I would like to begin this blog post by addressing the theme of the universal character, which was brought to the class’s attention last Monday. We spoke about Olanna and how she exhibited some of these aspects in that she exists in an in-between world, as a European style educated woman with firm African roots. Also despite having an imperial/ British way about her, she too embraces a more democratic manner, which is evident in her kind and genuine treatment of people, who are traditionally beneath her on the social ladder.
I think another character that can invoke this universal aspect is Richard. As a character, he follows a distinct archetype. He is the artistic, caring, yet lonesome type. He exists in the novel as a person, who wishes so intensely to belong in the Biafran or Nigerian setting. Despite his sincere fascination of the Igbo culture and diligent adoption of the Igbo language, he will never be able to inhabit this world on the level of Kainene, Olanna, or any other Igbo character.
Although Olanna exists in between the two worlds of East and West, she is able to function in either world with comfort if not success. This is different when compared with Richard’s experience, which is characterized by an engagement with the British sphere with much indifference and awkwardness. He does not care for Susan and the ex-pat parties, as much as he cares for Kainene and the excitement behind Biafran secession. Yet, as evidenced by his short and numbing visit to the murdered customs official’s family, Richard will never belong. When Richard dwells on the massacre at the airport, Richard is shocked by ability to sleep soundly afterwards, as he realizes that he would’ve been unharmed and Kainene likely murdered.
What is the purpose behind Adichie’s use of Richard? For one thing, he provides juxtaposition to the majority attitudes of condescension held by the British in Nigeria. Not all British were completely negligent of the people. In having Richard so isolated, what else can be said about Westerners trying to interact with the Nigerian culture and people?