Editor's note: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written, among other works, the acclaimed novels "Purple Hibiscus" and "Half of a Yellow Sun" and the short-story collection "The Thing around Your Neck." The Nigerian author attended Johns Hopkins and Yale universities and divides her time between Nigeria and the United States.
(CNN) -- Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie believes in the power of stories, and warns that hearing only one about a people or nation leads to ignorance. She says the truth is revealed by many tales.
She illustrates this with a story about coming to the United States, as a middle-class daughter of a professor and an administrator, and meeting her college roommate. Adichie says that her roommate's "default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe."
Adichie also tells how growing up in Nigeria reading only American and English children's books made her deaf to her authentic voice. As a child, she wrote about such things as blue-eyed white children eating apples, thinking brown skin and mangos had no place in literature. That changed as she discovered African writers, particularly the Nigerian Chinua Achebe.
The following is an excerpt of "Cell One," the first story in Adichie's collection of short stories, "The Thing Around Your Neck," published by Random House.
"Cell One," from "The Thing Around Your Neck"
The first time our house was robbed, it was our neighbor Osita who climbed in through the dining room window and stole our TV, our VCR, and the Purple Rain and Thriller videotapes my father had brought back from America. The second time our house was robbed, it was my brother Nnamabia who faked a break-in and stole my mother's jewelry. It happened on a Sunday. My parents had traveled to our hometown, Mbaise, to visit our grandparents, so Nnamabia and I went to church alone. He drove my mother's green Peugeot 504. We sat together in church as we usually did, but we did not nudge each other and stifle giggles about somebody's ugly hat or threadbare caftan, because Nnamabia left without a word after about 10 minutes. He came back just before the priest said, "The Mass is ended. Go in peace." I was a little piqued. I imagined he had gone off to smoke and to see some girl, since he had the car to himself for once, but he could at least have told me where he was going. We drove home in silence and, when he parked in our long driveway, I stopped to pluck some ixora flowers while Nnamabia unlocked the front door. I went inside to find him standing still in the middle of the parlor.
"We've been robbed!" he said in English.
It took me a moment to understand, to take in the scattered room. Even then, I felt that there was a theatrical quality to the way the drawers were flung open, as if it had been done by somebody who wanted to make an impression on the discoverers. Or perhaps it was simply that I knew my brother so well. Later, when my parents came home and neighbors began to troop in to say ndo, and to snap their fingers and heave their shoulders up and down, I sat alone in my room upstairs and realized what the queasiness in my gut was: Nnamabia had done it, I knew. My father knew, too. He pointed out that the window louvers had been slipped out from the inside, rather than outside (Nnamabia was really much smarter than that; perhaps he had been in a hurry to get back to church before Mass ended), and that the robber knew exactly where my mother's jewelry was -- the left corner of her metal trunk. Nnamabia stared at my father with dramatic, wounded eyes and said, "I know I have caused you both terrible pain in the past, but I would never violate your trust like this." He spoke English, using unnecessary words like "terrible pain" and "violate," as he always did when he was defending himself. Then he walked out through the back door and did not come home that night. Or the next night. Or the night after. He came home two weeks later, gaunt, smelling of beer, crying, saying he was sorry and he had pawned the jewelry to the Hausa traders in Enugu and all the money was gone.
"How much did they give you for my gold?" my mother asked him. And when he told her, she placed both hands on her head and cried, "Oh! Oh! Chi m egbuo m! My God has killed me!" It was as if she felt that the least he could have done was get a good price. I wanted to slap her. My father asked Nnamabia to write a report: how he had sold the jewelry, what he had spent the money on, with whom he had spent it. I didn't think Nnamabia would tell the truth, and I don't think my father thought he would, either, but he liked reports, my professor father, he liked things written down and nicely documented. Besides, Nnamabia was 17, with a carefully tended beard. He was in that space between secondary school and university and was too old for caning. What else could my father have done? After Nnamabia wrote the report, my father filed it in the steel drawer in his study where he kept our school papers.
"That he could hurt his mother like this" was the last thing my father said, in a mutter.
But Nnamabia really hadn't set out to hurt her. He did it because my mother's jewelry was the only thing of any value in the house: a lifetime's collection of solid gold pieces. He did it, too, because other sons of professors were doing it. This was the season of thefts on our serene Nsukka campus. Boys who had grown up watching Sesame Street, reading Enid Blyton, eating cornflakes for breakfast, attending the university staff primary school in smartly polished brown sandals, were now cutting through the mosquito netting of their neighbors' windows, sliding out glass louvers, and climbing in to steal TVs and VCRs. We knew the thieves. Nsukka campus was such a small place -- the houses sitting side by side on tree-lined streets, separated only by low hedges -- that we could not but know who was stealing. Still, when their professor parents saw one another at the staff club or at church or at a faculty meeting, they continued to moan about riffraff from town coming onto their sacred campus to steal.
The thieving boys were the popular ones. They drove their parents' cars in the evening, their seats pushed back and their arms stretched out to reach the steering wheel. Osita, the neighbor who had stolen our TV only weeks before the Nnamabia incident, was lithe and handsome in a brooding sort of way and walked with the grace of a cat. His shirts were always sharply ironed; I used to look across the hedge and see him and close my eyes and imagine that he was walking toward me, coming to claim me as his. He never noticed me. When he stole from us, my parents did not go over to Professor Ebube's house to ask him to ask his son to bring back our things. They said publicly that it was riffraff from town. But they knew it was Osita. Osita was two years older than Nnamabia; most of the thieving boys were a little older than Nnamabia, and perhaps that was why Nnamabia did not steal from another person's house. Perhaps he did not feel old enough, qualified enough, for anything bigger than my mother's jewelry.
Nnamabia looked just like my mother, with that honey-fair complexion, large eyes, and a generous mouth that curved perfectly. 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. When, at 11, Nnamabia broke the window of his classroom with a stone, my mother gave him the money to replace it and did not tell my father. When he lost some library books in class two, she told his form-mistress that our houseboy had stolen them. When, in class three, he left early every day to attend catechism and it turned out he never once went and so could not receive Holy Communion, she told the other parents that he had malaria on the examination day. When he took the key of my father's car and pressed it into a piece of soap that my father found before Nnamabia could take it to a locksmith, she made vague sounds about how he was just experimenting and it didn't mean a thing. When he stole the exam questions from the study and sold them to my father's students, she shouted at him but then told my father that Nnamabia was 16, after all, and really should be given more pocket money.
I don't know whether Nnamabia felt remorse for stealing her jewelry. I could not always tell from my brother's gracious, smiling face what it was he really felt. And we did not talk about it. Even though my mother's sisters sent her their gold earrings, even though she bought an earring-and-pendant set from Mrs. Mozie, the glamorous woman who imported gold from Italy, and began to drive to Mrs. Mozie's house once a month to pay for it in installments, we never talked, after that day, about Nnamabia's stealing her jewelry. It was as if pretending that Nnamabia had not done the things he had done would give him the opportunity to start afresh. The robbery might never have been mentioned again if Nnamabia had not been arrested three years later, in his third year in the university, and locked up at the police station.
It was the season of cults on our serene Nsukka campus. It was the time when signboards all over the university read, in bold letters, SAY NO TO CULTS. The Black Axe, the Buccaneers, and the Pirates were the best known. They may once have been benign fraternities, but they had evolved and were now called "cults"; 18-year-olds who had mastered the swagger of American rap videos were undergoing secret and strange initiations that sometimes left one or two of them dead on Odim Hill. Guns and tortured loyalties and axes had become common. Cult wars had become common: a boy would leer at a girl who turned out to be the girlfriend of the Capone of the Black Axe, and that boy, as he walked to a kiosk to buy a cigarette later, would be stabbed in the thigh, and he would turn out to be a member of the Buccaneers, and so his fellow Buccaneers would go to a beer parlor and shoot the nearest Black Axe boy in the shoulder, and then the next day a Buccaneer member would be shot dead in the refectory, his body falling against aluminum bowls of soup, and that evening a Black Axe boy would be hacked to death in his room in a lecturer's Boys' Quarters, his CD player splattered with blood. It was senseless. It was so abnormal that it quickly became normal. Girls stayed inside their hostel rooms after lectures and lecturers quivered and when a fly buzzed too loudly; people were afraid. So the police were called in. They sped across campus in their rickety blue Peugeot 505, rusty guns poking out of the car windows, and glowered at the students. Nnamabia came home from his lectures laughing. He thought the police would have to do better; everyone knew the cult boys had more modern guns.
Excerpted from "The Thing Around Your Neck" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Excerpted with permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
I'm a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call "the danger of the single story." I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children's books.
I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. (Laughter) Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn't have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.
My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. (Laughter) And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer. But that is another story.
What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Things changed when I discovered African books. There weren't many of them available, and they weren't quite as easy to find as the foreign books.
But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.
Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.
I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn't finish my dinner my mother would say, "Finish your food! Don't you know? People like Fide's family have nothing." So I felt enormous pity for Fide's family.
Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.
Posted by Annie Brown on May 2, 2013
The “Danger of a Single Story”, a 2009 TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie, a young Nigerian author, provides a powerful tool for the Facing History classroom. In the twenty minute video, Adichie describes the powerful impression the multitude of British stories made on her as a young girl growing up in Nigeria. She argues that inherent in the power of stories, is a danger—the danger of only knowing one story about a group. “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.”
Adichie recounts speaking to an American student who, after reading her novel centered on an abusive male protagonist, lamented the fact that Nigerian men were abusive. Having just read American Psycho, Adichie returns his pity, and calls it a shame that “all young American men are serial killers.” The TED audience laughs at the absurdity of this generalization and her point is clear: on a micro-level, the danger of a single story is that it prevents people from authentically connecting with people as individuals. On a macro-level, the issue is really about power: almost by definition, there are many stories about the dominant culture so the single-story threatens to create stereotypes that stick to groups that are already disempowered.
After seeing this twenty minute video, I knew I wanted to share it with students. I’ve observed that Africa is often students’ default example of human tragedy—“starving children”, “war-torn societies” and other scenes of deprivation and scarcity are conflated with “Africa.” Adichie is articulate, insightful, empowered and engaging—I knew that just seeing her speak would shatter some stereotypes that students hold which oversimplify “Africa” and lump all Africans together.
Adichie’s video raises questions that fit directly with Facing History’s scope and sequence. Facing History begins with an exploration of identity with questions such as “Who am I?” “To what extent am I able to define myself?” “What labels do others place on me?” Defining oneself and the groups to which one belongs often means distinguishing “us” from “them.” As Rudyard Kipling writes “All the people like us are We and everyone else is They.” (Click here for Kipling's poem, "We and They") Adichie’s TED Talk shows how this “we/they” dichotomy is established. The We/They divide is an enduring theme which you can use in any humanities classroom.
I chose to use it in my eighth grade Global Studies course as a way to reflect after last quarter’s major assignment: a lengthy interview with a person from another country. This assignment is a part of a year-long “Country Project” where students choose one developing nation to investigate in depth. During the third quarter, students developed questions; scheduled, conducted, and recorded the personal interview. This goal of the interview was to move students beyond the statistics and facts they had researched about the country as well as to develop their interpersonal and interviewing skills.
The culminating assessment was a reflective essay about the lessons and content learned from the interviewing process. The students’ reflections revealed “aha moments.” For example, in her essay Ashley wrote of her great revelation that Chipotle was not “real” Mexican food and, to her surprise, burritos were an American concoction with roots in California. This felt like progress; but though I was encouraged at the baby-steps, I also realized that students might have trouble discerning the opinion of one Mexican person from a fuller picture of Mexico. Each student gained so much respect for the life story of the person they interviewed, that this person became the authority on anything about the country. I could see how new knowledge could be greatly over-simplified and generalized. I decided to complicate my students' thinking by introducing “The Danger of a Single Story."
My students were moved by the ideas. The simple message was clear: do not stereotype. But, they picked up on the nuance of all of her points. This video clearly has many classroom applications and I would love to hear from other Facing History teachers about how they envision using this resource in the classroom.
Click here to see another teacher's take on short videos useful in the Facing History classroom, from our sister blog in Toronto: ONnetwork.facinghistory.org
Danger of a Single Story
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on ‘The danger of a single story’ capitalized on one key principle. This was that if there was only one perspective of people and the stereotypes then there will be misconceptions because of this misrepresentation. The problem is not that the stereotypes are untrue, but that they are incomplete. According to Adichie, a single story only shows a single perspective, one that does not give any indication that there are other stories of events and ideas.
This principal idea can be applied to her short stories from her compilation ‘The Thing around Your Neck’. Throughout her short stories, there is a breaking of the ‘norm’, simply that the stereotypical view of an impoverished Africa is simply not there. Instead, the short stories are of middle-class Nigerians. These stories are quite similar to what we would expect in a conventional story; cars, TVs, Christianity, just to name a few examples of characteristic of the Western society. In the short stories, there is still a presence of common stereotypes that are linked to Africa, such as theft, but there is also a mix of modern ideas that aren’t normally associated with poorer nations. Cell One
The first thing that should jump out is the fact that the story begins by describing a typical Nigerian household, and it is important to note that most of the items present are defined as ‘Western’ products. The TV and VCR is a great example of a normal American household good, and it is quite surprising that in Africa (using the term loosely) these things exist. There is no mention of a great famine that is dominating the persona’s life, which plays a part in breaking the ‘single story’ concept of Africa.
However, even though there is mention of such products part of the Nigerian commonplace, it is important to notice that there are major differences between the Western and African cultures. For example, it would be considered normal if.
Please sign up to read full document.YOU MAY ALSO FIND THESE DOCUMENTS HELPFUL
welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. Both of the presenters whose ideas I will mention are novelists and story tellers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian anglophone writer who succeeded in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature. In her novels, she is inspired by the history of her nation and its tragedies that are forgotten by recent generation of westerners. Elif Shafak is a Turkish novelist born in Strasbourg, France who is the most widely read female writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Ch. N. Adichie in her talk warns that if we hear only a singlestory about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Things are not usually just black and white and we have to make every effort to open our minds and explore what is real. Elif Shafak talks about the danger into which writers from different cultures are put at; the pressure-that-makes-them-feel-as-a-representatives-of-their-cultures. She makes a strong division between fiction and reality - fiction and daily politics. Although, both of the writers are of non-western origin which to some extend make them quite similar in terms of cultural stereotypes, it seems that they do not share the same view of function of a story in our lives. Žoldáková 2 While talking about the cultural and social.
1343 Words | 4 Pages
The Danger of a SingleStory In her inspirational speech on the TED television series, Chimamanda Adichie argues that singlestories of specific races or regions often create misconceptions of their true natures. Adichie, born and raised in colonial Nigeria, uses previous life experiences to support her claims regarding false stereotypes, most evidently during her childhood and her first visit to the USA. Living under a colonial environment, Adichie was constantly being exposed to foreign ways of life; she had a decent education, read children books about men drinking ginger beer, and was taught to be thankful for the opportunities she was gifted. However, not until later in her life did Adichie realize that these influences were incomplete and untrue representations of Western life. This helps to demonstrate "how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story . particularly as children," and how we can not truly know the truth until it has been concretely revealed to us. Furthermore, when Adieche moved into her college dorm with a white roommate, she was automatically pitied. Her roommate's "singlestory of [Africa was] catastrophe," and not until they interacted further did it occur to her that she was no different from anyone else. These are just two examples of common stereotypes; innumerable others exist around the world, one of which is.
325 Words | 1 Pages
Randa ElFouly The Danger of a SingleStory - A speech that was said by Chimamanda Adichie that inspired me to write this report. Chimamanda Adichie began talking about this thing she liked to call “a singlestory .” The Danger of a SingleStory is about having a one sided perspective on different cultures and countries. She explains that she originally had a singlestory of writing because as a kid, all she had read were children’s books from America or England and all the characters in these books were stereotypical white children. Adichie said that this one and only perspective she had of books reflected on her personal writing as a kid because all of the characters in her stories were stereotypical white children. She goes on to give other examples of singlestories or single perspectives and how they can influence people’s thoughts of a culture of a country.’ I can agree with Adichie when she says a singlestory is a quick way to misinterpret someone, or someone’s culture or country. I know I, myself, do that along with everyone else in this world and maybe this is the reason for so many differences within our culture; people being too quick to judge. From this video, I learned to not have just a singlestory . to not.
804 Words | 2 Pages
Danger of SingleStory The video of Chimananda Adiche on the “Danger of SingleStory ” explains why we should not believe or form general opinions based on singlestory . According to her there can be many faces of a story and if one looks at more than one face, it will naturally help in seeking broader understanding of the fact the story is trying to tell. Everyone knows that in Haryana and Rajasthan are new born girls are killed. I have heard many stories of different practices used in killing new born girls in Rajasthan where I have stayed for more than 14 years. In Haryana, according to census the number of girls is less than number of boys and reasons seems to be female foeticide. This has created a lot of negative image about the state as everybody tries to make a noise of this side of the story . During my stay in Rajasthan, I have never seen any such thing happening but yes there are some remote areas where these things might have happened. If you start looking at the other side of this story then you can find examples of girls from Haryana and Rajasthan coming up and doing wonderful work in different area like sports, education, music etc. I know of a village near to Jodhpur in Rajasthan where new born girls were killed used barbaric techniques, but now the practice have stopped and.
442 Words | 1 Pages
the magnificence of the continent and the attributes of the people in it. Africa is degraded because of these inadequate and unfitting descriptions. 3. What is a singlestory . What is the power of singlestory . A singlestory is a view of something, somewhere or of someone that only shows one side of the coin. It is incomplete. It may have different versions but they all have the same view. For example, what if I tell you that Boracay is a dirty place where people have no regard for nature? The beach is filled with moss and there are plastics everywhere? What if all the things you have heard about Boracay is something like this? It doesn’t sound inviting, does it? But what if I tell you that those who disregard nature are punished and that they clean up all the rubbish they find. That Boracay is a paradise? Now that is a pleasing sight isn’t it? That is an example of what a singlestory is. It shows only one point of view. And from that point of view builds another story and so on that will not convey the whole truth about the topic. A singlestory can be very powerful indeed because it blinds people from a great deal of things. It shows things, places or people as one thing only and emphasizes on the differences and not the similarities. It can not only make a story but it can also make it the.
397 Words | 1 Pages
An individual’s interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging. Belonging is a quintessentially sought after concept in human life; it is fuelled by the principal activity of individuals, interacting with existence around them including people and places. This interaction, depending on the depth and experiences, influences an individual’s sense of belonging to become enriched and sustained, or allows the person to develop a limited and superficial establishment of belonging. This is demonstrated in Shakespeare’s play, ‘as you like it’ and the speech, ‘the danger of a singlestory ’ by Chimamanda Adichie. Belonging to a place is the formed relationship or understanding of that place, this is explored in Shakespeare’s play ‘as you like it’ where certain experiences and events that occur in the court setting have discouraged the comprehension of belonging; and in return allowed the pastoral setting of the forest of Arden to magnetize them due to their common desire to belong to a place. The beginning of the play portrays the court as a setting of tyrannous control where freedom and contradictory beliefs are disregarded and ignite corrupt nonsensical animosity. This portrayal of the court is contrasted against the promising and opportunistic forest. This contrast is highlighted when duke senior is established as compassionate and appreciative despite his discriminatory banishment.
1331 Words | 4 Pages
2010-64852 The Paradox of Understanding the Misunderstood Stereotyping based on the culture of a particular person, a group, or a race, is not new to most of us in the academe. Most of us are aware of the reasons why these stereotypes arise and of the implications that may arise from these. Most, if not all, of us have at some point in our lives gave or made stereotypes—or in Chimamanda Adichie’s words, a singlestory —against other people. In my case, I made a singlestory about the Muslims of Mindanao. I was raised in an environment of fundamental and conservative Christian teachings and ways. I was used to believing that the Christian faith is the “right” faith and that other faiths were simply different and unorthodox. Though I was taught to respect other people’s beliefs, I found it hard to understand the reason why other religions had to exist if Christianity was the way to salvation and eternal life. I most particularly questioned the reason why Muslims exist in a country where Christianity is the faith of majority of the people, which leads me to another bias and singlestory I had—my belief that Muslims were not really Filipinos. Also, the intensive media coverage of the Abu Sayaff kidnappings and the MILF and MNLF movements made me think that the Muslims of Mindanao had nothing good to do for the Philippines. I started to think of them as ruthless human beings with the souls.
993 Words | 3 Pages
A Story Creates a Strong Power: Adichie and King’s Critiques of the Power of the Story . especially the SingleStory Many stories matter to our lives and our ways of thinking. A story is the only way to activate part of our brain and then make the listeners turn the story into their own idea and experience (Widrich 4). As we know, our lives and our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories . When we are being told a story . things change dramatically. Once we have heard a story . we may always make it as our own knowledge. Then we would like to retell this story to others by verbal form, or turn it into a show or a movie. Every time we retell a story . we like to change some details into what we want or the way we understand. As a result, after the story has being retold a thousand times, the story may be changed into a different story . If we take in all the stories we have heard, then we might risk a misunderstanding adventure. Think about that: if our president gives a speech without any researches and just from others’ stories . then how would people think about him. His speech would just be a joke, and will lose credibility. Therefore, we need to be very careful about the story we heard and the story .
1881 Words | 5 Pages