In the story “The Thing Around Your Neck,"” Akunna's family members in Nigeria are absolutely thrilled that she won the "visa lottery" and gets to go to America. Upon her departure they celebrate that she'll soon have a big house and a big car. Once in America, however, she finds these dreams to be unrealistic and unattainable. Disillusionment at the realities of life in America touches most of the characters in the book as they grapple with being immigrants and navigate the difficulties that the American government, as well as their American neighbors, put them through.
The collection defines the American dream in a variety of ways. For those who have never experienced America, like Akunna's family, America is a place of big homes, cars, and guns. Nkem notes that she admires the uniquely American belief that anyone can rise and be successful, while Kamara observes that the plentiful resources available to American parents actually creates a great deal of anxiety. Notably, none of the Nigerian characters who immigrate to America are particularly happy in their new home. This is true of women like Nkem, who lives a life of privilege in Philadelphia, as well as those like Chinaza and Akunna, who find themselves living close to poverty. Nkem's situation in particular shows that even when these women are immersed in the trappings of upper class American suburbia, they remain unfulfilled. Simply possessing a beautiful home, having access to good schools, and driving nice cars isn't enough to make them happy. What the women lack is a sense of community and camaraderie. Their relationships to their husbands or boyfriends are generally unhappy, and their neighbors treat them as interesting talking points.
The lack of fulfillment in America isn't something unique to the female characters. When Nkem runs into another Nigerian woman at a party, the woman points out that their husbands, both “Big Men” by Nigerian standards, are treated with far more respect in Nigeria than in America. This in turn justifies (in the men's eyes) keeping their wives in America but living and working in Nigeria, where they get to enjoy their high status. Male characters such as Chinaza's husband Ofodile and Kamara's husband Tobechi work hard in America to try to create a better life for themselves as well as for their wives, but their wives struggle to share their husbands' optimism. As Chinaza and Kamara attempt to adjust to life in America, they find that they're as disillusioned with their husbands as they are with the lies their husbands told them. Kamara joins Tobechi after five years to find that he gained weight, grew unattractive hair, and developed an American accent that she finds troubling. Chinaza leaves Nigeria believing that Ofodile lives in a house, but must quickly adjust her expectations when she learns that the "house" is actually a sparsely furnished apartment. The men, however, remain fixated on their own dreams of making it in America and seem not to notice their wives' depression and disillusionment. In this way, the men themselves become a representation of the failure of the American dream. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Tobechi and Ofodile remain hopeful that they'll climb the ladder and achieve success in America. Their wives, however, must contend with the evidence that the American dream they were promised is, at best, simply less fantastical than expected. At worst, their husbands' promises simply won't come true.
However, despite the widespread disillusionment the characters experience upon arriving in America, the desire to live in America and pursue the American dream is intoxicating for many characters in Nigeria. Though the embassy narrator ultimately decides to stay in Nigeria, her descriptions of the snaking line up to the American embassy and the lengths to which people will go to get an interview for a visa indicate that the pull of the American dream is impossibly strong, even if the dream itself is unattainable.
The American Dream ThemeTracker
The American Dream Quotes in The Thing Around Your Neck
They may have once been benign fraternities, but they had evolved and were now called "cults"; eighteen-year-olds who had mastered the swagger of American rap videos were undergoing secret and strange initiations that sometimes left one or two of them dead on Odim Hill.
"You got a great house, ma'am," he'd said, with that curious American smile that meant he believed he, too, could have something like it someday. It is one of the things she has come to love about America, the abundance of unreasonable hope.
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?
He laughed and said the job was good, was worth living in an all-white town even though his wife had to drive an hour to find a salon that did black hair. The trick was to understand America, to know that America was give-and-take. You gave up a lot, but you gained a lot, too.
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?