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Danger of a Single Story

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    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on ‘The danger of a single story’ capitalized on one key principle. This was that if there was only one perspective of people and the stereotypes then there will be misconceptions because of this misrepresentation. The problem is not that the stereotypes are untrue, but that they are incomplete. According to Adichie, a single story only shows a single perspective, one that does not give any indication that there are other stories of events and ideas.

    This principal idea can be applied to her short stories from her compilation ‘The Thing around Your Neck’. Throughout her short stories, there is a breaking of the ‘norm’, simply that the stereotypical view of an impoverished Africa is simply not there. Instead, the short stories are of middle-class Nigerians. These stories are quite similar to what we would expect in a conventional story; cars, TVs, Christianity, just to name a few examples of characteristic of the Western society. In the short stories, there is still a presence of common stereotypes that are linked to Africa, such as theft, but there is also a mix of modern ideas that aren’t normally associated with poorer nations. Cell One

    The first thing that should jump out is the fact that the story begins by describing a typical Nigerian household, and it is important to note that most of the items present are defined as ‘Western’ products. The TV and VCR is a great example of a normal American household good, and it is quite surprising that in Africa (using the term loosely) these things exist. There is no mention of a great famine that is dominating the persona’s life, which plays a part in breaking the ‘single story’ concept of Africa.

    However, even though there is mention of such products part of the Nigerian commonplace, it is important to notice that there are major differences between the Western and African cultures. For example, it would be considered normal if someone had two cell phones, but in Nigeria, one can be considered ‘a whore because [they] had two cell phones’. This demonstrates that whilst Nigeria has been modernized, it still has some sense of cultural values and (to an extent) a negative view of wealth and luxury. This is the opposite of the Capitalist viewpoint, where one is revered if they are in possession of great riches. Furthermore, bribery and theft that is so common in the story helps to emphasize the problem of corruption and the disorder often associated with African nations. Even the mother ‘bribed the two policemen at the desk with money’, which suggests that this act of bribery was part of ordinary life. People ‘climbing in to steal TVs and VCRs’ helps to further confirm the stereotype of Africans that is often perceived. On another note, there are some things that are considered native to Nigeria that are mentioned in the story, such as the ‘ixora plant’ and ‘jollof rice’. This creates the sense that the nature of the story is somewhat unfamiliar. The mention of these natively ‘African’ terms creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the story, because these unfamiliar terms are used so ordinarily that it (sometimes) feels as if the reader is a native Nigerian.

    The mention of the brother’s complexion helps to illustrate some of the dissimilarities of the Nigerian culture and the Western society. In the story, the reader finds out that the Nigerians value fair skin for females, as they ask the mother ‘why did [she] waster [her] fair skin on a boy and leave the girl so dark’. This blunt way of talking about the persona makes the reader realize that the typical Nigerian is not a ‘smooth talker’ but speaks the mind. This can contrast with the Western society, where most people attempt not to be offensive to one another, and refrain of making comments that may be condescending. American Embassy

    ‘The American Embassy’ is the story of a Nigerian woman, who lost her child whilst political mercenaries search for her husband. She then goes to the American embassy to seek political asylum in America. It is noticeable that the persona has to experience humiliation as she converses with the American interviewer. Throughout the extract, there is a sense of detachment and aloofness. This can be shown as the persona is constantly switching between the present and a flashback. The persona is always referred to in 3rd person, suggesting that readers are just spectators rather than directly involved. A sense of animosity is created, because it is difficult for the reader to engage with the extract from 3rd person. The author may have used this to alienate the reader at first and then later, using simple yet powerful imagery and language, make the reader sympathize with the persona. Comparison between two stories

    The two stories have many similarities, first and foremost the setting being based in a typical Nigerian middle-class family. Both ‘Cell One’ and ‘The American Embassy’ seem to attempt to break the ‘single story’ of Africa, and show a convergence between Western and African cultures. For example, the initial description of the setting of ‘American Embassy’ tells the reader that there is an apparent modernization, from the presence of ‘ice-cream bicycles’ and ‘car radios’. On the other hand, there are stereotypical African-type descriptions, of ‘fresh palm oil’ and ‘beggars who walked up and down holding out enamel plates’; the use of these characterizations in conjunction with one another helps to show the seeming merging of cultures in Nigeria. However, there are stark contrasts between the actual content of the story, because of the very nature of stories are to be different to one another. Conclusion

    The way that Adichie uses her short stories to show a convergence of Western and African cultures helps her to break the ‘single story’ that stereotypes the African continent. However, it is inevitable that some of the African stereotypes are present, such as the widespread bribery, theft, and corruption that is prevalent in the extracts. Additionally, the extracts describe a middle-class family, and miss out the extremes, being in poverty or luxury.

    Overall, Adichie’s stories have some elements of the ‘single story’ and are incorporated into the stories of convergent Western and African societies. This creates an entirely new story, giving a different take on the same ‘Africa’, which helps to uproot the very foundations of the ‘single story’ and its stereotypes. This is because the story is now more complete, and as Adichie mentioned in her TED talk that the problem with stereotypes is not because they are inaccurate, but that they are incomplete. Also, as the reader rejects the single story, and realize there are many stories, they
    regain a sort of paradise.

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    Danger of a Single Story. (2016, Aug 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/danger-of-a-single-story/

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