The American Embassy by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In The American Embassy by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie we have the theme of sacrifice, loneliness, change, freedom, frustration, identity, bravery, loss and grief. Taken from her The Thing Around Your Neck and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Adichie may be exploring the theme of loss. Not only has the protagonist of the story lost her son Ugonna in a brutal death but she has also lost her husband due to his political beliefs. This may be important as it is possible that Adichie is suggesting that the protagonist is very much alone at a time when she needs those who she loves to be close to her. It is as though the protagonist’s world in the matter of a few days has changed dramatically. The reader aware that her life will never be the same again. Not so much because her husband has fled to America but because she has lost Ugonna. Though the protagonist like her husband is also a journalist. She identifies firstly with being Ugonna’s mother and with his loss there is a sense that the protagonist has lost her own identity.
There is also a sense that the protagonist is frustrated while she is standing in the queue. She most likely would prefer not to hear the noise on the street and if anything the noise and the man behind her appear to irritate or frustrate the protagonist. Something which is understandable considering that the protagonist has so much on her mind. She is totally alone in Lagos and there is a sense that the direction of her life is being dictated to her by her husband and the fact that he wishes for the protagonist to seek asylum in America. The fact that America is the chosen destination is interesting as it is possible that Adichie is associating America with freedom. Yet freedom is not really something that the protagonist is looking for. She is grieving or at least trying to grieve the loss of Ugonna. However she is being controlled by the actions of her husband. Who the man in the queue thinks is brave. Yet the one who is really brave is the protagonist. She is trying to live her life as normal as possible despite the circumstances she finds herself under.
It is also possible that the protagonist when she wonders about her husband’s bravery is in reality questioning her husband’s actions. It is possible that she may be placing the blame for Ugonna’s death on her husband and his journalistic endeavours. He has after all put the family at risk. If it was not for his actions Ugonna would be alive. If anything the protagonist may feel bitter towards her husband. He has sacrificed his family in order to tackle the corruption that exists politically. Something which may leave some readers to suggest that the protagonist’s husband has acted selfishly and carelessly. He had every opportunity to take the protagonist and Ugonna with him and seek asylum in America. Yet he chose to flee alone. The fact that the protagonist’s husband chose to miss a family wedding in order to interview a journalist who had been arrested also suggests that he has acted selfishly. Putting work before family. However there may be some critics who will suggest that the protagonist’s husband is driven by his desire for justice. Though this is not something that the protagonist is able to take on board while she is standing in the queue outside the embassy. For the protagonist she has made a sacrifice, through the loss of Ugonna, that she did not wish to make nor did she need to make.
The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that Adichie is firmly putting the spotlight on the protagonist. Just as the interviewer in the embassy had. Rather than explain her situation in full to the interviewer the protagonist abandons her application for asylum. Preferring instead to leave the embassy and possibly return home. The reader is never sure. Though one thing that is clear to the reader is Ugonna’s death may be the end of the protagonist’s marriage to her husband. She no longer sees his actions as being that of someone who is being brave. Rather the protagonist may see the reality of the situation in whereby her husband has put himself first. It is as though the protagonist may for the first time in her life have to re-evaluate her life and her marriage due to the circumstances she finds herself under. The conditions in Nigeria are irrelevant to the protagonist. Her primary focus is on trying to accept how her life changed so quickly and dramatically. Something that is clearer to the reader by the fact that the protagonist abandoned her asylum application.