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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s – ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’

Updated September 13, 2022
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s – ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ essay

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In a Private Experience, a selected story from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, two women of different religions in conflict hide together during a religious riot. Together they contradict the motivations for religious violence: the idea that people of different religions are inherently different. This is quickly established through the external characterization of the women through ‘the store is small, smaller than Chika’s walk-in closet at home’, showing their vastly different environments and therefore are diametrically opposed. This intends to establish their differences but is contradicted throughout the story by instead emphasizing their similarities to illustrate religious violence as having no real justifications. By illustrating these women as similar more so than different through characterization, metaphors, and symbols, Adichie creates a societal critique condemning religious violence and portraying it as senseless and morally wrong.

The women are initially characterized as different through their possessions parallel to the violence happening outside of the store. As they continue to interact, their characterization changes as they are portrayed as similar to show followers of different religions are not inherently different. Chika, an Igbo Christian is characterized as wealthy and affluent as Chika wonders if the woman even knows what going to university means’. The woman is Hausa Muslim and characterized as kind through her actions ‘for leading her, instead, to his empty store where they could hide’. The significance of the Muslim woman being kind although uneducated is to contradict what Chika finds out later about the violence, ‘as she and the woman are speaking, Hausa Muslims are hacking down Igbo Christians with machetes.’ This information from the media contradicts the experience Chika had with the Muslim woman, leaving the audience not with a desire to alienate the Muslim woman, but instead to admire her kindness. The purpose of illustrating the woman in this way is to show the woman as independent from her religion and not to reflect the violence committed by other Muslims. In addition, the third person narration allows for further insight into Chika’s conscious. The narrator describes the superficial things Chika about chika such as her ‘burberry purse’, ‘walk-in closet’, and visit ‘with relatives in New York’ suggesting her characterization, much like the older woman’s, is based on a subconscious perception of them, creating assumptions that limit their understanding of one another. In a broader sense, Adichie is commenting on the invalidity of the foundations for religious violence since assumptions made about persons from different religions Adichie prove to be insignificant.

The various metaphors Adichie uses signify the impact religious violence and the riots have on all the characters, both Muslim and Christian. Through the violence, Chika loses a Burberry purse and the woman loses a necklace ‘and Chika imagines that she is thinking of her necklace, probably plastic beads threaded on a piece of string’. The monetary value of these possessions are drastically different however, they both care equally about what they have lost. By highlighting their shared emotions, Adichie shows religious violence has immense repercussions that impact people on all sides. This idea is furthered when following the riots people were ‘leaving behind bruised vegetables’. The bruised vegetables represent the people left behind in the riots: bruised and neglected. Furthermore, throughout the collection food symbolizes both wealth and is a medium for corruption in Cell One when rice is used to bribe police officers. Augustine Aikoriogie suggests the purpose of the abandonment of the fruits is to show the degenerate state following violence. The destruction of the fruit also shows the lack of reservations for the evil nature of the violence.

Through the symbol of the scarf used in the story, Adichie highlights the compassion the Muslim woman shows Chika. This reflects the characters nature as human rather than typical of violent riots and chaos. In the beginning of the story, the narrator describes Chika’s fascination with the scarf describing it as ‘a long, flimsy pink and black scarf, the garish prettiness of cheap things’. The immediate recognition of the scarf shows Chika’s instantaneous recognition and through the description, admiration for the symbol of the woman’s religion. The purpose of describing Chika’s reaction is to show the significance religion has on their characterization being one of the first things Chika notices. In the end of the story, the woman offers her scarf to stop the bleeding in Chika’s leg and Chika asks to keep it as a ‘ghoulish souvenir’. This tone leaves the audience with a distaste for the bloodied scarf but this is soon changed when Chika ‘holds the ghoulish souvenir to her chest’ where her rosary was in the beginning of the story. Chika understands this experience as isolated motivating her to keep the scarf as a ‘souvenir’ to remind her of their connection and acceptance of each other. Chika’s connection to the scarf and the woman’s sharing of it with her shows humanity is not inherently designed to hate those who are different, but instead has just lost sight of the values in these differences.

As Adichie illustrates these women and their manners, she characterizes them for the purpose of condemning the assumptions made about individuals of different religions. Afterall, religious intolerance is not a product of knowledge but instead of a lack of understanding. Much like the women have their innate assumptions about the other, when humans lack an understanding there is a tendency for violence as reflected in the riots in the story. Adichie demonstrates this change in their understanding of each other and even reconciliation for the acts of their people through their interaction. It is suggested that this experience is a step towards a greater understanding that is achievable in the conflict in Nigeria. Therefore, the characterization, metaphors, and symbol of the scarf show the potential unity of a conflicting people as Adichie creates a critique on the religious violence that takes place in Nigeria.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s – ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ essay

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s – ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’. (2022, Sep 07). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/chimamanda-ngozi-adichies-the-thing-around-your-neck/

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