The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie we have the theme of connection, materialism, social opinion, independence, identity, loneliness and racism. Taken from her collection of the same name the story is narrated in the second person by a young woman called Akunna and after reading the story the reader realises that Adichie may be exploring the theme of connection. The narrator is considered to be different to those around her due to her skin colour. Many of the people that the narrator engages with have questions with regards to the narrator’s home which may leave some readers to suggest that social opinion with regard to the narrator’s roots is based on inaccuracies. Something which may leave it difficult for the narrator to connect with others. However it is interesting that the narrator does make a solid connection with Juan. At no stage of the story does he judge the narrator nor does he look upon her as being different. Except for the fact that the narrator is an immigrant. This may be important as Juan is not judging the narrator as others might do. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the narrator feels as though social opinion with regard to her relationship with her boyfriend is mixed. The narrator feels as though some people scorn the fact that she is in an interracial relationship.
The narrator’s boyfriend is also an interesting character as it is clear to the reader that he is privileged and that he has very little understanding of the circumstances that the narrator had previously found herself in when she lived in Lagos. Though he suggests to the narrator that he does not follow the tourist trail when he travels there are differences between both the narrator and her boyfriend which cause tension in their relationship. While some women might like to receive presents. The narrator feels as though a present should be useful rather than something purchased to please an individual for a period of time. This may be important as the narrator may be experiencing the negativity of materialism for the first time. The gift’s she receives from her boyfriend. She considers them to be impractical. Which may leave some readers to suggest not only is the narrator independently minded when it comes to the act of giving presents but she may also have no real desire to completely immerse herself in American culture or materialism. It is not who she is.
What is also interesting about the story is that the narrator’s relatives appear to be keenly interested in obtaining goods or products from the narrator while she in in America. Goods in which they have no real use for and would be readily available in Lagos. It is as though the narrator’s relatives want a piece of the elusive American dream. Even though they themselves are still living in Lagos. There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The blank strips of paper in the fortune cookies may symbolise where the narrator is in her life. It is as though she is uncertain of which direction she should take. Something that is also noticeable by the fact that she waits till her boyfriend asks her four times to go out with her. Before she tells him that she will. An action taken on her own initiative and due to the fear that he might not ask a fifth time. The fact that the narrator connects with very few people while she is in America may also be symbolically significant as it may suggest that the narrator is lonely. She may long for the stability that she knows she can have should she return to Lagos.
There is also an element of racism in the story. Something that is noticeable when the narrator listens to the waiter in Chang’s talking to her boyfriend. It is as though the narrator feels that the waiter considers it impossible that the narrator could be her boyfriend’s girlfriend. The reader aware that the narrator’s observation is based solely on her belief that the waiter is judging her by her skin colour. The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that the narrator has given up on the American dream. In reality there is no real need for her to return home. She has already missed her father’s funeral and her mother does not insist or suggest that the narrator should come home. In many ways the reader is left with the feeling that the narrator has found it difficult to acclimatize with the environment she encountered in America. She has spent the duration of her time in America unhappy and unsure of the direction that her life is taking. At least if the narrator returns to Lagos she knows who she is. The narrator’s personal beliefs, the beliefs or her boyfriend and the beliefs of those who live in America appear to be three separate things.