The Danger of the Other Single Story

“You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun; your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so, too. Right after you won the American visa lottery, they told you: In a month , you will have a big car. Soon, a big house. But don’t buy a gun like those Americans” (Adichie 115). 

Throughout the course time, we have constantly questioned the danger of the single African story, reminding ourselves constantly there is more to Africa than the name, old stories of savages, and the sunsets.  The Thing Around Your Neck brings up another possible single story; the single story of the United States and it may even continue the tropes of the single story.  The quote above shows a typical manifestation of the single story, with the tropes of large houses, cars, and plenty of guns.  Throughout many of the short stories in The Thing Around Your Neck, other common tropes of having too much food and stunning amounts of privilege.

While this is highlighting the great differences between where characters originated and the situation they find themselves in now, to me it feels repetitive and predicable that I will find a story of a struggling woman in each of these stories as she is exploited by either her husband, home or abroad, or a white man that is in love with the idea of having an exotic girlfriend.  We see this in Nkem as a member of the “the Rich Nigerian Men Who Sent Their Wives to America to Have Their Babies league” Adichie 26, Karama being very confused by the strange choices and actions of her bosses, and finally in The Thing Around Your Neck, where “you” feel the emotion and difficulties of working through the United States.

Let me be clear that I am not discounting the power of these stories or the truths that are imbedded in them, I just find that despite her own calls to avoid the single story Adichie is stuck telling a very similar story with details laced with tropes and exaggerations like, “American parenting was a juggling of anxieties, and that it came with having too much food: a sated belly gave Americans time to worry that their child might have a rare disease that they had just read about, made them think they had the right to protect their child from disappointment and want and failure. A sated belly gave Americans the luxury of praising themselves for being good parents, as if caring for one’s child were the exception rather than the rule” (Adichie 82).

Perhaps I just do not understand the struggle and the privilege that I do possess makes it so the story is in fact truly a wide brush truth but, I simply believe that these stories would have another layer of interesting, nuance, and fascinating complication if they did not stick to a single story.

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About karllaubacher

College student of developing world with lots of thoughts a couple of words to share

Posted on November 20, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Karl, I really appreciate this post and I’ll start by saying I agree with you. The six stories we have thus far have really only told one story when it comes to America. Adichie seems to be contradicting what she was saying in her TEDtalk about the danger of a single story. While we are told varying stories about Nigerians, the image of America and its citizens seems to be represented in the same way in each story we’ve read thus far. What is especially interesting about is that the collection was published in 2009, and she gave the TEDtalk in October of 2009. I would love got ask Adichie this question, as to why she tells only a “single story” of America in this collection, for I am sure she would have a valid answer. But for now, I think we have right to be questioning the single story we have been given.

  2. Jennifer Bohlman

    I see a lot of other people writing blog posts about this topic this week, and I’d just like to say that I don’t think Adichie is doing this by accident. She acknowledges that her characters’ views of America are a single story, telling us that they thought everyone had a car and a gun and then once they’re actually there they realize that’s not true. People are saying that these are all the same stories because they star an African woman who has moved to the United States, but I think that to criticize these stories for doing that while not criticizing Western literature for the exact same thing is a fault. Think about all the Western literature you’ve read or seen – how often do you see a white male protagonist motivated to do something because of a loss or to save a damsel in distress and therefore goes on an epic adventure to either avenge her death or rescue her? Or a male villain who turns to evil because of a desire for vengence of his lost love? Some examples: (Movies) The Bourne Supremacy, Braveheart, Star Trek, most James Bond movies, Taken, The Dark Knight, X-Men; (TV) Supernatural, Bonanza, 24, The Mentalist, NCIS, Merlin, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

    My point is: a few short stories doesn’t not a single story make. Why are we surprised when Adichie writes predominantly about female African immigrants to the U.S. when she is herself is an African female who has immigrated to the U.S. (though she splits her time between here and Nigeria now)? White male authors do not get called out for only writing white male protagonists (Think of the extremely formulaic way Dan Brown writes his novels), but whenever a minority writes only characters like them people throw a fit. It’s the same reason why there’s only ever one or two gay or ethnic minority characters on TV shows – even if every other character is straight, having more than a few gay characters makes it a ‘gay’ show. Studies have shown that when shown a picture of a large group in which 50% of the people are female and 50% are male, people think there are a majority of women. If that’s switched to an image where about 30% are female and 70% are male (I saw this study a long time ago, so I don’t remember the exact percentages, but it was around there), then people said gender was split 50/50.

    We have been told that the straight white male is default, and therefore we don’t think about it. Nobody ever asks an author “Why did you make this character straight?” but authors are asked all the time why they made a character gay. We think there has to be a reason to break the default, and we always notice when it’s broken. That’s why we feel that The Thing Around Your Neck has /so/ many stories about African women coming to America. It breaks the default in a lot of ways. But for one person to write just a few stories about that does not make it a single story. The “same main character” that Adichie writes varies across class (upper-middle class in “Imitation,” barely scraping by in “The Thing Around Your Neck”), sexuality (we can assume that in “Of Monday of Last Week” she is bisexual or pansexual), occupational status, relationship status – plenty of things.

    But for us to just see her as “the African woman who immigrated to America,” well… aren’t we the ones making her into a single story?

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