The Thing Around Your Neck
Different Social Groups in Jumping Monkey Hill by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Jumping Monkey Hill” is a short story included in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck. In the story, a group of writers from different parts of Africa gathers for a two-week workshop at Jumping Monkey Hill, a resort outside Cape Town. The participants write a story during the first week and review their work during the second. The workshop is organized by a white, British man named Edward Campbell, who attempts to mold the writers into his vision of what an African writer should be. Edward and Isabel are represented as privileged, stereotypical, and ignorant to show the discrimination and maltreatment of white Westerners to Africans when they are in power. The African writers are represented as oppressed and quiet to show how they abide by those in power. The Ugandan is represented as being stuck between the two social groups because he is the workshop leader, but also African.
When running the workshop, Edward and Isabel’s privilege, stereotypical behaviour, and ignorance show their discrimination and maltreatment of Africans. Edward is described by the British as having a “posh” accent, portraying him as a stereotypical rich, old, white man (95). Isabel’s ignorance is evident when saying that Ujunwa must have come from Nigerian royal stock because of her “exquisite bone structure” (99). This implies that Isabel believes most African women as not capable of being beautiful. Throughout the story, Edward makes several ironic comments while continually dismissing numerous African experiences from the workshop writers. This is because he believes that his perspective of “the African” experience is the final one. Ujunwa was skeptical of eating ostrich at one of the first dinners and didn’t know that people ate it, leading Edward to laugh “good-naturedly” and say that “of course ostrich was an African staple” (101). Saying “of course” contributes to Edward’s arrogance and it is ironic that Edward, a European, is telling Ujunwa, a Nigerian, which foods are African staples. Edward’s ignorance is further revealed when he criticizes the Senegalese women’s story about coming out to her parents. He says that “homosexual stories of this sort weren’t reflective of Africa” (108). This suggests that Edward believes that people do not come out to their parents in Africa, although the story is true. Edward and Isabel are represented as privileged, stereotypical, and ignorant towards the discriminated against and maltreated African writers.
The African writers attending the workshop keep quiet and are oppressed by Edward, however, they abide by him. Over the course of the workshop, Ujunwa tries not to notice that Edward’s eyes were never on her face and instead, fixated on her body. After Ujunwa asks if Edward wants her to stand up for him, he replies by saying, “I’d rather like you to lie down for me” (106). She laughs at Edward’s comment because many of the women at the workshop have been socialized into believing that harassment is allowed. Similar to the Senegalese woman, Edward criticizes the Zimbabwean writer’s story for being “passé,” arguing that there are more important issues to write about in Zimbabwe (107). Albeit Ujunwa did not know what Edward meant, the rest of the writers remained silent, said goodnight, and walked to their cabins. Despite Edward’s behaviour being inappropriate, none of the writers call him out because “Edward was connected and could find [the writers] a London agent” and there was “no need to close doors to opportunity” (113). Like many other women in the story, Ujunwa feels that she needs to keep quiet in order to keep the peace. Ujunwa feels betrayed after the other writers have noticed the way Edward leers at her. The African writers are represented as quiet and oppressed, showing how they abide by Edward.
The Ugandan is represented as being stuck between the group of privileged white Westerners and the group of oppressed Africans because he is the workshop leader and African. When getting picked up by Edward at the airport, the Ugandan “bowed as he shook Edward’s hand with both of his” (97). This is because the Ugandan is meeting Edward for the first time and wants to make a good first impression. The Ugandan won the Lipton African Writers’ Prize the year before and is given the honour of leading the workshop. The Ugandan replies to Edward’s questions with “toadying answers,” leaning forward to speak only to Edward and ignoring the other writers (98). This caused Ujunwa to dislike him even more. The Ugandan addresses Edward because he must appeal to him. After Ujunwa reads her true story about a young woman who was sexually harassed while working for a bank, Edward remarks that the story is “implausible” and similar to “agenda writing” (114). However, the Ugandan praises it as a strong and believable story. Even though Ujunwa thought the Ugandan was obsequious towards Edward, the Ugandan has the confidence to say what he believes being the workshop leader. Being African and the workshop leader, the Ugandan is stuck between the two social groups in this story.
In conclusion, three social groups are represented in this short story in different ways and for different reasons. Edward and Isabel are an elderly, rich, British couple who are privileged, stereotypical, and ignorant of African culture and traditions. The quiet and oppressed African writers attending the workshop abide by those who are in power, specifically Edward. Finally, the Ugandan workshop leader is stuck between the privileged white Westerners and the oppressed Africans.
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “Jumping Monkey Hill.” The Thing Around Your Neck. Random House, 2009.
Representation of a Social Group in Jumping Monkey Hill from the Thing Around Your Neck
“Jumping Monkey Hill” from “The Thing Around Your Neck” is a short story published in 2009, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The story revolves around the ideas of how Africans are perceived by Europeans. Adichie narrates the anecdotal encounters of African scholars at a writer’s workshop. The writer’s workshop happens at a resort in South Africa called “Jumping Monkey Hill”. Besides the namesake of the retreat and short story, ‘Jumping Monkey Hill’ uncovers the generalizations that depict Africans as a primitive people. This essay will focus on how and why Europeans [as a social group] are represented in a particular way.
‘Jumping Monkey Hill’ is an ironically fittingly title of the short story. It serves to fortify the generalizations of simple people and indigenous African culture and yet, the African writers or characters at Jumping Monkey Hill do not support this primordial role. Though later the reader will learn that the resort was chosen by Edward, a European workshop coordinator.
Throughout the short story, Adichie investigates the bogus impression of Africa that Edward, accepts to be valid. Immediately shes kicks off the story by, portraying Jumping Monkey Hill as “the sort of place where she imagined affluent tourists would dart around taking pictures of lizards” Through this setting, Adichie depicts Europeans as individuals who are progressively keen on affirming their current ideas of Africa– a crude place of unadulterated wilderness and safari– than really learning about Africa, its kin and culture. Adichie appears to accept that the reader additionally has these preconceived ideas and decisively indicates them to be false, for she states how tourists “return home still mostly unaware that there are more black people than red-capped lizards in South Africa”. This doing begins to challenge the reader’s very own impression of Africa, and the reader starts to become critical of characters in the story who keep up these generalizations. This is the first time Adichie exposes the ignorance of Europeans to break down the image that the ‘West’ has constructed for Africa.
Edward is the embodiment of somebody who clutches on to his own view and he belittles those whom he esteems do not perceive Africa the same manner in which he does. This is first shown during a supper at the workshop. When Ujunwa, becomes wary of eating ostrich– she isn’t aware people eat ostrich. Edward then laughs and says, “Ofcourse ostrich is an African staple’. The expression ‘Ofcourse’ adds to Edward’s haughtiness and ironically Edward, a European, tells Ujunwa, a local Nigerian, which foods are African staples. His ignorance is uncovered through the way that he puts forth broad expressions about Africa overall instead of taking into account the regional cultural differences. Here Adichie not only brings to light how Africa is misperceived as a country but also suggests how the arrogance of Europeans builds on to the stereotyping and reveals Europeans as deeply misinformed people who would rather believe what is necessary to add to the image of wilderness and safari.
On a particular afternoon Ujunwa and other writers come together in the dining room and discuss “why beer should be banned at the dinner table because Edward thought it was proper and breakfast at eight was too early nevermind that Edward said it was the right time and the smell of his pipe was nauseating”. This is an example of how Edward believes his nature of European etiquette is superior over African culture and further evidence especially that Edward thought it was “proper” confirms his view and reinforces the stereotype of an uncultured and primitive Africa. This could also contribute to the colonial image that Europeans represent in Africa where Edward imposes his culture on the African writers. In response to the discussion Ujunwa shouts at Edward, “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!”. Ujunwa’s words refer to the lack of resistance from the writers and to the ‘Apartheid Era’ which lasted in South Africa from 1948-1994 also marking South Africa’s colonial transfer from the British crown to the Dutch. Her use of the pronoun ‘you’ refers to the Africans and ‘they’ referring to Europeans.
Edward further uncovers his ignorance and faked enthusiasm for Africa when he investigates the Senegalese writer’s short story about revealing her sexuality. Her story is however completely non-fictional, yet Edward does not trust it to be plausible. He declares that “homosexual stories of this sort were not reflective of Africa” and how he doesn’t talk as an “Oxford-trained Africanist, but as one who is keen on the real Africa and not the imposing of Western ideas on African venues”. Adichie clarifies that Edward only needs writing that strengthens African stereotypes. Regardless he keeps up a ‘us-versus-them’ mentality and holds that Africans are completely different from the rest of the world. He neglects to perceive that the Africans he associates with every day are the no different to his ‘Western’ counterparts, and more so asks “how African is it for a person to tell her family that she is homosexual?” Through Edward, Adichie exposes Europeans who see Africa not as a part of the modern world, rather as demonstration of primitive human behaviour.
Adichie moreover conveys the dissatisfaction that Africans – and maybe other minority groups– feel when they encounter these smaller scale animosities and comparative remarks. Ujunwa is continually made irate by Edward’s remarks, and asks to her kindred essayists, “Why do we always say nothing?” In spite of the fact that this inquiry was in light of Edward’s suggestive remarks to Ujunwa, it applies regardless to the hostile behaviour that she and others witness. Adichie implies frustration of encountering people misinformed about Africa and leaves it an open question as it applies to the Europeans who rather ‘mean well’ which contributes to the image of the ‘charitable white saviour’ as seen typically amongst UN workers.
In relation to the ‘charitable white saviour’, Adichie goes on to challenge this stereotype. When Ujunwa wears a white-toothed shaped pendant which Isabel, the white South African and animal rights activist praises for being faux ivory. Ujunwa sarcastically says that it was in fact real ivory and almost adds that she has killed the elephant herself. Here Adichie tests the humour of Isabel falling perfectly into the role the ‘white saviour’.
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. The Thing Around Your Neck. London: Fourth Estate and Knopf publishing houses, 2009.
The Change of Characters in the Thing Around Your Neck
“The Thing Around Your Neck” is a short story in which Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author, presents two characters, Akunna, the main character in the story and Akunna’s boyfriend, also known as The boy in the story. Akunna wins the “American visa lottery” and gets a green card to go live in America. She is an independent woman who went to community college but later drops out due to financial problems. The boy is a rich and wealthy person that pursues Akunna at her job. The boy loves to travel all around the world to meet “real people” of different countries. Akunna and the boy are both dynamic characters because they undergo important changes that help shape their character’s well. Throughout the story, the characters undergo different emotions, their personality changes and their views on America also changes. The Thing Around Your Neck is a short story about a young woman struggles in America.
The story begins with the main character whose name is Akunna, last name unknown in the story, wins an American visa lottery and got the chance of coming to America, to live the American Dream and to support her family back home. Akunna begins her life in the United States by staying with her aunt and uncle that treated her good. Her uncle enrolled her in a local community college, and he showed her how to “apply for a cashier job at a gas station on Main Street”. Akunna’s character suddenly changed when her uncle begins to sexually abuse her. He “grabbed her buttocks” and said to her that “he will do many things for her if she allows him”, she refused and planned to move out. Due to the harassment, she moved from Maine to Connecticut to look for a new life. Suddenly she became unhappy, lonely, and sad because she had no friends or family in America whom she can rely on. She walks into a local restaurant and asked the manager “Juan” that “she will work for two dollars less than the other waitresses”, but the manager paid her a dollar less. Although she was still unhappy, Akunna still has a job which will keep her occupied. Akunna became completely lonely but she couldn’t tell her family what is happening to her because she has no means of communication to communicate with them.
Due to the financial problems Akunna faced, she was faced to drop out of the community college. She became lonely, isolated, and alienated from other people. One day at her work, a white man came to her restaurant. According to the story, the boy is a “wealthy” person that drop out of college to “find himself”. The boy loves to travel all around the world to meet “real people” of different countries. He also loves to correct people about their culture. He visited Akunna’s workplace every time and talks to her about her hometown. He asked Akunna a series of questions such as whether Akunna “was a Yoruba or Igbo” because she does not have a “Fulani face”. He brags to Akunna that he has been to “Ghana and Uganda and Tanzania” and “loved the poetry of Okot p’Bitek and the novels of Amos Tutuola”. At first, Akunna believes he was a professor at a university but soon realized that the boy loves to travel and that is why he knows about Africa a lot. Akunna asked him why he “hasn’t graduated yet” and the boy reply “he has taken a couple of years off to discover himself and travel, mostly to Africa and Asia”. This shows that the boy is from a wealthy family which surprised Akunna because she didn’t know that people in America can drop out of school and travel, which is different from Africa because education is the most important key to success.
In terms of worldviews, both Akunna and the boy’s view of America are both different and similar. At first, Akunna believed that everyone in America had a car and a big gun, and when she comes to America, she also will be able to buy a car and a gun. Everything she taught was real was the exact opposite of what it is. Although America is place considered by many people as the “Land of Opportunity”, Akunna views on America suddenly changed when came here. As of the boy, his worldview of America is different from Akunna because he already lives in America and also, he was born into a wealthy family and as a result, he hasn’t really experienced the pain and suffering Akunna went through. At first, the boy keeps buying gifts for Akunna because he believes it is the right thing to do for her girlfriend. Akunna became uncomfortable with her boyfriend to keep buying her gifts and she told him to stop buying her gifts that are not useful. Their worldviews are similar because both Akunna and the boy enjoying talking about different topics that they both are familiar with, for example, the boy talks a lot about Lagos, where Akunna comes from and she seemed to be surprised that the boy knows a lot about Lagos. Akunna began to feel less lonely and sad because she now has a boyfriend that is always there for her and can rely on him for the support that she might need.
Akunna’s life became even worse when she heard that her father has passed away and she needed a way to get back to Nigeria to attend his funeral and to pay her last respect to her father. Akunna became even sadder after hearing the news. She wrote a letter to her family and included some America money in it. Akunna and her boyfriend both went to an African market and Akunna prepared “garri and onugbu soup” but her boyfriend “threw up in your sink”. Although her boyfriend loves her, he hasn’t really get used to the African food, thus making him threw up in the sink when he ate the food. The boy loves to correct people and “once, at Chang’s, he told the waiter he had recently visited Shanghai, that he spoke some Mandarin.” Akunna became upset with her boyfriend when the waiter asked him, “You have a girlfriend in Shanghai now?”. The boy “smiled and he said nothing.” Her boyfriend traveled to some major countries in the world, and as a result, he knows about other countries history and he is able to impress Akunna, Akunna, on the other hand, has only stayed in Nigeria and America and she doesn’t really know much about another country. Because of this, the boy has more advantages in life than Akunna because of his experience in life.
At night Akunna often feels alone, isolated, displaced and alienated from other people, some night “something would wrap around your neck, something that very nearly choked you before you sleep”. Due to her struggles in America, Akunna begins to doubt that her view on America and the American Dream are the exact opposite of what she taught it was when she was in Lagos. Instead of earning huge money and buying “big houses and gun” within few months, she goes through a lot of major sufferings which sometimes “made her felt invisible and tried to walk through your room wall into the hallway, and when you bumped into the wall, it felt bruises on your arms.” Akunna often lives in a reality versus illusion world, where she sometimes believes that what she is going through is all illusion and none of them are real but when she pumped into the hallway wall, she suddenly gets back to reality.
In conclusion, Akunna and her boyfriend’s character changes as the story continues, at first Akunna felt happy that she has a chance to come to America and to live the American Dream, but her dream suddenly changed when her uncle began to sexually abuse her, and thus making her leave her uncle’s place and seeking a place in Connecticut, where she met a white by the name of “the boy” in the story, he can be described as a rich person who dropped out of college “to find himself”. He and Akunna became boyfriend and girlfriend. He often bought Akunna gifts, but she declined them by saying he should only buy gifts that are “useful”. Akunna heard that her father has passed away and her boyfriend offered to pay for two tickets so they both can go. Akunna refused and went to Nigeria alone, although the story didn’t justify whether she will return back to America or not, I believe she may return back to America depending on what will happen in Nigeria and also at his father’s funeral. The boy will probably wait for his girlfriend whenever she comes back to America because he loves her and hopes to see her again before her green card expires.
Identity Crisis and Alienation in the Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In the postcolonial texts, identity is an important term, especially regarding some key concepts, such as immigration or enslavement, since experiencing these terms might create a great deal of change in one’`s identity depending on the environment toof which they become a part. This change might occur in a negative way and cause individuals to isolate themselves from what is around them, which can be defined as alienation. The term aAlienation, as put forward by Jaeggi, in a broadly sense means “… the inability to establish a relation to other human beings, to things, to social institutions and thereby also—so the fundamental intuition of the theory of alienation—to oneself.” (Jaeggi 3-10). Therefore, alienation does not necessarily mean that individuals gradually become estranged to the others, but also to themselves. The concept of alienation, its reasons and results may vary from one person to another depending on the personal experiences. The term started to be widely used in literature, especially after the first and second the wWorld wWars I and II, when Western people started to experience war-related traumas and psychological disorders. Thus, it became one of the central themes in modernist literature. It is also one of the major key themes in Adichie`s short stories, as her characters are going through alienation due to many reasons including the ones of gender, race, the conditions of their corrupted environment, and having to adapt into a new land. As mentioned above, traumatic experiences of the individuals have been a common theme in literature, especially of those who areof the minorities or marginalised communitiesoutcasts, as stated by Satkunananthan: “The collective experiences of marginalised communities, be they third‐world, postcolonial, coloured or otherwise subject to collective trauma, are often commodified in mass‐produced literature, art or advertising.” (Satkunananthan 42). However, in Adichie`s work, besides the racial alienation, female alienation also forms an important part component as the her black women are the ones who are exposed to both racism and sexism in a colonial setting. The importance of the effects of the colonial mindset and the practice of enslavement on black women is defined by Patterson:
“It was women who first lived in terror of enslavement, and hence it was women who first came to value its absence, both those who were never but lived in dread of it and, even more so, those who were captured and lived in hope of being redeemed …” (Patterson 168)
Women, more specifically black women in regard to Adichie`s work, have been under the gaze of the colonisers on the streets, at work and even at home. Therefore, their alienation from the means of authority is not only linked to the British colonialism in Nigeria, but also to their position as women in relation to being a part of a patriarchal society. Consequently, Adichie`s choice to depict ordinary women in her stories allows the her readers to empathise with these characters and comprehend their psychological state sof their minds.
The Portrayal of Social and Female Alienation in the Characters of a Ccolonial Land in The Thing Around Your Neck
The first story of The Thing Around Your Neck, “Cell One”, is mainly about Nnamabia, who is the brother of the narrator and supposedly a member of one of the cults formed with teenagers. He is going through a sense of estrangement from the society; therefore, a social alienation. This rebellious character even steals even from the family, which can be explained in a way that in a corrupted society, in which there are various cults and the mother needs to bribe the officers for his son to receive a better treatment in prison, he is trying to gain his own voice and assert his own identity. The effects of Western life on Nigerian teenagers is also mentioned in the story with a specific focus on American rap which is believed to provoke the spread of cults, and it is suggested that the teenagers in Nigerian society are adapting themselves into this new trend that is introduced by the to them via media. However, Nnamabia`s attitude gradually changes as soon as he is put sent into the prison and begins to deals with the attitude of the officers towards the prisoners. He even feels a sympathy for an old man, who is treated badly and never receive sees any visitors. This situation evokes such a feeling in Nnamabia that he wishes to give the food that ihis family s brought to ings him by his family to the old man. His transformation from the rebellious boy to a sympatheticcompassionate adult represents his transformation from being an isolated character, who needs to prove himself through rebellious actions in order to survive in that society, to a character who cares about for solidarity, as it might be the only way for these individuals to stand against corruption.
Although corruption in the society is an important major theme in the text, Adichie shows how the reasons behind the alienation of the characters in the text are also linked to the family ties. As sensed with the depictions by the narrator of the same story, there is a rivalry between the two siblings, which stems from the attitude of the parents and the people surrounding them.
“When my mother took us to the market, traders would call out, “Hey! Madam, why did you waste your fair skin on a boy and leave the girl so dark? What is a boy doing with all this beauty?” And my mother would chuckle, as though she took a mischievous and joyful responsibility for Nnamabia`s good looks. And my mother would chuckle, as though she took a mischievous and joyful responsibility for Nnamabia`s good looks.” (Adichie 6)
Nnamabia is the mostre beautiful and loved one with a fair skin, which adds up to his beauty according to the generalised beauty standards, whereas the sister is confined to darkness. The fact that the narrator stays unnamed throughout the story gives provides evidencea clue about how lost she feels in that her family, as having the concept of having a son is believed to be superior tobetter than having a daughter. Not only does she suffer in a society in which safety is a big major issue, but also, she has to be reminded that she isas a woman, she is and inferior to men even in a small and loving community like family. Therefore, the narrator`s alienation as a sister has various dimensions linked to her colonised and unsafe homeland and its patriarchal mindset.
Adichie brings along family issues many times throughout the book, as exemplified in Tomorrow is Too Far, in which jealousy is also a common problem between two siblings. No matter how skilled or interested the narrator is, she is overshadowed by her brother, Nonso, and her grandmother favours him by neglecting the potential of the narrator since she “She is the incidental the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the subject, he is the absolute.” (Beauvoir 16). The feeling of not being loved and realised by the family members is what leadsmakes the narrator to take an action to prove her existence. Provoking Nonso into climbing up the tree and resultsing in his death., Tthe narrator aims to get rid ofeliminate him and receive all the love for herself from her mother and grandmother for herself. However, her plan does not work as she thinksplanned, and she stays asremains the Other, even in the absence of the brother since male figure in the family is superior to the female figure as “in a wide range of countries a sizeable preference for sons is found.” (Hank and Kohler , 4)
The issue related to patriarchal mindset is portrayed by Adichie in various contexts throughout the book. “In “Jumping Monkey Hill” , for instance, the experiences of Ujunwa’s experiences are told in a writer`s conference around Cape Town, in
“”the kind of place where she imagined affluent foreign tourists would dart around taking pictures of lizards and then return home still mostly unaware that there were more black people than red-capped lizards in South Africa.” (Adichie 95).
Along with dealing the stereotypes of Africa, Adichie shows that how this woman author Ujunwa is constantly under the gaze of the British organiser Edward and exposed to sexual harassment as “… he always looked at her chest rather than her face …” (Adichie 109). The fact that he is married does not hold him back from attempting to ignite an intercourse with Ujunwa since the African woman is “authentic and different” and as put forward by Hooks “to these young males and their buddies, fucking was a way to confront the Other, as well as a way to make themselves over, to leave behind white “innocence” and enter the world of “experience.” (Hooks 368). Not only does he feel superior to Ujunwa due to his race but also his gender.
The colonial mindset Edward has is again revealed again when he attempts to teach an African woman about African staples and makes assumptions of Africa by underestimating her knowledge about her homeland and looking down on her as well as deciding to what extent the story of Ujunwa is “real African.” In that way, Rodriguez states that
“”Edward’s authority threatens this diversity of representation as he expects the workshop participants to represent, in their own behaviour as well as through the stories they write, his single image of Africa and African writing.”” (Rodriguez 6-7).
The way Edward sees Africa is a separate world, far from the Western conditions, and he wishes to impose this image into the African woman by creating his own reality. Ujunwa`s identity and background are ignored by him. C; consequently, she has to suffer from both the results that come along with her race and gender. The fact that Edward is more concerned about her body and rarely looks at her face is an example of his perception of her, the one that is as nothing less but the one of a sexual object. However, as in all the stories in the book, Adichie also gives also Ujunwa her own voice and thea chance to establish her identity by making her ask thea simple question: “Why do we always say nothing?” (Adichie 112), whose the answer of which might give a solution for the de-humanised women to get over the instinct to isolate themselves from the society as well as her personal ability to create stories that allows her to gain power.
The attempt of non-Africans to show offdisplay their knowledge about of Africa is depicted in “The Thing Around Your Neck” through Akunna`s story as well, which is about the opportunity that she obtainsgets to apply forobtain the American visa and start working as a waitress. Even though people around her in Nigeria exaggerates the life conditions in the USA and encourages her to set up her life there, she faces the bitter truth by realising that the American Dream is simply not tailored for the immigrants when she arrives. She is a foreign n immigrant woman , who is exposed to sexual harassment by her own uncle and needs to work hard but to gains earn less money than the other workerss. During her encounter with the customers, she realises that many people try to make assumptions of about Africa with the same attitude than the event organiseras Edward`s in “Jumping Monkey Hills”, the one of the people who are far from understanding their culture. When she gets to knowmeets a certain special customer, who relatively knows more about Africa than the others, another moment strikes her to and she make her realises that the idea of travelling to Africa, getting to knowcoming across people and observing the poor is highly romanticised among Americans. However, the fact that the man refrains from defining her as his girlfriend gives clues aboutprovide an indication of hism deep-down feeling of superiority.
As stated above, the author portrays the patriarchal colonialism has been portrayed by the author in many stories, especially through the idea of marriage and giving birth. The United States is portrayed as a land of opportunities for Nigerians.; Ttherefore, getting married to ying someone from the USAAmerican is thea key thato opens the doors for the Nigerians who are forced to leave their home countryies. This idea is exemplified in the short story “The Arrangers of Marriage”. The protagonist Chinaza, the protagonist, is made to marriesry Ofodile, a doctor who lives in America. The marriage is arranged named Ofodile by her aunt and uncle, which is supposedly a way toof rescueing herself from the supposedly bad second-rate living conditions in Nigeria. Even though they have been married for less than a month, Chinaza already feels that something is wrong. The story is an example of the dominance of the male authority over femalewomen, as the husband refuses to let the his wife speak her mother tongue or cook their traditional dishes. Chinaza is forced to live an American life under the gaze of Ofodile, and not only when they are among other people but also in their private house, which results in her identity crisis since she is forced to adapt into her new identity and “to be as mainstream as possible and not left by the roadside” (Adichie 173). Especially, the fact that now she is to be called Agatha leads toemphasises the loss of her original identity as she is forced to leave change her name and its cultural associations dimensions behind. The theme of namelessness or renaming is a key concept n important theme in colonial and postcolonial literature and colonial settings in regards to identity as put forward by Kabore:
“… in the new world they find themselves in, names are so important that not having a name means one has lost one’s original identity and is reduced to mere archetypes …” (Kabore 4)
Chinaza needs is forced to adopt into thea new identity and the American way of lifeving , which is created by her husband for her, and consequently, she is in a way tamed and enslaved by the her husband in this new environment. Although she now is now in a country with “full of opportunities”, she is not allowed to make her own choices or introduce herself to whomever she wishes to, using with her real identity. However, the fact that he is not an genuine American-born citizen and that he also had to go through hardships when he arrived in America, feeds the discussion of , in a colonial system, how victimised also the colonisers also are. Ofadelia`s shift from the colonised to the coloniser gives him an opportunity to be in charge, a concept which that he used to be far from, as stated by Turkmen: “The colonialist identity for the colonizer breaks out with his arrival to the colonial lands. On arriving he goes into a sudden shift of identity. Being a mediocre man in his own country, the colonizer suddenly turns into a master, giving orders, earning money which he cannot otherwise dream about, having facilities exclusively at his disposal. ” (Turkmen 195)
Due regard being had to this statement, even though the readers of the story are more prone to empathise with the colonised, it is vital to understand how the a colonial atmosphere creates victims of in both sides and results in an identity crisis for both as well.
The idea of marriage failure iss also representeds itself in the story “Imitation”, when Nkem, the protagonist, Nkem needs to ignore the affairs of her husband’s affairs in Nigeria, while she lives estranged, with her children, in America, so as to provide them with a luxurious life for them. The affairs of the husband are known by others as well as by Nkem, and she fulfils the need to talk about it by communicating with the her maid, who is “her only source of companionship in America” (Rodriguez 12). However, her husband`s affairs indiscretions are simply justified byas his status as aof man, and additionally, his wealthy allows him to impose his way of lifestyleving. Nkem`s attempt to decisionde to shape her life according to her will, is a determining step which she takes to integrate with her husband and recover from her isolation estrangement from him. Her transformation, from thea silent figure to thea woman who stands up for her wishes and by decidinges to leave America, represents how frustrated she feels about her new land and her relationship with her husband, Obiora. Therefore, the ideal America, which Nigerians are dreaming of, does not necessarily bring happiness to them as portrayed in the story. The fact that Adichie includes problematic relationships in her book shows that either the alienation of the Nigerian characters begins in their private spacespheres, at home, or the way they are living isir daily life is simply affected by the hardships they come across due to the problems occurring in where the environment they are a part of live.
Violence-Related Traumatic Experiences and the Consequences
The psychological aspects of the stories become more dominant in “Ghosts”. The protagonist James is openly talking about death, and with the presence of extradiegetic analepsis, readers are able to see how the Nigerian Civil War, or in another name the Biafra War that occurred in 1967-1970, has left memories in his mind. The fact that he claims to be visited by the ghost of his dead wife suggests that he is suffering from traumatic neurosis due to the effects of war as stated by Kardiner:
“The war situation definitely contributes to the frequence of incidence of traumatic neuroses and allied disease and is undoubtedly responsible for the difference in character between these neuroses and those which occur in peace time in a more attenuated form.” (Kardiner 69)
The feeling of loss he is experiencing puts him into thea situation , in which he is treated as a mad man by his friend Ikenna. However, his supernatural interaction with his wife suggests that he feels alienated from the people around him and simply wishes to maintain the connection with the woman who had had a bond with him, before she passed away. James liveis in fear of being sent to America by his daughter if he mentions that Ebere is still visiting him, which is linked to his fear of being introduced to another environment and feeling more isolated than before.
The feeling of losing a loved one appears in “The American Embassy” as well, this time about a woman who is experiencing the death of her son. The idea of a corrupted story presents itself with the portrayal of many people waiting in the line to obtainget the American visa to improve their life conditions, such as in the case of t, he narrator`s life, herher journalist husband being in danger, the death of the her son and the narrator`sher decision to give up her career. The narrator feels distant to the people in the line, stays silent and thinks about “why she did not share in any familiarity that had developed among the others in the line.” (Adichie 129). However,; despite what she has been going through or when she is refused to obtainget the visa at the end of the story, the fact that she makes an attempts, even by showing upbeing present in the line, gives a sense of her wish to continue her life. Therefore, the author suggests that the idea that whatever happens in the lives of these characters`s, they always try to find a way to continue. Comment by Eleonore Grave: Informal word
The desire to continue pursue someone`s life is also portrayed in “A Private Experience,” in which two women with different religious backgrounds come across in a shop while en there is a riot between Muslims and Christians of Nigeria is happening ion the street between Muslims and Christians of Nigeria., but They still manage to have a daily conversation about their experiences in the shop where they need to protect themselves. It is sensed in thise story that alienation, which is experienced by the characters of the stories, is not practically essentially about Nigerians as being the Others. The Muslim woman, who has been experienced ing many riots, is under the gaze of an Igbo Christian Igbo woman, Chika, who is from the same country, and has read about the riots only in newspapers. Chika doubts that whether the woman is able to grasp what Chika she is talking about since she has been exposed to the fact that they are the inferior ones due to their religions, and their socioal and economic status.; Ttherefore, as a result of the Christian Igbos’this way of thinking of the Christian Igbos, the Muslim woman is forced to be isolated from a part of the society. They are both going through a violence-related traumatic experience in Nigeria due to the chaotic atmosphere, yet the shop is isolated from the riots on the streets symbolising the woman`s isolation from society. However, the situation in which they are brings along solidarity between these two women who belong to different sides, yet get have the chance to listen to one another.
“She hardly ever lies, but the few times she does, there is always a purpose behind the lie. She wonders what purpose this lie serves, this need to draw on a fictional past similar to the woman`s …”” (Adichie 50)
The fact that Chika is lying about her family to create something mutual between herself and the woman, suggests that she feels an inner bond with the woman. Chika is experiencing something that has not been mentioned in the media: not all the Hausa-speaking Muslims are violent against the non-Muslims, as it is written in “The Guardian” (Adichie 55). These two women with different backgrounds are experiencing a short-term friendship, which changes their opinions about the other side, and Chika`s wish to keep the woman`s scarf is the symbol of her adopting a new point of view. At the end, both these women are from the same chaotic and colonised country and solidarity between them might bring a solution to the chaos and their forced alienation, as in the case of Nnamabia in “Cell One” standing up for the old man in the prison.
In Adichie`s short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck, the portrayal of the alienated characters differs from one another due to the various reasons that cause their isolation. Although each story analysed in this paper includes an identity struggle, Adichie manages to present to the readers that the aftermath of their psychological deterioration is not necessarily the same. Nnamabia in “Cell One” and Chika in “A Private Experience” find a way to get overcome their alienation and survive through solidarity as well as; Chinaza in “The Arrangers of Marriage”, Nkem in “Imitation” and Akunna in “The Thing Around Your Neck” through their determination to take an action for themselves and keep their dignity, the narrator in “The American Embassy” through her wish to continue her life and Ujanwa in “Jumping Monkey Hill” through creation as an author. However,; James in “Ghosts” still pursues a bond with his dead wife and whether this situation helps him to hold onto life or isolates him is open to debate. Despite the fact that the stories ofin this postcolonial work collection deal with various themes through many characters with different backgrounds, the mutuality is that Adichie refrains from putting placing the chaotic setting experienced by Nigerians due to colonialism as a central theme, but she rather focuses on representing their struggles in their daily lives. The way Adichie brings along the gender-related alienation of black women is highly related to the colonial mentality. ; Ttherefore, the stories are not only about the colonised nation and their sufferings but also women as colonised beings by the patriarchal authorities. The experiences of these black women involve the exposure to racism as well as sexism.; Cconsequently, they are the double victims of a colonised country.
- Adichie, Ngozi Chimamanda. 2009. The Thing Around Your Neck. HarperCollins, 2017.
- De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. Vintage Books A Division of Random House. 2011.
- Jaeggi, Rahel, and Alan E. Smith. “‘A Stranger in the World That He Himself Has Made’: The Concept And Phenomenon of Alienation.” Alienation, edited by Frederick Neuhouser, Columbia University Press, 2014, pp. 3–10. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/jaeg15198.7.
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- Kardiner, Abram. The Traumatic Neuroses of War. National Research Council, 1941.
- Oroskhan, Mohammad Hussein, and Esmail Zohdi. “Doubleness of Identity in Adichie’s ‘Imitation.’” International Journal of English and Education, vol. 4, no. 4, Oct. 2015, pp. 300–310. Academia, www.academia.edu/21697740/Doubleness_of_Identity_in_Adichies_Imitation_.
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- Satkunananthan, Anita Harris. “Textual Transgressions and Consuming the Self in the Fiction of Helen Oyeyemi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie .” HECATE: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women`s Liberation, vol. 37, no. 2, Nov. 2011, pp. 41–69. Research Gate, www.researchgate.net/publication/329235560_Textual_Transgressions_and_Consuming_the_Self_in_the_Fiction_of_Helen_Oyeyemi_and_Chimamanda_Ngozi_Adichie.
- Turkmen, Serap. “Identity in the Colonial Lands: A Critical Overview of the Postcolonial Studies .” Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, vol. 2, no. 3&4, 2003, pp. 188–203. Dergi Park, dergipark.gov.tr/download/article-file/19433.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Themes of Hope and Relentlessness
- Made a clearer thesis statement.
- Changed and omitted a few examples
- Tried to make a more logical transition between the two part of the argument.
Interiority and mobility are characterized as the key features of the “modern” youth in various Bildungsroman works as discussed by Moretti in “The Bildungsroman as a Symbolic Form”. In his work, he has also stated:“(…)the selfsame process gives rise to unexpected hope, thereby generating an interiority not only fuller than before but also (…) perennially dissatisfied and restless” (4). In the quote mentioned, the author considers the most prominent results of mobility and interiority, respectively, are “hope” and “restlessness”. Adichie’s work, “The thing around your neck,” which recounts the story of a young Nigerian woman- Akunna, and her struggles as she migrates to America clearly reflects these two important aspects.
The story opens with Akunna’s departure to the US, which was strongly implied to have not been out of her desire for an adventure or wonder. The “American visa lottery” might be the start of her inner restlessness as the author chose to put great emphasis not on Akunna’s reactions, but on those of Akunna’s family and relatives. She left home with the anticipations from her family to achieve the American dream: “In a month, you will have a big car. Soon, a big house”(115). These expectations act like invisible baggage that was holding her down, always reminding her the weight of her journey and how much it meant not to her, but to other people. After escaping from her uncle’s home, she felt as there was “a thing around her neck”, keeping her up at night – this imagery frequently repeats throughout the story, symbolizes Akunna’s anxiety and helplessness, the lack of self-control and her inner restlessness in this foreign land. One experience that contributes to her psychological burden was the battle with stereotypes and generalizations. Stereotypes and generalizations are familiar features of all immigration stories as of how common they are. Stereotypes put people in defined boxes and alienate them from others, taking away one’s complex identity and the control of one’s own image. Akunna was met with ignorant questions and condescending attitudes from people when talking about her home country or her relationship with a white man. These stereotypes emphasize differences, abnormality as Akunna’s backgrounds and perception of the world can be considered polar opposites compared to other’s. This aspect is highlighted strongly throughout her romantic relationship (“useful gifts,” “cottage,”…), which leads to an ambiguous ending as these inner conflicts haven’t been resolved.
But Akunna’s departure to the US is not solely defined by anxiety or struggles, but also by hope and change, similar to many “modern” youth stories as talked about by Moretti. Even when her psychological burden hasn’t disappeared entirely as the story moves forward, we can still feel Akunna’s strong character development as well as her desire to finally create a sense of belonging to this foreign land. Akunna, as a youth on her journey to maturity, gradually gained self-control and a personal perspective. From being “invisible”, helpless, Akunna gained the inner strength and confidence to tell Juan she didn’t want to serve that table, to appreciate a stranger’s knowledge of Nigeria. Our protagonist started to develop emotional attachments, where she loosened up and appeared vulnerable, but now she also possessed a sense of independence and assertiveness, as she challenged her partner’s “self-righteous” view. She got back in touch with her family, something she was hesitant to do before as she feared her life in America would be a disappointment to loved ones. She didn’t want to be dependent on her new American boyfriend, refused his offer to cover the expenses for a trip back home, after finding out that her father has passed away. This moment is instrumental, as it is the bright example of the “give and take” relationship, of what she has to lose in order to fit in this new environment. The ambiguous ending implies important decisions Akunna would have to make, whether or not to return to America, and to make up her own mind about the relationship. This ending suggests a new beginning where she takes more control of her life, not having to comply with other’s needs or expectations.
Perspective on Nigerian Post-colonization Homosexuality in the Thing Around Your Neck
The Thing Around Your Neck: Taboo to Who?
In The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie there are two very different short stories touching beautifully on the views of Nigerian post-colonization homosexuality. In one story, “On Monday of Last Week” the reader sees an ongoing and subtle curiosity between characters of the same sex, and in the other story, “The Shivering”, homosexuality is present in a very strong and open matter after the reader experiences a type of reveal of character. While the history and stance on African homosexuality is not written in stone by the author in these stories, the reader must wonder what the purpose of incorporating homosexuality in these stories represent, and how Nigerians have historically changed their views on homosexuality and why.
Before examining the short stories “On Monday of Last Week” and “The Shivering”, one must take a brief look into the history of homosexuality in Nigeria. Very simply put, homosexuality has been present in all countries and in all cultures for centuries. In Nigeria, the colonization of Westerners has greatly affected the social constructs of what is “taboo” and what is not, when it comes to homosexuality. Before the Biafra war and pre-colonization time, it was not uncommon to see Igbo people acknowledge same sex relationships as “tolerant” as opposed to “intolerant”. It was not yet even in mind that a woman having another woman as a companion was “gay”, but more so just “the norm” or even a privilege to their family. Women would marry on the count that they had a sacred and queen-like status, and this would commonly be termed “woman-husband” or “woman-wife”. In other situations, because the woman may have been widowed, a single parent, or not a parent at all, it was not against Nigerian beliefs to have a female-to-female companionship to compensate for a male-to-female marriage or relationship (Igwe 2009).
In an article by Cameroonian journalist, Eric Lembembe, titled “What Traditional African Homosexuality Learned From the West”, he includes an interview done with Patrick Awondo. Awondo has a doctorate in political sociology and medical anthropology from the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. Awondo states, “By demanding rights based on sexual practices, they [Westerners] make homosexuality a political issue. This emergence of a homosexual identity is marked by a social lifestyle and identification with the ‘gay culture’ that developed first in the United States in the late 1960’s and then in Western Europe”…he continues to say “Knowing historical truths lets us avoid unhistorical lies” (Lembembe 2012).
In the story “On Monday of Last Week”, readers see Kamara, a Nigerian immigrant who is babysitting for a boy named Josh in an upper class household. Tracy, Josh’s mother is an artist who secludes herself in the basement, but sometimes has interactions with Kamara. There is an ongoing and subtle curiosity between Kamara and Tracy as she learns more about Josh’s family, and she eventually develops an infatuation with Tracy. When there is finally an intimate interaction between Kamara and Tracy, Tracy says to Kamara while lightly touching her chin, “You have the most beautiful teeth,” and Kamara obsesses over her overwhelming flood of feelings at that moment. Kamara says she, at first, felt like a little girl and then proceeded to feel like bride. Kamara feels extremely aware of her body, Tracy’s eyes, and the space between them being very small (Adichie 87). The subtlety of Kamara’s curiousness is broken at this moment, and Adichie’s words are so graceful and soft, that it does not feel like an abrupt encounter. Although Tracy is very free-flowing and artistic in nature, she does lead Kamara to have a larger curiosity for her than she has for Kamara. Despite the intertwining of boundaries crossed, most moments that are homosexual in nature in this story are from Kamara’s head and fantasies about Tracy, and not necessarily active responses to Tracy’s bold and yet intimate behavior.
In the story “The Shivering”, the reader sees a Nigerian woman named Ukamaka who is sitting in her apartment/dorm in the United States and has learned that there has been a plane crash in Nigeria. She gets an unfamiliar knock at the door with a familiar face of a Nigerian man named Chinedu. Concerned that her ex-boyfriend, Udenna, may have been in the plane crash, she unguarded, lets Chinedu in and he immediately starts to pray about the crash. Chinedu makes Ukamaka feels odd because of his strong religious nature, but she continues to pursue a friendship with him because she still feels like they are connected. After Ukamaka finds that her ex-boyfriend Udenna is fine, she still revels in their relationship and talks about their past and how she felt love for Udenna. Upon hearing this, Chinedu opens up to Ukamaka and tells her that he, too, was once in love, and that perhaps Ukamaka should try and let go of her past with her ex-boyfriend. Not to Ukamaka’s surprise, she learns that Chinedu is gay and his love was a man named Abidemi. From there on, Chinedu is relieved and speaks freely about his relationship with a man and Ukamaka listens intently, with an open heart and mind (Adichie 159).
The direct correlation between religious folks and homosexuality has been a negative one, specifically to Christians. The expectant surprise in Ukamaka’s response in the book is a classic “Western” example of an assumed reaction to a very religious, Nigerian male, coming out as gay. The alleged surprise to the reader is perhaps not only that a Nigerian, religious, male, is gay, but that there is no surprise in Ukamaka’s response. This further implicates the “Westernization” of homosexuality transforming from a norm into an abnormal and “taboo” topic. Adichie wants the reader to understand that homosexuality in African history was never originally taboo or abnormal…that love is complicated and can come in many ways, shapes, and forms through subtlety and traditions. By viewing Ukamaka’s response of lack of surprise and continued inquiry into Chinedu’s life, readers can see that it is only the socio-political agenda that the post-colonial Westerners imposed the idea that homosexuality was no longer a positive experience or an African one. In part, this story widely emphasizes that the reader’s reaction to Ukamaka’s reaction is a direct result of the changes that colonization in Nigeria has brought onto the topic of homosexuality. The Westerners have taken away the idea that homosexuality has been around for centuries in Africa, and that even though it is viewed as a negative attribute, that homosexuality did not exist somehow until the Westerners discovered and condemned it. Readers can not only tell from Ukamaka’s relationship issues with Udenna- that straight relationships and love can be the same as gay ones in “The Shivering”… but we can also tell that homosexuality in Nigeria, has a complicated history that deserves examination by people who see it as “taboo” in the first place.
In light of both stories, one examining a female-to-female sensuality and curiosity, the other examining a Nigerian Christian male opening with his love story for another man, the reader can see in both situations that love comes in all forms and can be subtle, despite the present nature of homosexuality. It can also be described that “love” is not defined by gender, but defined by companionship and compassion for each other.
Religious Expression in Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck
Adichie’s collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, is a powerful testimony of Nigerian culture as resonated within each and every Nigerian in their homeland and in America. Intertwined with several aspects of culture, she explores the idea of faith and religious expression in well-educated, “Americanized” Nigerians as compared to the long-established conventions of religious practice in traditional Nigerian culture. The stories “A Private Experience,” “Ghosts,” and “The Shivering,” characterize Americanized Nigerians’ attempts to understand the role of faith, superstition, and expression of religion in their lives.
In all three stories, the protagonists are well-educated, or pursuing a higher education, and struggle to perceive the religious traditions of their people as anything but antiquated. Like the professor in “Ghosts,” they are “Western-educated” and “[are] supposed to have armed [themselves] with enough science to laugh indulgently at the ways of [their] people.” (57) The retired professor describes the superstitious practice of grabbing handfuls of sand from the ground and throwing it at somebody presumed to be dead when he encounters Ikenna Okoro; in “The Shivering,” Ukamaka (who is working on her dissertation at Princeton) deems Chinedu’s “Nigerian Pentecostal way” of “bloodying and binding” in prayer unnecessary and pugilistic (143); Chika, in “A Private Experience,” mentally disproves the Hausa woman’s perception of the riots as evil by pulling from her sister’s academic understanding that “riots do not happen in a vacuum.” (48) Poorer, less educated people are depicted as more spiritually connected to their faith and superstitions than their scholastic counterparts. For example, the Hausa woman’s fragmented sentences, the description of her attire – “…flimsy pink and black scarf, with the garish prettiness of cheap things” – and her business in onion trading all point to the fact that she is underprivileged. (44) During their encounter, Chika finds herself wondering if the Hausa woman’s mind “is large enough to grasp” the terms and concepts that she so easily chalks up to forces of good and evil. (48) She dutifully performs her prayer ritual for their safety while Chika sits and thinks about how to rationalize what is happening to her. The professor describes the curses of “tattered men who were clustered under the flame tree” – how they energetically damn the vice chancellor, whom they have accused of stealing money from everybody’s pensions – and compares them to hawkers, conjuring an image of rugged men, people much like the Hausa woman, making a small living by selling goods in the streets. (58) These “modernized” characters exist in a class separate from the poorer, less-educated people and therefore are separated from the beliefs their people have always maintained.
There are multiple references to America, or “Americanized” people, being seen as “sterile” and restrained in religious expression – not just in faith, but in practice. (67) Perhaps as a reflection of their assimilation into modernized culture, Adichie’s protagonists demonstrate the circumspect distance they were taught to afford religion; they approach ideas of theology with cynicism and the polite coldness of skeptics. Guarded by the cushions of academia, they have lost touch with the doctrines of their respective faiths – so much so, in fact, that dynamic religious practices make them uncomfortable. In “A Private Experience,” Chika averts her eyes when the Hausa woman kneels on the ground to pray and wishes that she could also take comfort in a belief of God, if only to share the experience or know how to act in its place. The rosary on her finger seems frivolous without any faith to back it, and she finds herself awkwardly fingering the beads, alien to an institution and a practice that she had never observed with any depth. In “The Shivering,” Ukamaka refrains from telling Chinedu that his prayer ritual is extraneously overzealous for fear of sounding “sanctimonious,” unable to articulate her own faith in “that redeeming matter-of-fact dryness” that reassures her in her own church. (143) The vigor with which Chinedu – who, as she later discovers, has lived in Nigeria until very recently and is therefore more tightly connected to Nigerian rituals – exercises his prayer makes her uneasy. Like many Americans regularly attending mass at the Catholic Church, Ukamaka prefers the pensive, dispassionate “kneeling and standing and worshipping idols” that Chinedu dislikes. (164) The juxtaposition of the two Church scenes – Father Patrick walking up and down aisles, “flicking” water on his congregation, and the Nigerian priest striding between pews, “splashing and swirling, holy water raining down” – is a brilliant summation of the differences in religious expression between Nigerian and American cultures. (186)
Despite all this, Adichie’s protagonists still struggle to recognize what they feel they should believe and what they actually believe. Each of the three make references to a faith they have once abandoned, repudiated, or returned to after a withdrawal of practice for different reasons. Most essentially, they attempt to understand the notion of an afterlife and their God’s role in it within the confines of science and practiced rationalization. In “Ghosts,” the professor grapples with the “tightly rigid boundaries of what is considered real” when his deceased wife begins to visit him in his home. (67) He stops going to church on Sundays because “it is our diffidence about the afterlife that leads us to religion… [and he] was no longer uncertain.” (71) He regards the superstitions of his people as silly, yet is firm in the understanding that his wife’s soul exists beyond the constraints of death, a realization he cannot admit to his colleagues – not even to Ikenna, a man who had just, in most senses of the word, reappeared after death – because it goes against the teachings they devoted their lives to. In “The Shivering,” Chinedu explains to Ukamaka that the plane crash was “a punishment and a wake-up call” for Nigerian people because of the corruption they allow in their country, prompting her to question whether God saves some people and not others because He favors them. (152) Chinedu is satisfied with his own explanation – that “God’s ways are not our ways” – but Ukamaka is still unsettled and needs a logical justification for the deaths of all those that did not survive the wreckage. (147) The omniscient narrator in “A Private Experience” fast-forwards Chika’s story enough to reveal that Chika’s family will “offer Masses over and over for Nnedi to be found safe, though never for the repose of Nnedi’s soul.” (52) The statement is telling of her community’s denial, and further emphasizes the idea of sheltered sterility that is so prevalent throughout Adichie’s short works – the assertion that “riots like this were what happened to other people,” not people like Chika or Ukamaka or even the professor. (47)
Weaved into each and every sentence is Adichie’s remarkable ability to capture the efforts of modern Nigerian people to come to terms with and express things they have been taught not to understand – their faith and personal connection with their God.
The Lasting Impact of Colonialism in Western Perceptions of The Global South: Race and Gender in ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck follows Akunna, a young Nigerian immigrant, as she adjusts to life in America. While there she begins a relationship with a white man who is eerily fascinated by African culture, and encounters the multiple skewed perceptions that Americans have of African countries, in particular Nigeria. Akunna and her boyfriend’s strikingly different views of Africa represent the lasting impact of colonialism both in western countries and the Global South, and also reveal the danger of the Single Story perspective. In presenting such radically different characters, Adichie critiques the dominant western perception of Africa and African women and reveals the lasting impacts of settler colonialism on race and gender.
Adichie’s depiction of Akunna and her boyfriend reflect the lasting impacts of settler colonialism on both colonized and colonizer nations. Akunna’s boyfriend is obsessed with Nigerian culture, to the point where it seems as though he’s claiming the Nigerian identity for himself. He “told [Akunna] he had been to Ghana and Uganda and Tanzania, loved the poetry of Okot p’Bitek and the novels of Amos Tutuola” (120). While Akunna initially “wanted to feel disdain… because white people who liked Africa too much… were condescending” (120). While eventually she’s convinced to go out with him, and initially finds him less condescending than other white people she’s encountered in America, she does eventually feel uncomfortable with his infatuation with African culture. This infatuation extends into the boyfriend attempting to claim African culture for himself: when he and Akunna are in the African food store and the cashier “asked him if he was African, like the white Kenyans or South Africans” (123), he’s thrilled because he wants to take on the African identity even though it doesn’t belong to him. He also claims to understand how Akunna feels when she tells him about her father’s car accident, when in fact he has no idea how she feels, because he has not experienced her life nor the context surrounding it. She’s upset by this, “because he thought the world was, or ought to be, full of people like him” (123). He thinks that he and Akunna are the same because of his desire to claim African heritage, but her life is distinctly different from his and he doesn’t recognize their differences. There is a distinct difference between Akunna’s relationship with Nigeria and her boyfriend’s, because Akunna grew up in Nigeria and is intimately familiar with the culture, while her boyfriend, try as he may to appropriate Nigerian culture, is an outsider looking in.
The boyfriend’s desire to claim African culture as his own is a reflection of the lasting impacts of settler colonialism. One of the most significant tenants of settler colonialism is the idea of colonizers coming to view themselves as true residents of the colonized location. Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck and Angie Morrill explore this concept in their essay Decolonizing Feminism, where they explain that “Settler colonialism is a persistent social and political formation in which newcomers/colonizers/settlers come to a place, claim it as their own, and do whatever it takes to disappear the Indigenous peoples that are there” (12). Much like with other forms of colonialism, the effects of settler colonialism continue to affect the colonized. Settler colonialism, however, allows colonizers to claim that they are the true residents of a country, erasing indigenous people from the narrative and preventing them from claiming land that is rightfully theirs. Arvin, Tuck and Morrill explain that in settler colonial states “laws have been constructed to enable white settlers to make claims of indigeneity” (12), a practice immediately made evident in The Thing Around Your Neck: Akunna’s boyfriend is not Nigerian, and embedding himself so deeply in African culture serves only to negate Akunna’s experiences as a Nigerian woman and take away cultural experiences from the people they belong to. In comparing Akunna and her boyfriend’s interactions with Africa, when Akunna was born in Nigeria and has memories of “[her] aunts who hawked dried fish and plantains, cajoling customers to buy and then shouting insults when they didn’t; [her] uncles who drank local gin and crammed their families and lives into single rooms” (117), and her boyfriend only understands Nigeria from the perspective of an outsider examining a foreign culture as something to study, Adichie makes a profound feminist statement about settler colonialism: how the culture of indigenous people, and particularly indigenous women, is stripped away when white people try to claim it for themselves.
Adichie also explores the idea of colonized women being seen as less than other women. When Akunna and her boyfriend are out to dinner and the waiter “assumed [she] could not possibly be his girlfriend” (124), she’s upset by the assumption that as an African woman, her boyfriend would never date her, but he doesn’t understand why she’s upset. Adichie’s critique of western perceptions of Africa is made clear through her characters: she condemns both the perception of African women as inferior to other women, and criticizes the people who refuse to see that that prejudice exists. The discrimination Akunna faces reveals the lasting impact of heteropaternalism, which Arvin, Tuck and Morrill explore in depth. They explain that the “management of Indigenous peoples’ gender roles and sexuality was also key in remaking Indigenous peoples into settler state citizens” (15), which is evident with Akunna: as white colonizers constructed ideas of womanhood that included only white women, reducing African women to something inferior and other, mainstream western society adopted that same view, allowing them to view African women as something other than women. Adichie does feminist work by drawing attention to the continued negative perception of African women, but she also criticizes it by depicting that white Americans don’t realize what they’re doing. Akunna feels the effects of racism and sexism profoundly, but the boyfriend doesn’t recognize this prejudice, a distinction that solidifies the difference between colonizer and colonized.
Adichie explores how differing experiences with prejudice can shape a person’s experience with a culture and their perception of the world. Akunna’s experiences as an African woman, who has experienced an intersection of racism and sexism as a result of her identity, allow her to recognize prejudice and be affected by it. When she arrives in America, she finds herself subject to ridiculous and ignorant questions from many white people: “They asked where you learned to speak English and if you had real houses back in Africa and if you’d seen a car before you came to America” (117). That prejudice extends to issues of gender as well, when she tells white Americans the meaning of her name and they respond “Father’s Wealth? You mean, like your father will actually sell you to a husband” (120.) Her boyfriend, as a white man living in the United States, has had no direct experience with gender or race-based prejudice, and while he may attempt to entrench himself in African culture, doing so is impossible when he is neither African nor a woman. Adichie critiques people who attempt to take on identities that don’t belong to them by showing how they can never truly understand the experiences of those identities; she displays how the experience of African women is a unique one, that can only be understood by African women.
The Thing Around Your Neck explores the dangers of a singular perspective in regards to colonized countries. Akunna criticizes how her boyfriend “wanted to visit Lagos, to see how real people lived, like in the shantytowns” (120). His view that the only “real people” in Africa are ones who leave in extreme poverties is indicative of a global belief that people in the Global South are inherently poor and lesser than people in western countries. While the boyfriend views the people of Nigeria as living in unspeakable poverty, he’s still infatuated with Nigerian culture, gaining knowledge and objects like trophies. Akunna even remarks that she “felt grateful that [his parents] did not examine you like an exotic trophy, an ivory tusk” (126). The boyfriend’s view of Nigeria, as both a land of poverty and a place from which to collect trophies, is a reflection of Adichie’s “The Danger of A Single Story” talk, where she discusses the repercussions of holding only one view of a place or group of people. She explains that “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (13:11-13:23). The fact that the boyfriend sees Africans as poor, and views Akunna as one of his trophies, speaks of a single story perspective: the fact that he is not Nigerian and was not raised in Nigeria allows him to have deeply misconstrued views of the nation. His perception of Akunna as something to be owned is a reflection of the belief that African women are not really women continues to show the lasting impacts of settler colonialism; that he can view her as a trophy, a prize to be won, rather than a legitimate person. While Akunna has real, human memories of Nigeria, both ones of poverty and ones of family, her boyfriend does not, and that allows him to establish a single-story viewpoint of Nigeria. Through his opinions, Adichie depicts the dangers that a single-story can present, through negative perceptions of people based on their race and gender.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck addresses the complexities of race and gender for African women living in a (supposedly) postcolonial society. She discusses the lasting effects of colonialism on the way that westerners perceive Africans, and how westerners attempt to take on the identities of the cultures they have colonized. In creating radically different characters through Akunna and her boyfriend, she explores the implications of prejudice and stereotypes, and both critiques the settler colonialism that has put both in place and champions for the reclamation of African women’s identities.