Cut It Loose
Life is all about ups and downs, it’s all about new experiences, but the hardest one is to say goodbye. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s story “The Thing Around Your Neck”, Akunna’s story about her move to the US from Africa is said in the perspective of the second person. Adichie recounts the story of Akunna, as she embarked on a journey in the US all by herself, and then ends with her going back to her homeland. “The Thing Around Your Neck” is a story of isolation and loneliness, expressed through vivid symbolism and the writer’s gloomy tone.
“The Thing Around Your Neck”, a title that made me expect the story to be about a necklace, turned out to be a story about of Akunna’s trip down the road of loneliness and isolation. Akunna won a visa lottery to the US, packed up her life in Lagos in a suitcase, and went to live with her uncle and his family. The first notion of isolation and loneliness starts as she leaves her family. She’s detaching herself from all the familiar faces and places that she once knew, and going to a new place all by herself. Even if she stayed at her uncle’s house and got an education, nothing would give Akunna a sense of belonging. What added salt to the wound was her uncle’s attempt to force himself on her. She isolated herself from him by “[locking] [herself] in the bathroom until he went back upstairs” (Adichie, page 1). The next day, she packs her bags yet again, and leaves the house. Akunna was forced to experience isolation and loneliness once again, because she couldn’t stay at her uncle’s place. With isolation and loneliness came the feelings of sadness and remorse. Akunna worked as a waitress, she didn’t establish any sort of friendship with anyone, and she just listened to the clients’ stories. She caged herself, and she succumbed to the loneliness furthermore by not writing to her family. She wanted to write to everyone, but she didn’t live up to their expectations of buying “perfumes and clothes and handbags and shoes” (Adichie ,page 3). So she resigned from reaching out to them, and chose instead to hide her whereabouts. The lack of genuine connection and having someone to share stories and emotions with, the lack of any interaction with anyone, heightened and strengthened her loneliness and isolation to an extent she would bump into a wall to make sure she’s not invisible for she “tried to walk through [her] room wall into the hallway and when [she] bumped into the wall it left bruises on [her] arms” (Adichie ,page 3). These bruises reminded her of her existence, that she’s physically alive. Things remained the same, even when Akuna started dating, she never felt like they connected on a deep level. To be around someone in a physical sense, doesn’t lessen the horridness of one’s loneliness. Her boyfriend could never relate to her, because he was all about experiencing new things and visiting new countries. He abandoned opportunities such as law school, which is something that Akunna would never ever get the chance to attend. The lack of connection between the two increased her loneliness and sadness. These feelings became a part of her, carved in her soul, and the more she repressed them, the angrier got at her boyfriend, and cried in her shower (Adichie ,page 6).
The story’s theme of isolation and loneliness was solidified through the writer’s symbolism and gloomy tone. The title itself conveys how miserable it is to be lonely, for this feeling could wrap around someone’s neck and choke them to death. The phrase “the thing around your neck” was repeated towards the middle of the story, to ensure and remind us how Akunna was lonely at night, and how the loneliness and isolation carved themselves in her. The demons of loneliness and isolation pulled her down and drowned her in misery as “something would wrap itself around [her], neck, something that very nearly choked [her] before [her] fell asleep” (Adichie ,page 3). It suffocated her as though trying to kill her in the most brutal way. Akunna kept herself busy during the day by reading books, working at the restaurant, listening to the customers’ stories, and wasting time with her boyfriend. However, when she went back to her apartment at night, she was left all alone, and she didn’t have anyone to comfort her or brush off the feelings of isolation. When that phrase was mentioned for the third time, it was said to have “started to loosen” (Adichie ,page 6), but the image of this “thing” is still wrapped around her neck. That is although she was dating, although he was there physically, he never facilitated things for her. He never fully filled her with sentiments of joy and laughter. He never fully grasped the meaning of her problems, and the reason behind her anger whenever he mentioned how he let go of opportunities like attending law-school. He made things worse for her, due to the different lifestyles they had. He only cared about the experience of being with a girl of color, for to him she was an exotic experience as the countries he visited and the journeys he embarked on. Her boyfriend never dazzled her mentally. Though his physical presence loosened the thing around her neck, he only diminished the pain of being physically alone, and not mentally alone. Another symbol would be her visit to Chang’s with her boyfriend. When she got a fortune cookie at Chang’s with two strips of paper, “both of them were blank” (Adichie ,page 4). Fortune cookies are meant to elevate one’s mood, or leave a couple of wise words that would resonate in a person’s mind. However, Akunna’s were blank, just as her life. Blank were the papers, just as her existence in the US was blank. Her presence there didn’t carry any significance, and she lived aimlessly filled with sadness and consumed by the loneliness just as the fortune cookie was filled with nothing but blankness.
Other than the symbolic phrase “the thing around your neck”, the writer’s tone was rather dark and that of misery. Every now and then, the speaker of this story used spoke in a sad way about Akunna and her life, which reinforce the theme of isolation and sadness. She was always portrayed as isolating herself i.e. “locked [herself] in the bathroom” (Adichie ,page 1), “nobody knew where you were, because you told no one” (Adichie, page 3), never writing to her family “wrote nobody” (Adichie ,page 3), crying in the shower as she “watched the water dilute [her] tears” (Adichie ,page 6), getting angry at her boyfriend either for not understanding her or for the useless gifts he got her, and curling in bed when her father died (Adichie ,page 6). Moreover, the story was written from the second point of view i.e. Adiche used “you” throughout the story whilst speaking about Akunna’s experiences. The usage of “you” further isolates Akunna from the readers, by referring to herself in the second-person, “nobody knew where you were” (Adichie ,page 3), “you thought everybody in America had a car” (Adichie ,page 1), “and then you let go” (Adichie ,page 7). She didn’t use “I” because she was so detached from society and from the world, that she even wanted to isolate herself from whoever wishes to read or listen to her story.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck” is a page turner that leaves the reader’s heart heavy. The story highlights the struggles of detaching oneself from their family, and having to start over at a strange face. It’s the perfect example of isolation and separation, and the emotional roller coaster that one goes through. Although the story was written for the second point of view, the reader was forced to feel Akunna’s remorse because they are seeing her experience through their own lens. It’s Akunna’s story of isolation, anger, sadness, and then letting go of these things by going back to her home country.