In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s story, “The Thing Around Your Neck,” Adichie gives voice to the otherwise silent struggle of Nigerian women who try to make America their home. In an interview with NPR’s Guy Raz published in 2013, Chimamanda Adichie explores how “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize” (“What are the Dangers”). For Adichie, individual stories matter and, it is through these stories that we are able to make up the image of the world around us. Furthermore, scholars explore Adichie’s use of African identity and concern with the acceptance of that identity in the space around them. In scholar Elena Murphy’s paper, she points out that Adichie questions “diverse stereotypes” and that her stories give perspective to readers through the eyes of a foreigner (Murphy 100). Meanwhile, Heba Sharobeem argues that “stories have to be respected” if we are to challenge the space created around us and co-exist with one another (Sharobeem 35). Although I originally understood the importance of Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck” as telling the story of the individual narrator Akunna, I now see that her story is a representation of Nigerian women who immigrate to the U.S.
Elena Rodrígue Murphy makes a point that Adichie adopting the use of the English language into her writing is a “transcultural element” (99). For Murphy, Adichie’s use of “her specific usage of English” but also the incorporation of other languages used daily by Nigerians, allows Adichie’s writing to spread across multiple mediums and take on “hybrid realities and identities” (99). However, when reading Murphy’s work, I got the impression that she believed Adichie was only writing in English to add a transcultural element, that using English was an intellectual choice. I guess in a sense it was, but not for the reasons Murphy claims. In an interview for the Women’s Caucus of the African Literature Association, Adichie admits she is not sure that “writing in English is a choice” (Azodo). Like most Nigerian Igbo, she was educated solely in English and that among her peers, speaking Igbo was “uncool by students and did not receive much support from the administration” (Adichie).
But Murphy does not assume that Nigerians are stuck to only one language, a grace that wasn’t given to Akunna in Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck.” The main character, a Nigerian woman who came to America to experience the American dream and quickly learns of the assumptions people made about her just based off of the little they knew from what they watched on the television claiming, “they loved elephants and wanted to go on a safari.” or even “that every black person with a foreign accent was Jamaican” (The Thing Around Your Neck 119). I agree with Murphy that Adichie incorporates these stereotypes into her stories to “allow for a better understanding of one another” and that these stereotypes can “challenge” the reader, specifically Westerners, as well as allowing her to reflect on her Nigerian home (Murphy 101).
“The Thing Around Your Neck” is not only a single story by Adichie, but a collective of twelve short stories that all highlight what bind people together, not only in Nigeria but also America. While different from “That Thing Around Your Neck,” another one of the short stories “A Private Experience” still expands on the idea of changing how the reader views the world around them, but this time with religion. The main character, Chika, an Igbo Christian, is forced into hiding with an older Hausa Muslim woman when a catalyst forms a riot between the two religions. Over the course of the story, as the two women help each other in a time of grief, Chika admits “she will feel an unreasonable pride that she knew the woman […] who is Hausa and Muslim” (“A Private Experience” 178). Here the themes of being an outsider in an environment that is potentially deadly to the self are reflected in both stories, for Chika it is literal and for Akunna it is figuratively. When reading through “A Private Experience,” I felt a connection between both Akunna and Chika. Both are two young girls who have to endure horrific experiences because of the titles that they claim.
In the Rocky Mountain Review, Heba Sharobeem discusses space and how we should use that space to coexist with the world around us. She details how Adichie “forces us to compare between the conceived, the perceived and the lived” (Sharobeem 34). Meaning, within the world, people show different faces; the public face, the private face, and the face you only keep for yourself. In “The Thing Around Your Neck”, Adichie peels back the faces of Akunna for the reader, so they can understand how deeply the events taking place affect her. This message extends beyond “The Thing Around Your Neck” and can be applied to any of the other eleven stories in the collection. In “A Private Experience,” Chika is forced into hiding with a woman society tells her should be her enemy and Chika must come to terms with how her interpretation of who she thought the woman because of her titles, is not how she should perceive her. Chika represents the final step that Akunna never got to experience, acceptance. Akunna never felt truly accepted in America, even by her boyfriend who never claimed her publicly. Whereas Chika found an ally among enemies, Akunna always had that metaphorical “thing” choking her, telling her she was not good enough and did not belong, until she let go of her life in America to return home. Both girls however, were forced into a new environment in which they were an outsider and struggled to survive and maintain their self-identity.
In Gladys Agyeiwaa Denkyi-Manieson’s “Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A Thematic Study,” the relationships between Nigerian families and Nigeria and America are explored. Furthermore, Denkyi-Manieson relates how the condition of these relations unveils the unease at women’s condition expressed in Adichie’s writing “via themes of feminism” (Denkyi-Manieson 52). Manieson exhibits very strong emotions within her study, most of which I’m not sure I entirely agree upon. In “The Thing Around Your Neck,” Denkyi-Manieson claims that “she [Akunna] never hesitates to air out her views on matters” (Denkyi-Manieson 61). While this may remain true, we can see from the story that it was only after she became comfortable with her boyfriend that she chose to speak her opinion (The Things Around Your Neck 125). With that being said, Denkyi-Manieson interjects that it was the accumulation of the small stands Akunna took against the boyfriend, such as “rejecting his accompaniment to her native land” or getting mad when “he does not acknowledge her position in his life” (Denkyi-Manieson 61). With this I completely agree upon, even though it took reading Denkyi-Manieson’s analysis multiple times before understanding the overall theme they were trying to get across.
When thinking about my imitation paper coming up, I am excited to pull from Adichie’s fiction, like the way she presents modern feminism and social standards. Some of her stories, at first, appear as just a story; but there is always that tug at the base of your stomach, the gut instinct to ask what is about to go wrong, what am I missing. Those are the elements I want to bring into my story. I want the readers to be able to dive so deep into the meaning that they start to go in circles. Also, Adichie never states outright what the “thing around your neck” is. In some sense, she lets the readers decide as she has throughout the entire story. By using “I”, she is no longer making the paper about Akunna. She is actively inviting the reader to step into the shoes of the main character and empathize with her. This will be one of the main devices used in my short story to really drive in the message and connect it on a deeper level to the reader.
This assignment helped me realize how important research is to understand the deeper meaning behind a work that I originally took at surface level. As I read through some of the scholarly articles, I wanted to say that they were all wrong, that the story was not that deep. However, the more time I spent reading and researching I found out just how many ways a story can be taken and that everything that happens is significant. If there is one thing I learned from Adichie, it is to stay true to my story. She was on a mission to empower and give a voice Nigerian girls and women, who never before had a voice in literature. Through the guidance of Adichie’s works (and the multiple peer reviews that will be needed) I hope to give voice to a problem that deserves it’s time in the light.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “A Private Experience.” Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 80, no. 3, Summer 2004, p. 170–179. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=13510314&site=edslive&scope=site.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “What are the Dangers of a Single Story?” Interview by Guy Raz. NPR, June 7, 2013, https://www.npr.org/transcripts/186303292. Transcript
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. The Thing Around Your Neck. Anchor Books, 2010.
Azodo, Ada Uzoamaka. “Interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Creative writing and literary activism.” Women’s Caucus of the African Literature Association (2008).
Denkyi-Manieson, Gladys Agyeiwaa. “Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A Thematic Study.” Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, p. 52+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A526997553/LitRC?u=tusc49521&sid=LitRC&xid=50f38e0a. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
Murphy, Elena Rodríguez. ” New Transatlantic African Writing: Translation, Transculturation and Diasporic Images in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck and Americanah”. Prague Journal of English Studies 6.1 (2017): 93-104. https://doi.org/10.1515/pjes-2017-0006.
Sharobeem, Heba. “Space as the Representation of Cultural Conflict and Gender Relations in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’.” Rocky Mountain Review, vol. 69, no.1, Spring 2015, p. 18-36.