I found “Jumping Monkey Hill” to be one of the most compelling and socially critical short stories in the collection. The scathing social critique primarily consists of foreign perceptions of Nigerians, or Africans in general, and the subtle exploitation of women. Although these are not novel ideas by any means, the creativity with which Adichie presents them and the raw force behind her words make “Jumping Monkey Hill” a piece of importance.

Isabel, the wife of the workshop organizer, quaintly falls into the role of clueless rich lady. The observations she makes throughout the story are declared with such conviction, but lack any real substance. She claims that “with that exquisite bone structure, Ujunwa had to come from Nigerian royal stock.” (99). Ujunwu clearly serves as the medium through which Adichie projects her voice. This is made clear when Ujunwu’s first reaction to Isabel’s careless statement “was to ask if Isabel ever needed royal blood to explain the good looks of friends back in London.” (99). I found this statement to be entirely paralleled with the anecdote Adichie gave in “Danger of a Single Story,” where she almost passive aggressively chided an American student who extrapolated a single African character in a novel to represent all Africans. For this reason, I felt “Jumping Monkey Hill” was the story in which Adichie’s personal voice most clearly came through. Furthermore, the characterization of interactions with foreigners, presented above, portrays the exact situation that Adichie denounces in the TED Talk, the single story. Isabel had a clear understanding of Africans as having certain features, and the ones that did not fall under this category had to have some extraordinary reason to explain it (even though diversity of appearance exists within all ethnicities).

The other critique Adichie provides is the subtle exploitation of women in the work force by men. The story presents two situations in which Ujunwu finds the voice to speak out against men in positions of authority taking advantage of her position through sexual harassment. In both situations, Ujunwu storms out, understandably insulted by the innuendos made. Although I appreciated Ujunwu finding this strength, I did not exactly take to Ujunwu’s reactions, simply because of what it implies. By storming out, it seems that Adichie does not see the possibility of even interacting with people that act this way or that remain silent in such situations. I do understand Ujunwu’s reasons for walking out, and I honestly believe that I probably would have done the same thing, but I think this makes an interesting point. Adichie’s purpose in writing such literature seems to be simply explaining realities, rather than proposing manners of fixing the situation. In Professor Larson’s class, we extensively discussed the idea of African art being an art of utility, rather than aesthetic. We used various pieces of literature to frame this thought that African art generally serves some practical purpose, such as the traditional masks that served as communicators with ancestors, not simple decoration. However, it remains clear that Adichie does not fall under this category. Her writing, at least in the case of this story, does not serve a practical purpose; it does not offer a solution, instead it simply frames a situation. This is not necessarily a negative aspect to her writing, I just felt it was notable.

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About annasebastian

I'm a Latin American Studies/International Studies major, with a minor in Literature.

2 responses »

  1. annasebastian says:

    I apologize for the inconsistent use of the protagonist’s name, Ujunwa.

  2. I’ve never heard the argument that most African art is practical before! That really fascinates me as student wrapping up a semester studying African literature. However, I do think that Adichie is providing a solution to the problem of female objectification in the work place. The inherent problem is an imbalance of power between female employees and male bosses. By refusing to partake in that system, Ujunwa is taking power out of her boss’s hands and putting it into her own. Her refusal makes a difference, however small it may be. If all women refused to work for sexist/power-hungry men, the workplace environment would change. I haven’t studied “Jumping Monkey Hill” that intensely, but I definitely think her story-within-a-story offers a solution! Just my two cents, though.

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