Chimamanda Adichie’s short stories in her collection The Thing Around Your Neck use unconventional means of telling her main characters’ stories. In both “Jumping Monkey Hill” and the book-titled “The Thing Around Your Neck”, Adichie uses a change of tenses or a direct address to her main characters from the narrating voice to single out their stories as particularly significant, and, more importantly, personal.
In “Jumping Monkey Hill”, the protagonist, Ujunwa, a gifted Nigerian writer, is invited to an African writing convention hosted by a white Englishman named Edward, where she meets other talented African writers from all over the continent. The convention is a mixture of Senegalese, South African, Zimbabwean, and Tanzanian writers, among others. What is most notable about this grouping is that, even as Edward and his wife, Isabel, attempt to group them all together under one roof to produce a great work of truly African fiction, the characters never quite mesh together. As Ujunwa judges and characterizes each based on her impressions, the best she can refer to them as at first glance is that “The Senegalese woman was the most promising” (p. 97). There is essentially no unity between the writers. And, despite Edward’s implied assumption that what is feasible or “implausible” must be collectively agreed upon, it becomes clear how distinctly different Ujunwa’s story really is from the rest. Before she leaves the room and exits, in noticeably similar fashion as in the story she has been writing, she questions, “A real story of real people?” (p. 114) She returns to what she knows, what she has lived by, and what is essentially her story.
“The Thing Around Your Neck”, addresses the much broader life circumstances for the main character, Akunna, through second-person narration. By addressing her as “you”, the narrator emphasizes the single importance of her story. This major theme is outlined by the fact that Akunna quickly voices her contempt for those who make their generalizations about Africa. Eventually she meets someone who does not generalize as she so often expects, a man who “had been to Ghana and Uganda and Tanzania…and had read a lot about sub-Saharan African countries, their histories, their complexities” (p. 120). Yet, despite her comfort with the college student, Akunna cannot escape the fact that she has her single heritage, her country to hold on to. By leaving the man nameless and addressing Akunna as the only named character (aside from Professor Cobbledick), and despite meeting a sympathetic other, Akunna’s story nevertheless remains the only seemingly authentic story of the tale. Akunna eventually comes to the realization that she must inevitably return home taking the same type of flight from the foreign misinterpretation of her personal story.