For many of the book’s characters, love and family are driving forces in their lives. While several of the stories are concerned specifically with romantic (and often married) relationships, Adichie also explores the inter-generational relationships between parents, children, siblings, and grandparents. Specifically, she explores the instances in which individual family members lie or tell stories in order to preserve their family, break it down, or attempt to earn the love of other family members. These lies more often than not lead to grief and disillusionment rather than happiness and fulfillment.
The prevalence of cheating spouses throughout the collection suggests that lies between romantic partners are both common and dangerous, though the way women see their husbands' infidelity shows that many of them believe lying to be typical of marriage. Taken together, the stories suggest that the types of lies that people tell often break down by gender. Men lie (either outright or by omission) about the lives they lead, including the existence of their extramarital relationships, while women lie about whether or not they're happy. Further, while the men in question are mostly successful in pursuing their extramarital relationships, their wives have no such luck feeling happy. When Kamara experiences feelings for Tracy, the mysterious artist mother of her nannying charge, she's initially given reason to believe that the attraction is mutual. She soon finds, however, that Tracy is simply a magnetic person and habitually asks women to model nude for her. Kamara isn't special, and Tracy's modeling request didn't come from a place of sexual desire. Similarly, the tomorrow narrator lies about the particulars of her brother's death to try to earn her mother's love, but she is likewise unsuccessful in achieving happiness and the coveted role of the favorite child. For both of these women, their attempts to look outside their proscribed familial roles (wife and female second child respectively) are thwarted. This suggests that it's often impossible for women to find happiness by violating strict familial roles.
To preserve their marriages, women, particularly Nkem, tell themselves stories about their husbands that allow them to ignore infidelity and maintain a happy-looking façade despite their unhappy marriages. Though Nkem doesn't fully acknowledge that her husband is conducting extramarital relationships until a friend tells her, she realizes that she's always known about his affairs but ignored the signs. Chika uses a similar thought process to help herself believe that her sister hasn't been killed in a riot. Though she comes to realize she'll never see her sister again, the mental narrative that her sister is still alive allows Chika to keep herself alive and find her way out of the riots and back to the safety of her aunt's house. This shows that lying to oneself can be used as a method of preserving and maintaining a relationship, even when the relationship itself is broken or wholly absent. The storytellers tell the stories of these vibrant, living relationships to placate and allow themselves the opportunity to continue living. Though for characters like Chika this method of storytelling is wholly necessary to survive, for other women, the lies only trap them more tightly in their unhappy relationships.
Family and Lies ThemeTracker
Family and Lies Quotes in The Thing Around Your Neck
"You cannot raise your children well, all of you people who feel important because you work in the university. When your children misbehave, you think they should not be punished. You are lucky, madam, very lucky that they released him."
And although Nkem knew many Nigerian couples who lived together, all year, she said nothing.
"We have only spent a week here with our aunty, we have never even been to Kano before," Chika says, and she realizes that what she feels is this: she and her sister should not be affected by the riot. Riots like this were what she read about in newspapers. Riots like this were what happened to other people.
Kamara wondered where the child's mother was. Perhaps Neil had killed her and stuffed her in a trunk; Kamara had spent the past months watching Court TV and had learned how crazy these Americans were.
She did not remember his toes with hair. She stared at him as he spoke, his Igbo interspersed with English that had an ungainly American accent... He had not spoken like that on the phone. Or had he, and she had not noticed? Was it simply that seeing him was different and that it was the Tobechi of university that she had expected to find?
She had taken to closing her eyes while Tobechi was on top of her, willing herself to become pregnant, because if that did not shake her out of her dismay at least it would give her something to care about.
Staid, and yet she had been arranging her life around his for three years... Staid, and yet she cooked her stews with hot peppers now, the way he liked.
They did not warn you about things like this when they arranged your marriage. No mention of offensive snoring, no mention of houses that turned out to be furniture-challenged flats.
You left your husband? Aunty Ada would shriek. Are you mad? Does one throw away a guinea fowl's egg? Do you know how many women would offer both eyes for a doctor in America? For any husband at all?
When she went into Nonso's room to say good night, she always came out laughing that laugh. Most times, you pressed your palms to your ears to keep the sound out, and kept your palms pressed to your ears even when she came into your room to say Good night, darling, sleep well. She never left your room with that laugh.
Maybe it was because of the way she said the divorce was not about Nonso—as though Nonso was the only one capable of being a reason, as though you were not in the running.