The Danger of a Single Story

Reading the title “The Thing Around Your Neck”, I immediately make connections to African neck rings or some THING around the neck that symbolizes African culture. You see, this is a stereotype made, but after reading into the story, author Adichie soon changed my mind.

The thing around your neck is ambiguous, blurry, and subtle, as it never mentions the name of “the thing”. To me, “the thing” feels like a shadow that follows the protagonist Akunna, constantly making her uncomfortable. Even though “the thing” has only appeared in the story twice: “At night, something would wrap itself around your neck … before you fell asleep.” (119, Adichie) and “The thing that wrapped itself around your neck, that nearly choked you before you fell asleep, started to loosen, to let go.” (125, Adichie), the thing around your neck metaphors the anxiety of Akunna entering a new country. Not only the American culture shock Akunna faces: “You wanted to write about the surprising openness of people in America, how eagerly they told you about their mother fighting cancer, about their sister-in-law’s preemie, the kind of things that one should hide or should reveal only to the family members who wished them well” (118, Adichie), but also the misunderstanding and stereotypical impressions American citizens would imply to Akunna: “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. They gawped at your hair.” (116, Adichie). The consistent tension in her body would feel choked at night, like a tight necklace around your neck.

On the other hand, Adichie portrayed Akunna’s white boyfriend contrary to the ignorant Americans. He has adequate knowledge and experiences in African culture and seems to be overly passionate about the cultural identity of Akunna to the extent of an obsession. “ White people who liked Africa too much [or] too little were the same—condescending.” (120, Adichie). Adichie uses the voice of Akunna to demonstrate her tiredness to people either ignorant or fetishize Africans instead of mistreating Africans as normal human beings.

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