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In the lesson “The danger of a single story”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie claims that single stories are often develop frommisunderstandings, one’s lack of knowledge of others, or may be because of a hostile aim to subdue other community of people due to preconception. She explains that how there could be a danger of only knowing one sided story about a group. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is that they are false as well as misleading. They make one story become the only story to be heard and taught to other people. Through few examples, she illustrates her own experience of being a victim of false stories.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was an early writer when she began writing at about the age of seven. She used to write exactly the kinds of stories she read, where all the characters were white and blue-eyed playing in the snow, eating apples and talking a lot about the weather like how lovely the sun’s appearance had been etc.
All books that she read described characters as foreign due to which she was convinced to have foreigners in the story and things with which she could not personally identify. As a child, Adichie read Western literature, stories written by North American or European authors. These books described a life very different to Adichie’s own, which she then copied when she started writing her own stories. After discovering African books, her point of view got altered completely.
After reading Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye, she realised that people like her, girls with skin the colour of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature.
The first single story
The year she turned eight, her family got a new house boy, Fide. The only thing her mother told her about him was that his family was very poor. Then one Saturday, she saw a beautifully patterned basket of dyed raffia that Fide’s brother had made. It had become impossible for her to see them as anything else but poor because poverty was her single story of them. This was her first single story which made her realise that how misleading such things could be.
The African Stereotype
Years later, she left Nigeria to go to university in the United States at the age of nineteen. Her American roommate was startled by her knowledge of English and her lifestyle. She called her ‘tribal music and was consequently very disappointed when Adichie produced her tape of Mariah Care. Her default position towards her as an African, was a kind of patronising, well-meaning pity. As she had a single story of Africa. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.
She began to realize that her American roommate throughout her life must have seen and heard different versions of this single story. A professor once told that her novel was not authentically African as the characters of her work were too much like him, an educated and middle-class man, driving cars, not starving. Therefore, they were not authentically African according to him.
When she learned that writers were expected to have had really unhappy childhoods to be successful, but in the other side she had a very happy childhood, full of laughter and love, in a very close-knit family, she realised that to insist on only these negative stories was to flatten her experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed her.
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.