Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Short Stories

Instructor: Apryl Prentiss

Apryl has a Master's degree in English and has been teaching college English for many years!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian born writer who has garnered numerous literary awards for her novels, poems and short stories. In this lesson, we'll explore some of Adichie's short stories and their themes.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Short Stories

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi is a Nigerian, award winning author. Adichie has only published one complete collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. These stories are full of strong female characters often struggling to find an identity and overcome the hardships of living in Nigeria and America.

Though there are many stories to choose from, I chose the following two to highlight because they provide the clearest illustration of the themes that are found throughout all of Adichie's writing.

'The American Embassy'

'The American Embassy' takes place in Nigeria after their civil war when the army patrolled and controlled everything and everyone. The main character's husband has written a piece for a rebel newspaper that questions the authority of the reigning government and urges them to make Nigeria a democracy.

Adichie uses the literary tool, flashback, to tell the story. The main character flashes back to the past from her present situation. By contrasting the two scenes, the reader is able to feel the mixed emotions and desperation of the situation.

The main character is visiting the American Embassy to apply for a visa so she may leave the country. As she waits outside, she watches soldiers berate and abuse the people in line.

During the flashback, she thinks of a few days ago when soldiers begin looking for her husband to kill him. She helped him escape the country. Soldiers stormed her apartment in the middle of the night terrifying her and her small son. When he screamed in fear, the soldiers shot and killed him.

Back in the present, as she approaches the Embassy worker, knowing that she must prove her distress to be granted the visa, she feels defiant. She decides that she will not use her son's death to earn a visa --something she should not have to earn in the first place. The story ends with her turning around and walking proudly out of the Embassy.

'The Thing Around Your Neck' (short story)

Though the entire book of short stories is called The Thing Around Your Neck, there is also one short story titled 'The Thing Around Your Neck', within the collection.

In the short story, Akunna is a young woman who has finally gotten her visa to come to America. Excited and bright with hope, Akunna joins her uncle and his family who have been very successful in America.

However, her uncle attempts to molest her. When she refuses, he reminds her that she owes him because he brought her to America and he can give her everything she wants. Akunna, knowing that she cannot stay and endure abuse, leaves the house the next morning and never returns.

She finds work as a waitress in Connecticut. However, because of the low wages, Akunna becomes frustrated. When families send their daughters and sons to America, they expect that their children will send them money and gifts to ease their life in Nigeria.

Akunna works hard, but the more she realizes she cannot provide for her family members, the more pressure she feels. When she goes to bed each night, her shame and frustration tighten around her neck and she feels choked by their heaviness.

Adichie adds to the character's sense of isolation by writing this story in the second person point of view. Adichie directly addresses Akunna as 'You' throughout the story. The use of it reinforces that Akunna is being accused of something (failure) while being cut off from success in America.

Akunna only feels the thing around her neck start to loosen when she begins dating a white man. She is happy with him but is VERY aware of the differences in their races and in their social and economic statuses. Because of this and her own feelings of failure, it takes her time to trust in her newfound love.

Theme of War in Adichie's Writing

The theme of war runs heavily through all of Adichie's short stories. She touches on the brutality of the forces left behind to rule Nigeria and their focus on intimidating people into fear and submission. Adichie depicts the soldiers as cruel, barbaric, and eager to show they are the ones who hold all of the power.

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