Perhaps the most important character (using the term “character” loosely) in the Adiche’s Half of a Yellow Sun is not Ugwu or Olanna or Odenigbo, but the radio. The radio is everywhere in the novel, and its constant voice in the background serves to shape the minds of all of the characters who stop to listen. However, rather than be abstract narration, the radio carries with it differing opinions and attitudes and in so doing helps to shape our views of the Nigerian Civil War as well.

Part Two of the novel opens with the pronouncement of the first military coup after Nigerian independence, and here the radio is unbelievably optimistic. “We promise,” it says, “every law-abiding citizen the freedom from all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency, and freedom to strive in every field of human endeavor,” enticing everyone in Odenigbo’s house into fervent, excited chatter (157). The optimism, of course, is short lived. It is through another radio voice that Richard learns of the second coup, one which catches the confident Igbo soldiers and civilians, like Madu and Olanna, incredibly off guard. The massacres of the Igbo people begin, and the radio comes again, this time with the grand and equally hopeful voice of an independent Biafra. And, again, the radio’s positive encouragement (“glowing news,” it proclaims, “Biafran troops were flushing out the last remnants of the enemy” (248)) gives way to the advancing Nigerian army.

It is certainly not the first time that wartime media propaganda has buoyed false hopes and spun out tragedies as victories, straw into gold. Indeed, we saw these same lines in the Soyinka play, with Olunde’s condemnation of the British reporting of WWII. But, not only is it important what the radio says and how it says it, however, but also the way in which we see misinformation manifest itself in the minds of characters who have no real way of seeing the world otherwise until it is nearly too late. Odenigbo simply cannot believe that a military government would not mean freedom, or, failing that, a Biafran republic would not mean security. But these are more the radio’s thoughts than his, I think, because Adiche does a masterful job of revealing to us the ways in which wars are just as much about bullets and soldiers as they are about ideas.

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One response »

  1. ethanmcleod says:

    I definitely find Odenigbo to be surprisingly believing of all that the radio has to tell following Biafra’s declaring independence from Nigeria, if not for any reason other than that he comes off as obsessively argumentative in some cases during the beginning of the book. Strangely enough, his bellowing political, socialist-leaning tirades from the first part give way to resolute patriotism during the beginning of his family’s struggles as war spreads across Biafra following independence.

    From Odenigbo’s changes in behavior, I think there is a clear point to be made of how powerful the radio, or more encompassingly, the media can be during times of suffering, violence, and warfare. Death and the King’s Horseman demonstrates the deception created during World War II by the media that remains entrenched in the minds of British expatriates in Nigeria many years after. Even speaking of someone on the other side of the war, as in Odenigbo’s case as a victim of warfare in Biafra, I believe that the radio becomes so vital to the fearful citizen of a nation at war not because of what it says, but rather because it exists as the only link between the worried citizen and the outside world, the part of the world safe from the war.

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