The Thing Around Your Neck

by

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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The Thing Around Your Neck: The Arrangers of Marriage Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chinaza's husband, Ofodile, carries her suitcase up to their apartment. Chinaza tells the reader that she imagined that they'd live in a real house, not a musty apartment with only a few pieces of ugly furniture. Ofodile promises that they'll get more furniture. Chinaza is so tired from her flight from Lagos to New York, and the experience of having her foodstuffs confiscated at customs, that she can only agree.
Chinaza's imaginings suggest that she had a specific idea of what her life in America would look like: a beautiful house, nice furniture, and kitchen in which she could cook with her Nigerian ingredients. The confiscation of her African foodstuffs is her first introduction to the idea that America is not as welcoming as it’s sometimes perceived to be.
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Chinaza says she's tired and Ofodile agrees. They go to bed and Chinaza curls up and hopes that Ofodile won't want to have sex. He begins snoring almost immediately, and Chinaza thinks that when people arrange your marriage, they don't mention bare apartments or snoring husbands.
Even though Chinaza and Ofodile have only been married for less than a month, Chinaza already dreads being intimate with him. She's already disillusioned and unhappy with him, like so many of the other women in the book.
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The next morning Ofodile wakes Chinaza by lying on top of her. He pulls her nightgown up and Chinaza thinks that the sex is clammy and uncomfortable. Ofodile goes to the bathroom and tells Chinaza "good morning" when he returns. He hands her the phone and instructs her to call her aunt and uncle and let them know she arrived safely.
Notice that while Chinaza is fully aware that she doesn't like having sex with her husband, it never crosses her mind to say no to him. This suggests that she doesn't feel in control of her own life or body, and further, that unwanted, uncomfortable sex like this is to be expected.
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Chinaza thinks that her aunt and uncle will ask questions only to ask, not because they care about her. She thinks of her uncle's smile when he told her that they'd arranged this marriage for her to a doctor in America. Her aunt had said that they'd have plenty of time to get to know each other, which turned out to be two weeks. Chinaza had thanked them to not seem ungrateful, despite the fact that she wanted to go to university instead.
For Chinaza's aunt and uncle, arranging this marriage was seen as a gift to her and a good deed on their part. This also shows where Chinaza learned that her feelings don't matter: she didn't feel like she could say that she'd rather go to school than get married.
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The phone is “engaged,” and when Chinaza tells Ofodile that, he corrects her that Americans say "busy" instead of "engaged." Ofodile makes Chinaza breakfast. He defrosts pancakes and informs her that Americans don't put milk and sugar in their tea. Chinaza fears she won't be able to eat the bland meal.
Ofodile shows that he's extremely concerned with successfully performing American-ness by correcting Chinaza's language. This suggests that assimilation is Ofodile's primary goal—he’s trying to be a “model minority” and avoid being discriminated against by entirely blending in and rejecting his own culture.
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Ofodile's neighbor knocks at the door. Ofodile lets her in and introduces her to Chinaza. Because the neighbor is older, Chinaza uses the greeting appropriate for elders. When the neighbor leaves, Ofodile instructs Chinaza to use "hi" with everyone, regardless of age. He tells her that in America, he goes by the name “Dave Bell.” He tells Chinaza that she'll also have to go by her English name, and tells her that in America you have to be mainstream to get ahead. Ofodile fills out Chinaza's Social Security application with the name "Agatha Bell."
By telling Chinaza these things, Ofodile shows that he doesn't just value assimilation, he actively devalues maintaining contact with Nigerian culture. He also insists, as many husbands in the collection do, that his wife ignores her own needs to cater to his.
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Ofodile takes Chinaza shopping so he can show her how to shop and use the bus. At the grocery store, Chinaza asks if they can get a package of Burton's Rich Tea biscuits. Ofodile says that Americans call biscuits "cookies" and says they have to buy the store brand ones. He continues, saying that once he's an attending physician they can buy name brand. Chinaza thinks that the people who arranged her marriage only told her that American doctors make a lot of money; not that that they have to complete internships and residencies first. During their flight to New York after the wedding, Ofodile explained to Chinaza that as an intern he only makes $3 an hour. She thought that was good until he said high school students make more.
Again, Chinaza shows that she had ideas about America and American success that she's now realized weren't actually true. This is indicative of the nature of the American dream; throughout the book, the American dream relies on idealized visions like this in order to draw immigrants in, but soon reveals that those idealized visions are entirely fictional. Ofodile shows here that he doesn't much care for Chinaza's comfort or desires.
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Ofodile gestures to a woman speaking Spanish and says that people like her won't move forward unless they assimilate. Chinaza agrees with him, but doesn't understand.
Chinaza seems to see nothing wrong with the woman speaking Spanish. The woman likely represents a life that's connected to her home country, which Ofodile actively denies to Chinaza.
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Ofodile takes Chinaza to the mall. He buys her pizza, and she thinks it's greasy and undercooked. She feels exposed and humiliated eating in the open space of the food court. Ofodile takes her to Macy's and tries to lead her up an escalator. When Chinaza asks to take the lift, he corrects her that in America, it's called an elevator. Ofodile buys Chinaza a warm winter coat. On the way home, they stop at McDonald's and Chinaza thinks Ofodile looks very unfamiliar as he chews his burger.
Ofodile continues to insist that Chinaza assimilate, refusing to take into consideration that she's experiencing major culture shock. In particular, she feels threatened by Ofodile's desire to eat American food. It makes him look and seem unfamiliar, which suggests again that Chinaza draws comfort from culinary traditions.
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On Monday, Chinaza makes coconut rice. When Ofodile comes home and she greets him in Igbo, he tells her to speak English. The neighbor knocks on the door and asks what Chinaza's cooking, saying the smell is all over the building. Ofodile eats the rice, but the next day he brings Chinaza an American cookbook and tells her to cook American food. Chinaza thinks about the cookbook as they have sex that night, and she struggles to cook American food over the next several days.
Ofodile now denies Chinaza the opportunity to connect to her culture even in the comfort (and supposed safety) of her own home by insisting she speak English and cook American food. However, the fact that Chinaza goes along with Ofodile's wishes demonstrates her lack of power in their relationship, as she has no means with which to stand up for herself.
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Chinaza meets their neighbor Nia one day when she's getting the mail. She thinks that her aunt would label Nia a prostitute, but Nia is friendly. Chinaza introduces herself as Chinaza, but corrects herself and says "Agatha." Nia compliments Chinaza on her African name and shares that she changed her own name to a Swahili name as a teenager. Chinaza marvels that Nia did that when Chinaza was forced to take an English name. Nia invites Chinaza to her apartment for a Coke.
Chinaza is in awe at the choices that are available to native-born Americans. They have the privilege to choose whether to associate with Africa or not, while Ofodile denies Chinaza the opportunity to make that choice. Though this discussion about Africa allows Nia and Chinaza to connect, it also suggests that Nia romanticizes Africa in a way she can only because of her status as a native-born American.
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Nia offers to help Chinaza get a job at Macy's once her work permit goes through. Later, when Chinaza tells Ofodile about Nia, he tells her that Nia is a bad influence. Nia begins stopping in to sit and talk with Chinaza, and Chinaza likes listening to Nia speak.
Chinaza's friendship with Nia is the one thing in her life right now that she chooses to do despite the wishes of her husband, aunt, or uncle. Nia provides her a sense of community and family that she's not getting anywhere else.
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When it snows for the first time, Chinaza stays home all day and watches it fall. When Ofodile comes home that night, she asks about her work permit and he slowly explains that he married a woman to get his green card, and the woman is now "making trouble." Chinaza is shocked to hear that Ofodile was married, but he says it's just what people do in America. Chinaza insists that she had the right to know before they got married.
Ofodile's admission raises the question of whether Chinaza's aunt and uncle knew about his American marriage when they arranged Chinaza's marriage. It's possible that even they were overly caught up in the idealized American dream, and this oversight or purposeful omission came as a result of that. Ofodile asserts his power by refusing to acknowledge that he's betrayed his wife's trust.
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Ofodile asks why it matters, and says that Chinaza wouldn't say no to her aunt and uncle, who arranged the marriage. Chinaza asks Ofodile why he married her. He says he wanted a Nigerian wife and thought she was a virgin. He thought her light skin would help his children, since lighter black people are treated better in America.
Though Ofodile has shown throughout the story that he doesn't place much value on Nigerian culture, it evidently means something to him to have a Nigerian wife. However, it suggests more than anything that he views Chinaza as an object to show off and something that will benefit him alone.
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While Ofodile showers, Chinaza packs her suitcase and goes to Nia's apartment. Nia offers to let Chinaza call home, but Chinaza says that there's nobody to talk to there. She thinks about what her aunt would say. Both her aunt and her uncle would call her stupid and ungrateful.
Again, Chinaza's aunt and uncle see the fact that they arranged this marriage for her as a generous gift that Chinaza would be stupid to refuse. Nia is the only person that Chinaza can trust at this point; she's the only one who encourages Chinaza to make her own decisions.
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Nia suggests that Chinaza give her marriage more time and asks why Chinaza always refers to Ofodile as "my husband." Chinaza thinks that it's because she barely knows Ofodile. Nia asks if Chinaza has met any of Ofodile's girlfriends. Nia admits that she slept with Ofodile two years ago.
Like many of the other husbands in the book, Ofodile has had a number of girlfriends that he never told his wife about. For Ofodile, however, it's unclear if these girlfriends afforded him status or were simply illicit affairs.
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Nia tells Chinaza that she should wait, get her papers in order, and then leave Ofodile. She says that it's America, and Chinaza can support herself and start fresh. Chinaza thinks that Nia is right. The next night, she goes back to her apartment and Ofodile lets her in.
Despite Chinaza's disillusionment with the American dream, Nia remains steadfast that it's still available for Chinaza. She suggests that Chinaza do to Ofodile what Ofodile did to her, and gain her own independence in the process.
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