The Thing Around Your Neck

by

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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The Thing Around Your Neck: On Monday of Last Week Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator says that since last Monday, Kamara has started standing in front of mirrors and imagining Tracy touching her. When Kamara comes out of the bathroom, Tracy's seven-year-old son, Josh, is there. Kamara tells Josh to watch a movie while she warms chicken strips and rice for his dinner.
The bland food that Kamara makes here shows that none of these people are connected to Nigeria through their food choices. This suggests that Kamara is adrift and generally disconnected from her culture.
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Kamara thinks that in Nigeria, Josh would be called "half-caste" and it would mean something positive. She remembers when Neil hired her and she learned that in America, "half-caste" is a bad word. Neil had been surprised at Kamara's fluent English and Master's degree. Neil explained that he worries that Josh is the only biracial kid in his neighborhood. When Kamara confirmed that biracial was the same as "half-caste," Neil asked her to not use that term.
Neil and Kamara's exchange over her use of "half-caste" magnifies the sense of cultural disconnect. Kamara has to adjust to the fact that in America, being biracial/half-caste isn't desirable—or it isn’t appropriate to describe it as such. Neil demonstrates his narrow beliefs about Nigeria, as it’s suggested that he thought Nigerians don't speak English well or earn advanced degrees.
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When Neil interviewed Kamara, he said that Josh was learning about his Jewish and his African-American heritage. Kamara wondered where Josh's mother was and wondered if Neil had killed her. Neil said that he never smacks Josh, and Kamara agreed to not smack him, which was what her husband, Tobechi, told her to say. She wanted to say that smacking was different from abuse; she'd watched enough American news to learn about abuse. Kamara asks about Josh's mother, and Neil explains that she's an artist, works in the basement, and isn't to be bothered. Kamara was offended by Neil's tone and thought she didn't want the job, but she took it anyway.
Though Neil certainly has a singular view of what Nigeria is like, Kamara also demonstrates that she's developed a very narrow view of what American parents do to their children. Notice too that, like Nkem in "Imitation," Kamara has a husband who tells her how to act. This suggests that Kamara might also be lost and subsuming her own needs and desires into those of her husband.
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Now, three months later, Kamara has developed a sense of affection for Neil and stopped wondering about Tracy. On Monday of last week, Kamara was looking at Josh's homework when Tracy appeared in the kitchen. When their eyes met, Kamara suddenly felt like she wanted to wear makeup and lose weight. Now she hopes only that Tracy will come upstairs again.
Kamara's instant attraction to Tracy confirms that all isn't well with Kamara's marriage (it seems as though her husband doesn't inspire these lofty aspirations in her). Because the narration keeps Tracy very mysterious, it creates a sense of tension as to what is so appealing about this woman.
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As Kamara cooks Josh's dinner, she stubs her toe. Josh kisses it and Neil calls to check on Josh. Neil wonders if the “Zany Brainy” competition is too much for such a young child. He invites Kamara to come to the competition, but she declines.
Neil obviously cares very deeply for his son. He spends much of his time worrying about Josh's wellbeing and happiness. Kamara now seems to be integrated into the family.
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Kamara has been realizing that parenting in America means juggling anxieties. She thinks that when food isn't an issue, parents have time to wonder if their children are ill, or try to protect them from disappointment. This used to amuse her, but it annoys her now that her period is regular.
The comment about Kamara's period implies that Kamara herself is attempting (unsuccessfully) to conceive. Mentioning the consequences of the absence of food scarcity here casts Nkem's earlier hopes that her children will have plenty into a somewhat sinister light.
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As Kamara listens to Neil worry, she picks at the sticker that says "NO TO GUNS" on the phone. The sticker on the phone was what she told Tobechi about after her first day, but Tobechi only cared about the house. He said they'd live in a house like Neil's, but Kamara didn't care.
Kamara is fascinated by the little things, while Tobechi is caught up in pursuing the American dream. To him, this means having the outward markers of success, like a nice house. Kamara's apathy shows that she's already disillusioned by the American dream, however.
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Kamara and Tobechi met in school at Nsukka. The way he looked at her made her like herself. They went everywhere together and married right before Tobechi got his American visa. Kamara stayed and taught in Enugu for five years while Tobechi drove a taxi in Philadelphia. His green card finally came and he sent for her.
Notice that Tobechi's presence caused Kamara to see her own worth. This suggests that Kamara is wholly dependent on others, and particularly her husband, to make her feel good and worthwhile. Her apathy in the present indicates that Tobechi no longer makes her feel this way.
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When Tobechi met Kamara at the airport, he told her they would need to marry again in America. She noticed at the apartment that his toes had hair, and she didn't like his new American accent. She thought about how effortless their early relationship had been, and thinks that now things are awkward. She doesn't enjoy sex with him now. After she'd been in America a few weeks, Kamara started spending her days watching TV and eating everything in the fridge. Her clothes became uncomfortably tight.
Kamara and Tobechi began their relationship and their marriage with high hopes that they'd be able to achieve the American dream and find fulfillment. However, America hasn't made Tobechi better or more attractive; in fact it's done the exact opposite. The disillusionment with both her marriage and the promises of America seemingly cause Kamara's depression.
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Kamara called a friend who she thought would understand her sense of flatness and apathy about her marriage, but her friend was caught up in her own tragedy. Kamara threw away her birth control pills and willed herself to become pregnant so she'd have something to care about. Tobechi didn't seem to notice her depression.
Kamara desires something or someone else to make her like herself, since Tobechi isn't doing that. Kamara is, essentially, unable to define herself as a whole, autonomous person. She needs to define herself in terms of someone else.
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Tobechi had noticed, however, that Kamara seemed "bright" on Monday of last week. When Tracy had come upstairs on that day, she grabbed Kamara's chin and complimented her teeth. Tracy asked Kamara if she'd been a model. Josh ran to his mother and hugged her, and Tracy made small talk with Kamara. Kamara suggested that Tracy show Josh her work, and all three of them went to the basement. Josh complimented the large, abstract painting leaning against the wall while Kamara took in the basement. She thought she'd love to clean it if she could stay with Tracy.
At this stage, Tracy seems equally as taken with Kamara as Kamara is with her. Notably, Tracy's compliments to Kamara make Kamara feel beautiful, which is the way that Tobechi used to make her feel. This shows again that Kamara deeply desires to feel beautiful and needed in the eyes of others. Josh seems to adore Tracy when he sees her, which indicates that Tracy's relationship with the rest of her family does indeed exist; Kamara just hasn't seen it.
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Tracy mentioned that she spent time in Ghana and offers that "the motherland" informs her work. She questioned Kamara about her roots in Nigeria. Josh grabbed a paintbrush and ran with it while Tracy approached Kamara again. She asked Kamara if she'd take her clothes off so Tracy could paint her. Kamara could barely breathe, and agreed to think about it before shepherding Josh back upstairs.
Though Tracy is African-American, her comments about "the motherland" suggest that she holds a distinctly privileged and Western view of Africa. For her, it's something inspiring and a place to visit; it's not necessarily home or intimately known to her like it is to Kamara.
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Neil arrives home and greets Josh. Neil tells Josh he'll win the Zany Brainy competition as Josh digs for his shoelaces in his backpack. He pulls out a Shabbat card that he made in school and tells Kamara in a serious tone that he forgot to give it to her last Friday, and he'll give it to her tomorrow. Neil tries to tell Josh that Kamara is a nanny and a friend and not a family member who should get a Shabbat card, but Josh says that his teacher said he could make it for Kamara. Josh and Neil leave in Neil's Jaguar.
Josh defines family very differently than his father would like him to. Kamara also doesn't correct Josh, which indicates that she's not bothered by his belief that she's worthy of a Shabbat card. In this way, the text suggests that Kamara and Josh need each other: Josh needs a more present mother figure, and Kamara needs someone to care about.
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Kamara touches up her makeup and knocks on the basement door. Tracy opens the door, looking distant. Tracy and Kamara talk about Josh's certain win at the Zany Brainy competition, and Kamara asks if Tracy needs anything. Tracy smiles, confirms that Kamara will allow Tracy to paint her, and says that today isn't a good day.
Tracy's absentmindedness here calls her prior interest into question, which begins to create a sense of doubt as to whether or not anything will come of the apparent spark between her and Kamara. For now, though, Kamara continues to feel special and desired.
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The next afternoon, Kamara can tell that Josh didn't win the competition. Neil stands with a blond woman and explains that the woman is Josh's French tutor, and she'll be giving Josh his lesson at the house today. Kamara thinks that while Josh has his lesson, she'll go downstairs. She thinks of her new bra.
Kamara dressed to impress Tracy, and came to work with the intention of looking for fulfillment outside of her marriage. The attention from Tracy has made it clear to her that in order to be happy, she'll have to look somewhere other than to her husband.
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Neil whispers to Kamara about Josh's sugar intake, and Kamara reassures him and agrees to make Josh's dinner later. Kamara hears the basement door open and Tracy appears. She greets Josh affectionately and Neil as though he's a sibling and not her husband. Neil introduces Tracy to Josh's French teacher. Tracy fixes the French teacher with an intense gaze and compliments her eyes. Tracy asks if she's ever been a model, and the teacher giggles. Kamara sits down next to Josh and takes one of his cookies.
When Tracy greets Neil more like a friend than a lover, it gives the sense that they're not really in love. But when Tracy turns to the French teacher and speaks to her the same way she spoke to Kamara, Kamara realizes that she's not special to Tracy. Further, when Kamara takes one of Josh's cookies, it indicates that Kamara isn't going to continue the diet that she's presumably started to impress Tracy. This moment of small but potent disillusionment ends the story on a somewhat bitter note.
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