Adichie’s High Standards
I am currently reading my third Adichie novel, Americanah, because I really enjoy her work. But I would argue that she sometimes holds her protagonists to unrealistically-heroic standards. For instance, in The Thing Around Your Neck, three stories feature strong female protagonists who take moral stands when they stand to lose a lot by doing so. Even more specifically, all three walk away from a key opportunity in order to hold onto their principles.
In “Jumping Monkey Hill,” Ujunwa leaves in a huff after her story is refuted at an African writer’s conference as not “a story about real people” (114). In “American Embassy,” we see a grieving mother turn away her opportunity for an American visa after realizing “that she would die gladly . . . before she hawked Ugonna for a visa to safety” (139). Lastly, in “Arrangers of Marriage,” Chinaza plans to leave her husband, though she differs slightly from the other two characters by staying with him until her paperwork comes through, showing some sense of self-preservation.
I think that literature is a key place for heroism and questions of ethics, and I still admire Adichie’s work in The Thing Around Your Neck. However, this repeating motif began to feel a bit formulaic by the end of the collection. One way that I see Adichie’s work deviating from Achebe, who is one of her greatest influencers, is that Achebe always focuses on realism over heroism. Okonkwo is not a particularly heroic protagonist by any stretch of the imagination. Adichie, on the other hand, doesn’t solely focus on larger-than-life protagonists, but she does rely on them frequently. I would like to argue in my second paper that the reason for this is that Achebe was attempting to paint a realistic pre- and early colonial picture of Nigerian life, whereas Adichie has another goal entirely. I think Adichie’s work is in part a call to action for modern, everyday Nigerian citizens to topple the corruption and greed that perpetuates the country’s inequity. I see this in The Thing Around Your Neck, as well as her novels like Purple Hibiscus and Americanah.