Beyond the Single Story of African Realism: Narrative Embedding in <i>Half of a Yellow Sun</i>


  • Ruth S. Wenske Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Realism, typicality, African, narrative embedding, orality


This article seeks to contribute to critical readings of realism’s memetic claims by tracing the ways in which framed narration, or writing-about-writing, serve to establish reliability in Chimamanda Adichie’s seminal novel Half of a Yellow Sun. I argue that conceptions of typicality are used almost interchangeably in scholarly discussions on realism and Africanness, and that this requires a narrative framework that untangles the myriad links between them. Inserting Adichie’s now-famous concept of the ‘single story’ into this debate,

I show how Africanness and realism are negotiated as two kinds of typicality that work, counterintuitively, to undercut stereotypes, and moreover, to allow realism to establish a kind of verisimilitude that is far from mimetically naïve. I start from a theoretical overview of terms such as realism, Africanness, typicality, referentiality, diegesis, and metalepsis, attempting to clarify the connections I draw between them. I then move briefly to a juxtaposition between the embedded books in Adichie’s novel and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as an oscillation between oral and written representations. Finally, the focal point of my investigation is the diegetic layering in Half of a Yellow Sun, where I read typicality in-between orality and writing, the public and the private, and specificity and typification.


Author Biography

Ruth S. Wenske, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Ruth S. Wenske is a postdoctoral researcher at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she also serves as head the Africa Unit at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute. She has previously taught African literature at the University of Haifa, where she completed her PhD at the English Department. Her main research area is contemporary Anglophone African realism, and her secondary interest is in the connection between literature and literacy in questions of language and pedagogy.