“Dark Swoops”: Trauma and Madness in Half of a Yellow Sun

  • Seretha D. Williams
Part of the Gender and Cultural Studies in Africa and the Diaspora book series (GCSAD)


Seretha D. Williams proposes that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) examines the systemic, individual, and gendered traumas of the Nigerian-Biafran War in an attempt to comment on the aftermath of empire. For Adichie, the postcolonial experience of an independent Nigeria is the beginning of a new chapter in the legacy of colonialism. Independence leads to the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967–1970 and its resultant devastation. Within this framework, Olanna—after discovering the massacred bodies of her family members—loses control of her bodily functions and suffers psychosomatic paralysis of her legs, flashbacks, and paranoia. She attempts to narrate her traumatic experience; however, other characters silence her. She thus begins to experience dark swoops, which she describes as “[a] thick black descend[ing] from above and press[ing] itself over her face, firmly, while she struggled to breathe.” The dark swoops, a symbol of Olanna’s temporary madness, can also be interpreted as a characterization of Nigeria’s experience with colonialism. In this essay, Williams specifically explores the intersection of personal and national traumas and gendered representations of madness.


Adichie Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novelNovel traumaTrauma Biafra 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Seretha D. Williams
    • 1
  1. 1.Augusta UniversityAugusta‚ GAGeorgia

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