The Thing Around Your Neck

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The Thing Around Your Neck
TheThingAroundYourNeck.jpg
First UK edition
AuthorChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
CountryNigeria
LanguageEnglish
PublisherFourth Estate (UK)
Alfred A. Knopf (US)
Publication date
2009
Media typePrint, Audio & eBook
Pages300
ISBN978-0-307-37523-0

The Thing Around Your Neck is a short-story collection by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, first published in April 2009 by Fourth Estate in the UK and by Knopf in the US. It received many positive reviews, including: "She makes storytelling seem as easy as birdsong" (Daily Telegraph);[1] "Stunning. Like all fine storytellers, she leaves us wanting more" (The Times).[2]

Contents[edit]

  • "Cell One" (first published in The New Yorker); in which a spoilt brother and son of a professor is sent to a Nigerian prison and ends up in the infamous Cell One.
  • "Imitation" (first published in Other Voices) is set in Philadelphia and concerns Nkem, a young mother whose art-dealer husband visits only 2 months a year. She finds out that his lover has moved into their Lagos home.
  • "A Private Experience" (first published in Virginia Quarterly Review) in which two women caught up in a riot between Christians and Muslims take refuge in an abandoned shop. This story highlighted the friendliness and peace between two women with different religions. It is told in a third person's narrative so that the readers are put in an omniscient position to understand this idea.
  • "Ghosts" (first published in Zoetrope: All-Story) in which a retired university professor looks back on his life.
  • "On Monday of Last Week" (first published in Granta 98: The Deep End) in which Kamara, a Nigerian woman who has joined her husband in America takes a job as a nanny to an upper-class family and becomes obsessed with the mother.
  • "Jumping Monkey Hill" (first published in Granta 95: Loved Ones) is the most autobiographical story. It is set in Cape Town at a writers' retreat where authors from all over Africa gather, and tells of the conflicts experienced by the young Nigerian narrator.
  • "The Thing Around Your Neck" (first published in Prospect 99) a woman named Akunna gains a sought-after American visa and goes to live with her uncle; but he molests her and she ends up working as a waitress in Connecticut. She ends up meeting a man whom she falls in love with, but along the way experiences cultural difficulties with him.
  • "The American Embassy" (first published in PRISM international) in which a woman applies for asylum but ends up walking away, unwilling to describe her son's murder for the sake of a visa.
  • "The Shivering", set on the campus of Princeton University it concerns a Catholic Nigerian woman whose boyfriend has left her, finding solace in the earnest prayers of a stranger who knocks at her door.
  • "The Arrangers of Marriage" (first published as "New Husband" in Iowa Review) in which a newly married wife arrives in New York City with her husband; and finds she is unable to accept his rejection of their Nigerian identity.
  • "Tomorrow Is Too Far" (first published in Prospect 118) a young woman reveals the devastating secret of her brother's death.
  • "The Headstrong Historian" (first published in The New Yorker) covers the life-story of a woman called Nwangba, who believes her husband was killed by his cousins and is determined to regain the inheritance for her son through his education by missionaries. Though her son didn't realise what she hoped, her granddaughter managed to retrieve it, highlighting the significance of holding one's past and one's origin in order to thrive in the future.

Theme[edit]

Feminist analyses of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "The Headstrong Historian" read the short story as a revisioning of Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, offering a feminist perspective on the Southern Nigerian Igbo community and its experience with Western colonialism.[3][4][5] Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi criticises Nigerian literature for its exclusion of women.[6] Adichie's contemporary Elleke Boehmer commends "The Headstrong Historian" for its feminist agenda, which is identified as extending Achebe's Things Fall Apart and challenging its account of Igbo history.[7]

Contemporary feminist scholar Anene Ejikeme notes that, since its publication in Western publishing outlets, Things Fall Apart has been celebrated as the authentic account of the late nineteenth-century Igbo experience during the colonial era.[8] Neil ten Kortenaar defines Achebe as a ‘historian of Igboland’.[9] While this has been argued, Achebe maintains that "the world's stories should be told from many different perspectives".[10] Ejikeme says that Adichie "forces us to acknowledge that there is not a "single story"of the Igbo past" by revising Achebe's account and claiming a space for Igbo women.[11] "The Danger of a Single Story" is one of Adichie's TED talks.[12]

Adichie says that "The Headstrong Historian" was written in an effort to "imagine the life of [her] great-grandmother" after first reading Things Fall Apart, which she saw as a representation of her "great-grandfather’s life".[13][14] In response to this gendered revisioning, Anene Ejikeme says that while ""The Headstrong Historian" writes with Achebe's canonical work, to say that "The Headstrong Historian" completes Things Fall Apart is to foreclose the possibility of Africans telling multiple stories about the Igbo past".[15] While Ejikeme argues that Adichie challenges Achebe’s canonical authority, Brian Doherty maintains that Adichie's feminising of the Igbo colonial experience is not exclusively critical. Doherty says that Adichie’s feminist revision does not reimagine misrepresented perspectives in Achebe's text, but underrepresented perspectives, which acts as "a corrective lens to a venerated elder's myopic vision" of Igbo history.[16]

Kamene Okonjo presents a feminist reading of ‘The Headstrong Historian,’ which says that Adichie establishes the historicity of her narrative by invoking Achebe’s colonial context and representing the Igbo dual-sex system.[17] In Women in Africa, Okonjo details how dual-sex systems in pre-colonial Igboland gave women greater authority than the Western single-sex system.[18] Research works by Nkiru Nzegwu and Ifi Amadiume also discuss Igbo women’s collective agency.[19][20] In "The Headstrong Historian", Nwamgba receives support from the Women's Council when her late husband's cousins steal his property and, as a result, several women "sit on" the cousins.[21] One criticism of Achebe's Things Fall Apart focuses on the representation of women as powerless in the Igbo tribal system, beyond conducting marriage ceremonies.[22] Judith Van Allen notes that early ethnographic studies of Igbo communities comment on the 1929 Women's War in southeastern Nigeria, a protest that saw Igbo women challenge the policies of the colonial government.[23] Rhonda Cobham's feminist reading says that while Achebe mentions the Women's Council, he does not establish its civic agency, which saw women intervene in community disputes by "sitting on" men, thereby publicly shaming them.[24] Cobhman says that Adichie locates Nwamgba's protests to the Women's Council in a historical context that counters Achebe's representation of oppressed Igbo women.

In her youth, Nwamgba defeats her brother in a wrestling match. This is considered by Daria Tunca to be an inversion of Okonkwo’s masculinity, which was earned as a result of his own wrestling victory.[25] Tunca says that Adichie further remaps the ideal of masculinity in Things Fall Apart by presenting Obierika as a flute player, which is described in Achebe's text as an "unmanly" characteristic.[26] Tunca also says that Achebe's Okonkwo is placed in the margins of Adichie's narrative: his name is mentioned twice, both in reference to his daughter. Conversely, Tunca also maintains that although Nwamgba "wrestled her brother to the ground", her father warns "everyone not to let the news leave the compound", in compliance with normative gender hierarchies.[27]

Adichie comments on the marginalisation of women in Things Fall Apart, stating that it is "impossible, especially for the contemporary reader, not to be struck by the portrayal of gender in Things Fall Apart, and the equating of weakness and inability with femaleness".[28] Adichie also defends the text and identifies Achebe's depiction of Okonkwo's headstrong daughter as an interrogation of the patriarchy.[29] Susan Z. Andrade identifies Adichie as writing with Achebe, but from a gendered angle: Andrade notes that "The Headstrong Historian" tells the same historical narrative, detailing Igbo life through the protagonist's perspective and Igboland's experience under colonial rule.[30] However, within this same cultural context, a different story is told; Adichie's account brings a woman from the periphery of Achebe's text into the centre.[31]

The chronology of "The Headstrong Historian" extends beyond Nwamgba's death and imagines the future of a third-generation Igbo woman. On her deathbed, Nwamgba is visited by her granddaughter Grace. At Nwangba's bedside, Grace puts "down her schoolbag, inside of which was her textbook with a chapter called "The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of Southern Nigeria", by an administrator from Worcestershire who had lived among them".[32] Susan VanZanten identifies this as a direct intertextual allusion to Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which sees the local District Commissioner contemplate narrating Okonkwo's life in a chapter of his book on The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.[33] VanZanten says that this single chapter recalls the District Commissioner's reductive view of Africa. VanZanten considers this notion subverted in "The Headstrong Historian", in which it is the coloniser's book that has become a single chapter in Grace's textbook. Decades later, Grace becomes a historian herself and publishes a book called Pacifying with Bullets: A Reclaimed History of Southern Nigeria. Tunca says that Grace, and by extension Adichie, revises a Nigerian history as imagined by Western writers: the indefinite article in A Reclaimed History "suggests that her vision is only one among others".[34] Tunca's analysis says that Grace acknowledges what Adichie herself refers to in her 2009 TED talk, "the danger of a single story" in representing the history of an entire people.[35]

In her TED talk, Adichie details how a reader believed that the abusive father in Purple Hibiscus represented all African men: Adichie notes 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".[36] The future Grace teaches at an Igbo school and delivers seminars on southern Nigerian history after learning about a Western-educated Nigerian historian who resigned upon hearing that African history was to be added to the university syllabus. In later years, Grace returns to Nigeria and changes her name to Afamefuna, the Igbo name that Nwamgba had given her, meaning "My Name Will Not Be Lost". Michael L. Ross says that this revisionary gesture allows Grace to remap and retrieve her communal Igbo identity.[37] Daria Tunca and Bénédicte Ledent say that, as third generation Igbo historians, both Grace and Adichie supplement Achebe's historical account of Igbo history by highlighting "the danger of a single story" and providing a more authentically recorded womanist perspective of Igbo past.[38]

Bibliography[edit]

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  • Tunca, Daria, "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as Chinua Achebe's (Unruly) Literary Daughter: The Past Present, and Future of "Adichebean" Criticism," Research in African Literatures, 49.4 (2018), 107-26, JSTOR 10.2979
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References[edit]

  1. ^ Jane Shilling (2009-04-02). "The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
  2. ^ Lech Mintowt-Czyz (2012-03-24). "UK News, World News and Opinion". The Times. Entertainment.timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
  3. ^ Tunca, Daria (2012). "Appropriating Achebe: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and "The Headstrong Historian"". In Pascal Nicklas and Oliver Lindner (ed.). Adaptation and Cultural Appropriation: Literature, Film, and the Arts. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 230–250.
  4. ^ Tunca, Daria (2018). "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as Chinua Achebe's (Unruly) Literary Daughter: The Past Present, and Future of "Adichebean" Criticism". Research in African Literatures. 49 (4): 107–126. doi:10.2979/reseafrilite.49.4.08. hdl:2268/233956. S2CID 167003202.
  5. ^ VanZanten, Susan (2015). ""The Headstrong Historian": Writing with Things Fall Apart". Research in African Literatures. 46 (2): 85–103. doi:10.2979/reseafrilite.46.2.85. S2CID 160888170.
  6. ^ Ogunyemi, Chikwenye Okonjo (1988). "Women and Nigerian Literature". In Yami Ogunbiyi (ed.). Perspectives on Nigerian Literature: 1700 to the Present. Lagos: Guardian Books Nigeria Limited. pp. 60–67.
  7. ^ Boehmer, Elleke (2009). "Achebe and His Influence in Some Contemporary African Writing". Interventions. 11 (2): 141–153. doi:10.1080/13698010903052982. S2CID 143409311.
  8. ^ Ejikeme, Anene (2017). "The Women of Things Fall Apart, Speaking from a Different Perspective: Chimamanda Adichie's Headstrong Storytelling". Meridians. 15 (2): 307-329 (p.309). doi:10.2979/meridians.15.2.02. S2CID 149069836.
  9. ^ ten Kortenaar, Neil (2003). "How the Center is Made to Hold in Things Fall Apart". In Isidore Okpewho (ed.). Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 123-145 (p.124).
  10. ^ Brooks, Jerome (1994). "Chinua Achebe Interview". The Paris Review. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  11. ^ Ejikeme, Anene (2017). "The Women of Things Fall Apart, Speaking from a Different Perspective: Chimamanda Adichie's Headstrong Storytelling". Meridians. 15 (2): 307-329 (p.309). doi:10.2979/meridians.15.2.02. S2CID 149069836.
  12. ^ Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2009). "The Danger of a Single Story". TED Talks. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  13. ^ Mustich, James (2009). "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A Conversation". Barnes and Noble Review. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  14. ^ VanZanten, Susan (2010). "A Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie". Image. 65: 86-99 (p. 97).
  15. ^ Ejikeme, Anene (2017). "The Women of Things Fall Apart, Speaking from a Different Perspective: Chimamanda Adichie's Headstrong Storytelling". Meridians. 15 (2): 307-329 (p.311). doi:10.2979/meridians.15.2.02. S2CID 149069836.
  16. ^ Doherty, Brian (2014). "Writing Back with a Difference: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "The Headstrong Historian" as a Response to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart". In Ogaga Okuyade (ed.). Tradition and Change in Contemporary West and East African Fiction. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi. pp. 187-201 (p. 190).
  17. ^ Okonjo, Kamene (1976). "The Dual-Sex Political System in Operation: Igbo Women and Community Politics in Midwestern Nigeria". In Nancy Hafkin and Edna G. Bay (ed.). Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 45–58.
  18. ^ Okonjo, Kamene (1976). "The Dual-Sex Political System in Operation: Igbo Women and Community Politics in Midwestern Nigeria". In Nancy Hafkin and Edna G. Bay (ed.). Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 45–58.
  19. ^ Nzegwu, Nkiru (2006). Family Matters: Feminist Concepts in African Philosophy of Culture. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  20. ^ Amadiume, Ifi (1987). Male Daughters, Female Husbands. London: Zed Press.
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