In my essay, I’m aiming at exploring the intersectional linkages between gender, sexuality and power relations presented in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006).
As Adichie's novel tells the story of several people living under the extraordinary circumstances of the Biafran war, I consider narrowing down my focus to be rather necessary.
Consequently, I’m concentrating on the female characters of the novel, paying special attention to their sexualities developing throughout the story.
To further clarify my standpoint, I’m also taking advantage of Doreen Gordon’s article on female agency and the multilayered social hierarchies behind the injustices overshadowing discourses on race, gender, class and beauty.
How does Adichie’s novel represent female sexuality as an agency-generating matter, and what kind of impact does looks have on a woman's positioning in the social ladder, that is what I’m willing to analyse here.
When analyzing beauty as a form of female agency, Gordon underlines the meaning of women’s subjective experiences of beauty.
The author explains that women may experience personal satisfaction by changing the way they look, by going through plastic surgery or changing their hairstyles for example.
Furhtermore, Gordon states that in a society where beauty is strongly associated with female bodies, women may obtain a sense of power by using their appearances in order to get both attention and approval from the opposite sex and other women alike.
If (and when) social status, respect, wealth and love are all bound to outer appearances, as Gordon’s analysis indicates, it is highly understandable that many females all across the globe are willing to spend a lot of their time, energy and money to look as ‘pretty’ as possible.
This form of agency-seeking through ﬁtting the norms of beauty gets into the spotlight of Adichie’s novel as well when Olanna is presented: at the beginning of the book she seems to be valued as a woman almost solely thanks to her pretty outer appearance.
Yet Olanna’s beauty isn't limited only to her prettiness - she’s also considered to be very sexy by various male characters.
In her femininity, Olanna manages to even increase her sister Kainene’s man, Richard’s, sense of masculinity as he is not impotent during the sexual encounter between the two (p. 294).