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English & Literary Studies

An Examination Of The Issues And Themes Of Suffering And Death In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun And Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty




This research work examined the themes of suffering and death in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty with particular reference to the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 which led to the death of millions of Nigerians and destruction of properties. Findings from the study reveal that the war caused societal disorder, conflict and psychological damages and it also portrayed the damages and social injustices experienced by innocent citizens as a result of the war in the Nigerian society.



1.1     Background to the Study

Literature imaginatively recreates human experiences. There is no doubt that events in the society give writers inspiration. This is why a literary work can lead us into the very society that produces it. As a literary work emerges from a particular society, it carries with it, the sentiment and sensibilities of the people living in that society. Literature can relate to us the events of the past in a more vivifying manner than any history book can do. This is because the reader is allowed to encounter the beauty and horror of such events as they are recreated.

Historical events have remained a major source of material for writers of all ages and this is notably is in tandem with Ngugi Wa Thiong’s often quoted assertion in his Homecoming that:

Literature does not grow or develop in a vacuum. It is given impetus, shape, direction and even area of concern by the social, political and economic forces in a particular society. The relationship between creative literature and other forces cannot be ignored, especially in Africa where modern literature has grown against the gory background of European imperialism and its changing manifestations: slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism… (8).

The point from the above quotation is that literature has a close affinity with history. History can be seen as a major content of literature, history as the content can be seen as the flesh. Another point from the above quotation is that the course of literature written by Africans in the African continent or in the diaspora has been shaped by the historical phenomenon of slavery.

Ngugi Wa Thiongs is not alone in the opinion that history and literature are interconnected. Steve Ogude corroborates the above position by Ngugi by stating that:

I believe we all agree that there is a sense in which every literary work is a response to a definite historical and socio-political condition and it is in recognition of this basic fact that literary critics speak confidently of the historical approach to literary criticism. This is a rather fluid term which seeks to situate a literary work not only in its historical conditions of the time. (1).

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This is to say that literature can intimate a reader with things that have happened years before he or she was born. The nexus between history and literature cannot therefore be severed or overemphasized.

The Nigerian Civil War broke out on 6th July 1967. The war was the culmination of uneasy peace and instability that had plagued the nation from independence in 1960. This situation had its genesis in the geography, history, culture and demography of Nigeria. The immediate cause of the civil war itself may be identified as the coup and the counter-coup of 1966 which altered the political equation and destroyed the fragile trust existing among the major ethnic groups. From the aforementioned, this work seeks to highlight the Issues of suffering and death as seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty.

The Nigerian Civil War also known as the Nigeria-Biafra War was a three year bloody conflict with a death tool numbering more than one million people. Having commenced seven years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain, the war began with the secession of the south-eastern region of the nation on May 30th 1967 when it declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra. The ensuing battles and well-publicized human suffering prompted international outrage and intervention.

Carved out of the West Africa by Britain without regard for pre-existing ethnic, cultural and linguistic divisions, Nigeria has often experienced an uncertain peace. Following decades of uncertain peace and ethnic tension in colonial Nigeria, political instability reached a critical mass among independent Nigeria’s three dominant ethnic groups: The Hausa-Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the south-west and Igbo in the south-east.

On January 15th 1966, the Igbo launched a coup d’état under the command of Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi in an attempt to save the country from what Igbo leaders feared would be political disintegration. Shortly after the successful coup, wide spread suspicion of Igbo domination was aroused in the north among the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, many of whom opposed independence from Britain. Similar suspicion of the Igbo Junta grew in the Yoruba west, prompting a joint Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani counter-coup against the Igbos six months later. Countercoup leader General Yakubu Gowon took punitive measures against the Igbos.

Further anger over the murder of prominent Hausa politicians led to the massacre of scattered Igbo populations in Northern Hausa-Fulani regions. This persecution triggered the move by Igbo separatists to form their own nation of Biafra the following year. Less than two months after Biafra declared its independence, diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis fell apart. On July 6th 1967, the federal government in Lagos launched a full-scale invasion into Biafra.

1.2     Statement of the Problem

Topical issues in Suffering and death are major Issues in civil war literature. When one picks up a literary work by a writer of African descent, one is bond to encounter one form of soul-shattering and heartrending experience or the other. In this regard, it is important to speak of the homogeneity of the African experience and thus relatedness in the thematic preoccupations of African writers all over the world.

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The major focus in this area of study which the researcher intends to examine is that: African literature scholars over the years have consistently variedly explored the themes of suffering and death in their works. Hence, Agony, Hunger, Starvation, Malnutrition and many more. In this regard, this study intends to establish that suffering and death are common denominators in African literature writing. This work will equally make it clear that there are various ways through which a person can experience suffering and death. This work emphasizes on war as one of those ways.

1.4     Aim and Objectives of the Study

This research work basically aims at explicating the issues of suffering and death in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty. In other words, this research carries out a critical reading of their works with a view to discuss the issues of suffering and death as portrayed in them. The specific objectives of the study are to:

  1. Explore the relationship between the historical experiences of Africans and the themes of suffering and death in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty.
  2. Examine the various instances of suffering and death in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty.
  • To establish by analogy, the relationship between suffering and death in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty.

1.5     Justification of the Study

The discourse of the Issues of suffering and death in Nigerian poetry is not relatively a new area of study but the researcher is interested in the topic for the following reasons:

  1. a) Even though so many scholars have been interested in Nigerian poetry and the themes of suffering and death, little or nothing has been done on relating the Issues with the African historical experience in contemporary Nigerian poetry.
  2. b) Secondly, the researcher after a thorough research discovered that no work of this length has been carried out before on these same two Issues using the two works chosen for this study, hence the researcher resolves to go into this area of study.

 1.6     Significance of the Study

The Nigerian civil war had created a deep and psychological hiatus among the Igbos so much that it became a reference point for normative values, social behavior and economic travails. This study interestingly is set out to examine Adichie and Okpewho’s fictional rendition of a notably historical event and clearly show how their narratives unduly the pain and anguish of war and to what success. Even though research has been misconstrued as a ritual that must be performed by every graduating student, the researcher beyond that, proposes that this work accomplishes quite a number of intellectual roles. In the first place, this work would be an addition to the few existing research on the literary works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Isidore Okpewho, and in that regard, the work will be of immense benefit to:

  1. Students of literature by intimating them with the creative ingenuity of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Isidore Okpewho and their thematic preoccupation in their Half of a Yellow Sun and The Last Duty respectively.
  2. Teachers and lecturers of literature by widening their scope in the topic under study.
  3. Future researchers in the area of the themes examined in this research by serving as a source of material and inspiration for further studies.
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 1.7     Scope of the Study

The topic of this research has clearly defined the scope of this study. The study is centered on the issues of suffering and death in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last DutyoeHoe

. In view of the limited nature of this work, the researcher has carefully restricted the study to two novels –Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Okpewho’s The Last Duty. The choice of these novels are very instructive  and predicted upon their exemplification of the issue of psychological dispositions of the characters in the novel vis-avis torture, agony, suffering, ultimately resulting to avoidable death.

The experience of suffering is usually accompanied by death. Suffering and death as earlier pointed out are recurrent themes in Nigerian and African literature particularly.

 1.8     Research Methodology

          Every research work has means through which data are gathered and a manner in which such data are analyzed. The method of data collection employed in this study is the sampling technique. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty and were used as the primary materials to expound the issue of suffering and death in the novels. Other secondary materials such as literature textbooks, articles, essays, journals and materials from the internet were also used.

In analyzing the novels, the researcher employed the analytical method. The novels were critically studied to extricate the Issues of suffering and death as portrayed in the novels. Historical criticism was employed as the analytical tool in the study.

Pages:  71

Category: Project

Format:  Word & PDF         

Chapters: 1-5                                 

Source: Imsuinfo                            

Material contains Table of Content, Abstract and References.


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