The “Thing Around Your Neck” is one of Adichie’s most powerful stories in her anthology, by Dr Jennifer Minter (English Works)
The “thing around your neck” becomes a powerful symbol of the narrator’s feelings of anxiety in the new country. As Adichie points out, the story of migration is often one of exploitation (take advantage of someone) and impotence (powerlessness) for many Nigerian women. (They suffer also under the burden of stereotypes, both from the African and American perspectives.)
In America, Akunna is lonely and desperate. She is exploited by her uncle and suffers from a sense of powerlessness.
The new life in America: (leads to loneliness and desperation) : In “ The thing..” the narrator (Akunna) tries to build a new life in America but she endures a great deal of adversity and anxiety., She feels lonely, isolated, displaced and alienated . As Adichie suggests, this is a rather typical experience of Nigerians in America.
She also feels anxious because she cannot adequately support her relatives in Nigeria as they would expect.
The ‘think around your neck” becomes a symbol of anxiety. Akunna is gripped by fear. She feels utterly powerless. She feels that she lacks control.
p. 119 “At night, something would wrap itself around your neck, something that very nearly choked you before you fell asleep.”
p. 125 “the thing that wrapped itself around your neck, that nearly choked you before you fell asleep, started to loosen to let go”.
Firstly, what is she anxious/worried about?
She is worried about her new life. She is lonely. She is not familiar with the western customs and lifestyle. Life becomes a battle for survival.
The manager, Juan, offers employment but at reduced rates.
Akunna has to battle against the stereotypical impression of Africans, who eat “all kinds of wild animals”. She, too, is at first guilty of stereotyping Americans: “You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun: your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so, too.” Other people only know about AIDS in Africa countries such as Botswana. AS a white-American and black-African couple, she becomes aware of people staring at her. “You knew by people’s reactions that you two were abnormal — the way the nasty ones were too nasty and the nice ones too nice.”
She worries about the fact that she has to send money home to her family in Africa. They have high expectations from people who migrate to America. They stereotypically believe that people in America have a very high standard of living.
She worries that she will compromise her dignity and integrity (i.e. give sex for favours). Her uncle expects favours from the young, helpless African.
“Sometimes you felt invisible”. She feels so powerless.
Narrative Devices for anxiety:
As discussed, the references to the “thing around your neck” becomes a symbol of the narrator’s psychological state of paralysis.
At night “something would wrap around your neck, something that very nearly choked you before you fell asleep” (119) 125 She repeats the reference twice to the “thing around your neck”. Significantly the second reference includes a loosening of the “thing”. This refers to the fact that Akunna is starting to gain a sense of control. (starting to loosen)
Significantly, Adichie uses sentence constructions to refer impersonally to Akunna as “You”. For example, she repeats the fact that “you wanted to write because you had stories to tell” but because of her own desperate circumstances “you write to nobody” (118-119)
The impersonal pronoun “you” reflects the narrator’s sense of detachment and captures her sense of isolation. It is as if the narrator is contemplating herself from without and is unable to deal with her personal problems. She struggles to help her relatives and knows that they have a stereotypical impression of American people as wealthy.
She experiences anxiety because she cannot fulfil the relatives’ expectations of her. She struggles to pay her rent on a waitressing salary and consequently cannot send home extra gifts expected by the Nigerians. She worries that she will disappoint them. She wants to write to her relatives about the “real” America, those who are not rich and who do not live in big houses and own big cars. But she finds that she does not want to disappoint them.
Change and development.
Akunna appreciates the fact that Juan knows more about her culture than many Americans. She is impressed that he is aware of African literature and renowned poets and authors such as Okot p’Bitek and Amos Tutuola.
She gains the courage to tell Juan that she “did not want that table anymore”. She is starting to become more confident/assertive.
She is also becoming more aware of Juan from a personal perspective (“his eyes were the colour of extra virgin olive oil”) which shows her growing interest and emotional attachment. (121)
Juan buys her a scarf and they become more personal and intimate.
There is some hope that Akunna is starting to regain a sense of control. The narrator states, “you write home finally”, which helps her to regain connection with her family. When she farewells her boyfriend, Juan, she hugs him tight, “and then you let go”. This suggests that she is also starting to feel more independent and confident.
Perhaps, she is ready to make her own decisions and not feel compelled to comply with (or follow) others.
As the noose, the “thing around your neck”, loosens, so too, does the narrator start to assert her place in her new environment. She starts to look forward to taking greater control over her future. It is only a small amount … 125
In “The Thing Around Your Neck”, the narrator refuses to succumb to the “uncle’s” demands and this exacerbates her hardship. However, she does survive.
As the noose, the elusive, indefinable “thing around your neck” loosens, so too the narrator starts to take greater control. The narrator does not want to become indebted to her American partner and so refuses to let him buy a ticket and accompany her home. Impersonally and assertively, the narrator comments, “You said no, you needed to go alone”. She refuses to give her partner a guarantee that she will come back specifically to him, but admits she must return or lose her green card. They embrace “and then you let him go”. (127), suggesting that the narrator will make up her own mind about the future of the relationship.
Return to Summary: The Thing Around Your Neck by C.N. Adichie