All Our Names is a novel that traces identity. While it obviously traces the identity of names, such as stated in the title, the novel also highlights a topic particular to this course, the danger of a single story.
First of all, the story is told from two perspectives, regarding one character, Isaac. While both Helen’s story and Langston’s story is told blended into the story telling of present and past Isaac respectively. Both Helen and Langston share the extent of their history, telling about their family and often sharing anecdotes, while Isaac rarely opens up. When Helen finally reads Isaac’s file, there was only a single piece of paper with his basic information: name, birth date and why he was in the United States. She claimed, “In comparison, Isaac’s single-page life story had seemed like a blessing when I first saw it” (98). Similar to the fatal single story referenced at the end of Things Fall Apart, Helen goes on to describe Isaac’s file, “The only solid fact was his name, Isaac Mabira, but even that was no longer substantial: any name could have filled that slot, and nothing would’ve changed” (98).
Helen knows that there is so much more life to Isaac then that is presented in the file. But just as many of those represented from Africa are today, their stories lack individuality and identity when presented in the western world. Most of the western world’s perspective is that all of Africa is war-torn, violent and poor. Chimamanda Adichie highlights these issues in her TEDtalk “The Danger of a Single Story” and the website, Africa Is a Country, published an article about “Telling ‘the African story’” ( can be found here: http://africasacountry.com/the-responsibility-of-journalists/).This theme is essential to understanding this course and African literature as a whole. While every story may be different, and more complicated than others, everyone has a past and a story to be told.