Old World, New World, and Ugwu

A seemingly recurrent theme in Half of a Yellow Sun seems to be the idea of merging the old world with a new world. It is directly identified as Odenigbo tries to explain his mother to Olanna, saying that “she’s trying to make her way in a new world with skills that are better suited for the old one” (128). In this way, Odenigbo identifies the divide that exists between the Westernizing and globalizing cities in contrast with the traditional and rural cultures.

There appears to be a stark contrast between these different worlds, and it is best exemplified through characters such as Ugwu. There is an entire class of house servants who grew up surrounded by their rural culture who then go through the shock of adjusting to life in the starkly different homes of the wealthy. Ugwu, however, is an interesting character. Other characters seem to struggle with the balance between old and new, such as when Odenigbo’s mother lashed out at the modern Olanna. Ugwu, however, marvels at his new life, but quickly learns to adapt to it. He seems to seamlessly straddle these lines. This is best shown as he thinks that “he wished his whole village were here, so he could join in the moonlight conversations and quarrels and yet live in Master’s house with its running taps and refrigerator and stove” (117). The readers see characters who have such different experiences attempting to combine the cultures, yet Ugwu manages to appreciate everything for the positives. This is interesting to consider as Odenigbo and his friends struggle through larger political ideas, arguing over what people need and how to give it to them, but there are people like Ugwu who are truly experiencing the combined cultures in a personal way in their daily lives.

This aspect of Ugwu’s character seems to be an important part of who he is. He takes great pride in his knowledge of the way the Master’s lifestyle operates, but he also remains proud of his home to the point that he does not understand Richard’s fascination with it. This part of his character comes out again in his interactions with other people on a smaller scale. While Harrison and Jomo fight and disagree, Ugwu agrees with both of them separately, keeping both friendships, and “he had become their sponge, absorbing much and giving little away” (118). He seems to maintain a balance that no other character has shown. It is interesting to consider this as the lives of the rural and the wealthy appear to be so separate, but they still interact. Ugwu seems to be a sort of connection between them that most people do not recognize or appreciate.