‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

That Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2004

The magic trick:

Expert use of second-person narration

This is a story with a very specific point of view. Our narrator has moved from Nigeria to the United States (Maine and then Connecticut), and a very specific set of things happen to her.

Published as it was, first in a British magazine and later in a big-budget collection by Alfred A. Knopf, you have to assume that this perspective was foreign to the vast majority of readers.

Which is why it’s second-person narration is such a bold and effective choice.

Nothing brings a specific, potentially foreign, point of view close to home like the personal address of the pronoun “you.”

And that’s quite a trick on Adichie’s part.

The selection:

You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun, your uncles and aunts thought so too. After you won the American visa lottery, your uncles and aunts and cousins told you, in a month you will have a big car. Soon, a big house. But don’t buy a gun like those Americans.

They trooped into the shantytown house in Lagos, standing beside the nail-studded zinc walls because the chairs did not go round, to say goodbye in loud voices and tell you with lowered voices what they wanted you to send them. In comparison to the big car and house (and possibly gun), the things they wanted were minor – handbags and shoes and perfumes and clothes. You said OK, no problem.

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