" (p. 18). Ugwu’s eagerness to serve his master well is shown in his insistence on cooking the food meant for Master’s mistress Olanna who is just back from London and expected to come to the house. Master describes her as ‘a very special woman’ and intends to order the food from the staff club because, as tells Ugwu, “She’s just come back from London, my good man, and she likes her rice certain way. Fried rice, I think. I’m not sure you could make something suitable.” Ugwu’s reaction shows complete readiness to do everything to please Master:"I can make that, sah… Let me make the rice, and you get the chicken from the staff club." (p. 23). When Olanna moves into the house, she echoes Odenigbo’s words of commendation about Ugwu’s devotion:"Your master has told me how well you take care of him, Ugwu." (p. 23). Ugwu also becomes so devoted to Olanna that he is prepared to
do everything to please her. In fact, Ugwu’s devotion is reciprocated by Olanna who in turn proves to be a very caring woman to him. For instance, she notices Ugwu’s body odour and gives him her scented powder and asks him to use Dettol as well (p. 48). When the family has to evacuate from Nsukka due to invasion by the federal troops, Ugwu is told that he can stay with his people if he wants to. Again, he demonstrates his devotion by choosing to go with the family: "I will come with you and Master, mah." (p. 178). From Nsukka to Abba, Umuahia and Orlu, Ugwu remains loyal to his master and madam, performing his housekeeping duties, assisting in the digging of bunkers, etc. and sharing in their joys and sorrows throughout the war. He was not only devoted to his employers but also to the Biafran cause as demonstrated in his masterful operation of the ogbunigwe when he was conscripted into the Biafran army. He returns with his master and madam to Nsukka at the end of the war. He is indeed portrayed in the novel as an exceptionally devoted character. UGWU’S RESOURCEFULNESS AND INTUITIVENESS Ugwu is also portrayed as resourceful and intuitive not only in the way he easily adapts to the new environment in Odenigbo’s house but also in the way he quickly learns to do things that he had no prior knowledge of. Shortly after his arrival in the house, Master tells him to go to the kitchen and find something he could eat in the fridge; it is his intuitiveness that guides him, as he had not seen a fridge before: When he saw the white thing, almost as tall as he was, he knew it was the fridge. His aunty had told him about it. A cold barn, she had said, that kept food from going off. He opened it and gasped as the cool air rushed into his face… (p. 6). Soon after his arrival at Master’s house, he can write a list of food items for his cooking (p. 12). He soon discovers that the numerous books in Master’s house should be better arranged in a shelf, so he tells Master: "We need wood, sah… For your books, sah. So that I can arrange them." (p. 13). When the need arises to prepare fried rice for the expected ‘very special woman’, Olanna, Ugwu’s inventiveness comes into play, as he had no prior knowledge of how to cook fried rice: He had invented what he imagined was fried rice, frying the rice in groundnut oil… Now that he wanted to cook a perfect meal, a savoury jollof rice or his special stew with arigbe, to show her how well he could cook. (p. 23). Apart from the way he manages the transition from village life to the intellectual and privileged world of his employers, Ugwu’s resourcefulness and intuitiveness can also be seen in the way he copes in the changing circumstances occasioned by the war. From Nsukka to Abba, Umuahia and Orlu, Ugwu adapts to every environment, serving his master and madam, doing things well. Even when the need arises for him to assist Olanna in teaching a class, he practically copes in the job – so much so that when Mrs Muokelu has to leave her own class, she believes that Ugwu can take her place: "Ugwu will have to handle my class. But I know he can manage." (p. 293). When conscripted into the Biafran army and made to fight at the war front, Ugwu’s resourcefulness is portrayed in the way he copes with the rigorous training in camp, while his intuitiveness is evident in the way he easily masters the operation of the ogbunigwe and performs so well in hitting targets that he earns himself the nickname “Target Destroyer”. UGWU AS A SCHOLARLY CHARACTER Adichie’s portrayal of Ugwu as a scholarly character can be seen right from the moment he arrives at Odenigbo’s house, where he is immediately presented as someone that is eager to learn. When Master volunteers to enroll him in the staff primary school, Ugwu is very thankful and is determined to learn everything very fast (p. 11). His eagerness to learn as well as Master’s willingness to educate him contributes to the great intellectual development he undergoes. By the time Olanna organizes classes for children at Umuahia during the war, Ugwu is already capable of teaching a class. Again, it is his eagerness to learn that enables him to excel even in teaching: He wanted to learn all he could from her and Mrs. Muokelu, to excel at teaching, to show her that he could do it. (p. 292). Ugwu’s intellectual development is so clearly portrayed that towards the end of the novel we find him writing a book which he titles The Narrative of the Life of a Country (p. 424). UGWU’S PORTRAYAL AS COURAGIOUS AND UNCOMPLAINING The novel is also replete with evidences of Ugwu’s portrayal as a courageous and uncomplaining character. From the time of his arrival at Master’s house to the time he is conscripted into the Biafran army, Ugwu is presented as someone who is always eager to do his duties well without complaining or shirking his responsibilities in any way. Wherever he finds himself – in Odenigbo’s kitchen cooking, in the living room serving his master and madam or their guests, in the market buying things, in the school studying, at Umuahia or Orlu assisting Master in the digging of trenches, or even inside the Biafran trenches at the war front operating the ogbunigwe, Ugwu does not complain; he remains focused in whatever he is doing and is eager to excel at whatever he does. At the war front, he handles the ogbunigwe so perfectly and hits target so accurately that his colleagues are compelled to applaud him: The others thumped him on the back and called him “Target Destroyer!” as they trooped to the headquarters to hand in their cables. ‘You learn this from that book you read?’ they teased. (pp. 362-363). CONCLUSION In view of the facts from the text as discussed in the foregoing paragraphs, we can conclude that Chimamanda Adichie has indeed presented Ugwu in Half Of A Yellow Sun as a totally realized character: ambitious, devoted, scholarly, courageous, uncomplaining, resourceful and intuitive.

Article Written By Abugu Benjamin

An English Language Graduate of Lagos State University, he is the author of many books and educational materials used in schools and colleges across the country.

Last updated on 29-07-2016 13K 0

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