Capturing The Anxiety And Mental Struggles In The Thing Around Your Neck

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

A collection of short stories titled The Thing Around Your Neck divulges a holistic expression of Position Two situation: “To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim, but to explain this as an act of fate…the necessity decreed by History, or Economics, or the Unconscious, or any other large general powerful idea.” (Survival 33). Each and every story subtly captures the lives of Nigerians, especially women who struggle to identify their roots in a displaced space. The selected stories from the collection can be grouped in the Basic Victim Position Two, since the victimization of personal and intimate experiences are excused with other fake, unchangeable causes. Such idea alleges the mental state of the characters to be unable to move to the other two positions since they feel the need to be victims of such conditions in their life, which remain them to be locked forever in Position Two. Each of the stories talks about the psychological anxiety of characters that causes out of frantic environment and the political unrest, the social and familial biases they encounter in their everyday lives they find hard to adjust with. 

There are notable women characters who are pushed into similar circumstances, desperate and impatient to take a stance to assure their physical as well as psychological space in life. Though some of them try to get over from worst to better, they feel trapped inside the fists of society that predominantly occupied by men and their values. Nearly half of the stories are set in Nigeria, where the characters witness the social and political discrepancies, and the other half announce the motif of migration mainly to America, the land which enthrals as well as repels the African immigrants. All these stories describe the Position Two victims, who are unable to change their situation, despite their attempt to change it. The women in the stories wind up repelled or uprooted, since there is less space to open up their own wishes and desires. All of them try to sacrifice their past with the hope of new life, full of promise, but are pushed to witness entrapment, physically and psychologically, further becomes inevitable especially for immigrants. In Heather Hewett’s view, the collection of stories possesses, The steadiness of the author’s gaze on the psychic spaces that can erupt between intimate friends and family frequently produces a wrenching effect. Many (though not all) of her characters are women who suddenly find themselves emotionally estranged or displaced and must find the inner strength to confront these distances.” (Tell 3). 

Review Of the stories set in Nigeria, “A Private experience” presents the immediate and brief companionship of two women of contrasting economic, social and religious background dealing the same social crisis that comes out of a violent religious conflict in the country. The women face a serious threat of losing a member of their family when they find refuge in an abandoned store. Chika, a rich Igbo Christian practicing doctor, worries about her revolutionary sister Nnedi, while the poor Hausa Muslim woman, who saves Chika, prays for her lost daughter, who has been selling groundnuts in the riot. The difference in their social and economic status does not change the present issue they are experiencing. Chika feels intimidated, for she thinks “Riots like this were what she read about in newspapers. Riots like this were what happened to other people.” (The Thing 47). The Hausa Muslim woman, who has been witnessing many of these incidents in her everyday life, prays in vain hope. The women’s mutual understanding gets thickened by the inner compassion towards their families, rather than the egotistical, irrational behaviour of men promoting violence in the name of religious intolerance. The former produces a kind of mutual bonding for the peaceful existence, the latter brings threat to the survival. Adichie’s story also reveals the bitter secondary status of women who are unable to control the devastating conflicts, but they could barely survive by carrying the memories of compassion. The private crying of the women shows her passive acceptance for survival amidst the consequences of violence and tumult in her society, because she could only resign her plight as “work of evil”. (48). It also shows that her “explanation displaces the cause from the real source of oppression to something else.” (33). 

Women’s experience is bounded by passivity as they could only wish for things to happen and not happen, because they are far away from changing their helpless situation. The Hausa woman could only pray to God or curse the destructive forces of the society she is in no position to improve her condition, but experience the fact of inevitable victimhood. Chika has no serious belief towards omniscient presence, and so her realisation of absurdity of life is reflected in the lines: Later, the family will offer Masses over and over for Nnedi to be found safe, though never for the repose of Nnedi’s soul. And Chika will think about this woman, praying with her head to the dust floor, and she will change her mind about telling her mother that offering Masses is a waste of money. That it is just fund-raising for the church. (52) The passage reverberates her loss of faith and long resignation on the futility of existence. 

Women are like the objects that are seriously damaged in this type of violence created by men, and they are like the “silent witnesses” (46), who do not have the question to resist but subject to all the dangerous consequences. There is always a restlessness and anxiety to face the repercussion of the violent conflict around them. A sense of evanescence revolves around them with uncertainty about future. Only women carry the bitter memories as they are emotionally dependent on the other fellow human being to share and concern. The narrator shows how this kind of violence are made up by oppressive social-political ideologies of ruling classes, and how the interpretation of source of violence is understated as riots triggered by the ethnic tensions. It can be understood that, both the women, irrespective of all the differences, share a common debilitating situation that cripple their survival. Though there is a positive female bonding memorable for lifetime, the unexpected human loss leaves permanent marks of the incongruous nature of survival itself. Jumping Monkey Hill captures the story of a young writer Ujunwa, who has been selected to attend the African Writers Workshop organised by a dominating white patriarch, Richard. When every participant is asked to write a story for their publication, Ujunwa reads her story about a girl who left her banking job for the client who insisted sexual relationship in exchange for the policies. 

The organizer of the Workshop, Edward, who has a lewd intention towards Ujunwa, points out a lapse in her story as inauthentic and implausible, for it does not reflect the real life of Nigerians. Edward who represents the dominant patriarchal white males, who show their arrogance and dominance over the blacks who struggle to embolden themselves. Young women like Ujunwa face sexual abuse and threats everywhere in the society controlled by men of higher positions. The source of oppression is prevalent in the social institutions that devalues women as objects of sexual desire. Ujunwa is a social victim, who is imperilled to face economic, cultural and sexual exploitation. Ujunwa feels defenseless to stand against the white chauvinist Edward as she is disappointed by the indubitable attitude of her fellow African men towards his sexist attitudes. Feeling betrayed by them she asks: “Why do we always say nothing?” This kind of attitude is why they could kill you and herd you into townships and require passes from you before you could walk on your own land!” 112. Her expression of discontent towards Richard is simply disregarded as “anger” (113), as she could not complaint further. Author explains that, “Often, the opposition of Black women is characterized as personal, and there is little acknowledgment or concern for the larger issues that may be the root of Black women’s perceived anger and hostility.” Looking behind stereotypes 546-47. The idealization of white Western values by the black African men becomes a huge disadvantage to the black women as they experience a double-victimization. 

In terms of the victor-victim role as explained by Atwood, Edward takes on the former, while he derides her story as “agenda writing” that it does not reflect the original life of Africans. Though his arrogance is revealed through his prejudiced hypocritical remarks in reviewing her story as “Women are never victims in that sort of crude way and certainly not in Nigeria. Nigeria has women in high positions. The most powerful cabinet minister today is a woman.” 113-14, Ujunwa could not openly show her anger on him for she is locked into the necessity of making a living as a writer. It is also implied that the freedom of expression is also crippled along with her soul as she feels that the victim role is inevitable. Although Ujunwa escapes from the previous demeaning banking job that demands her sexual servitude, she needs to face another new form of subjugation from the patronising Edward. Choicelessness makes her to accept her own victimhood as the sources of survival become a question. More emphatically, “it is the necessity decreed by Economics” (33), that Ujunwa presupposes her own need to be a victim. This is another type of psychological entrapment as story displays the real condition of unemployed women who struggle to overcome destitution. “The American Embassy” presents another attempt of exile of a woman who lost her child at the hands of the cold-hearted soldiers who search for her journalist husband for writing a story against the Head of the State. 

As she tries to flee through asylum visa to America, with the reason of her son Ugonna’s death, she fails eventually devoid of any evidence to produce for proving the involvement of the government in his murder. The despotic arrogance of the military rule spoiled the woman’s “new life” she has been making out from the birth of her son. (140). The main character in The American Embassy is similar to what Atwood calls in her analysis “the ultimate victim of social oppression and deprivation.” 102. The basic game of Position Two is the Victor/ Victim role. The unnamed woman is obviously the victim of the oppressive politics of the country Nigeria, where the Victors are the men who work for head of the despotic government which crushes its criticisers those who stand against it. The horror of ruthless violence witnessed by the mother shows the predicament of survival in the country. The memory of tragedy cannot be erased so easily from the mental space. Adichie displays the grief of the mother: Dr. Balogun… had refused to give her anymore tranquilizers because it was easy enough for him to say that, as though she knew how to go about keeping her mind blank… as though she invited those images of her son Ugonna’s small, plump body crumpling before her, the splash on his chest so red she wanted to scold him about playing with the palm oil in the kitchen.” 129 It is Ugonna’s mother who is directly affected by the autocratic rule in Nigeria. Adichie shows how the life of Nigerians were under crisis, their sudden transformation as they could have no control over their lives. 

A topsy-turvy situation occurs within a shorter span of time that puts forth the anxiety of inexorable destiny. Adichie displays the abated existence of civilians denoting them in a condensed sentence to show the ephemerality of their lives: “Two days ago she had buried her child in a grave near a vegetable patch in their ancestral hometown of Umunnachi… the day before, she had driven her husband in the boot of their Toyota…who smuggled him out of the country…And the day before that, she hadn’t needed to take a passport photo; her life was normal…” 131. There generates a life-long guilt inside her for failing to protect her son, and feels guiltier that she has even saved her selfish husband to escape from Nigeria, leaving her son’s life at stake at the moment. She has been divested out of voice to demand justice, since it is orchestrated by the corrupted politician of the state. A wave of inerasable guilt occupies her as “She held Ugonna’s body, placed her cheek to his quiet chest, and realised that she had never felt so ashamed. She had failed him.” (134). All the losses and guilt are only for the women like her, as she imbibes herself to her family mora than her husband, who just makes a quick escape without minding his family. Adichie presents the disheartening condition of the people to escape from their own homeland and seek refuge in the other which is not quite favourable with their arrival. The desperate try of the civilians is out of choicelessness. It shows how people are concocted to take quick solutions and accustomed to temporariness of life. The man who stands next to her in the queue for visa recommends what could have been the common suggestion of the desperate Nigerians who wants to get rid of the besmirched nation for peaceful survival: “He sounded like the voices that had been around her, people who helped … Tell them all about Ugonna, what he was like, but don’t overdo it, because every day people lie to them to get asylum visas, about dead relatives that were never even born. 

Make Ugonna real. Cry, but don’t cry too much.” 134. Men like the supposedly political activist-husband becomes fugitive and imprudent during the time of crisis. The journalist husband who shows himself ostensibly as brave and patriotic is the one who is quick to make selfish escape leaving behind his family at stake. When Ugonna’s mother cares for his safe escape from the country, he does not even spell a word of care to his family until he safely reaches the other country. Adichie indicates that women are emotionally bound themselves with their family unlike men, who always present themselves as individuals who commit to the welfare of the society as one of the “truly brave men.” to save Nigeria, though “It was not courage, it was simply an exaggerated selfishness.” 136. The social and political participation of women are considered trivial and insignificant. The political arena delimits women by pushing them to the margins from the places of importance. It is one of the social criticisms Adichie puts forward about her own country. She shows how women’s deeds are poorly or never acknowledged even they exhibit the same talent and braveness. The protagonist’s husband is famous among the supporters of pro-democracy. 

Though his stories carry “nothing new” in the journal The New Nigeria, he has the attains the name of a true patriot: “He fights repression with the pen, he gives a voice to the voiceless, he makes the world know.” (137). The narrator tells about the protagonist’s inner turmoil against the skewed, distorted view of the people over the assumptions that men alone will question and fight for the injustices in the society, as if women does not exist in public spheres. Unlike the portentous narrow postulations of the male views, the protagonist’s perception shows her unadorned insightfulness of a journalist. Through the narrator’s assertion it is known that the protagonist has also been an active political commentator who voiced for people’s basic needs, and expressed her unbiased view of truths: In different circumstances, she might have told him of her own journalism, starting from university in Zaria, when she had organized a rally to protest General Buhari’s government’s decision to cut student subsidies. she might have told him how she wrote for the Evening News here in Lagos, how she did the story on the attempted murder of the publisher of the Guardian, how she had resigned when she finally got pregnant, because she and her husband had tried for four years and she had womb full of fibroids. (136-37) From this quote, it can also be deciphered that a woman’s participation for the public is hindered by the biological condition of her own body, which hinders her wish for active contribution to the society. The emphasis of debate of female body as a hurdle is essential in the context of survival that protract her subordinate status. 

To devote herself to the welfare of family, she voluntarily gives up the ways to improve her individuality, as Beauvoir says, “For a great many women the roads to transcendence are blocked: because they do nothing, they fail to make themselves anything. They wonder indefinitely what they could have become, which sets them to asking about what they are. It is a vain question.” (Beauvoir 273). Women during such conditions are likely to fall into hopelessness, for their biology becomes the source of their anxieties that diminish their goals about their future. She is now in a helpless situation since the American lady could not possibly comprehend the happenings of her country, her grief or her desperateness to escape cruelty and despair. It is even ironical to depend on those who cannot fully grasp their state of mind. The promise of a new life to victims of political persecution in the United States becomes an absurd idea, when the unknown land could not grasp the emotions of the mother. She decides to go their hometown and plant ixora flowers in remembrance of her son rather to escape to a new country using his death. “One plant would do, his plot was so small…That she realized, was the new life she wanted.” 141. She decides to stay back in her hometown discarding the fatal risk that bound up around her life. It is clear the she accepts to her fate with an unreceptive sourness for she considers her plight as inevitable as “she realized that she would die gladly… before she hawked Ugonna for a visa to safety.” 139. This proves Atwood’s that exemplification that “They are willing victims who feel frustrated at their plight. They are angry with themselves and the other victims, but they do not do anything to change their situation, ignoring it as impossible” (Atwood 33). 


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