The Thing Around Your Neck

The Thing Around Your Neck Tomorrow is Too Far Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The unnamed tomorrow narrator begins her story during the last summer she spent in Nigeria. It is now 18 years later, but she remembers how Grandmama let her brother Nonso climb the fruit trees to shake the branches, even though the narrator was a better climber. Grandmama taught Nonso to pluck coconuts and didn't show the narrator, because "girls never pluck coconuts." Grandmama let Nonso sip the coconut milk first, even though their cousin Dozie was a year older. Grandmama explained that Nonso would carry on the family name, while Dozie wouldn't. That summer, the narrator found a molted snakeskin and Grandmama said it was from the echi eteka snake: one bite and you die in ten minutes.
The narrator's description of this summer is dripping with jealousy: the narrator is better at climbing and Dozie is older, yet Nonso is afforded opportunity and favor at his sister and cousin's expense. Grandmama's preference for Nonso shows that valuing males over females begins in childhood. The narrator, essentially, is told from a very young age that her skills don't matter and her desires don't matter; all that matters are the skills and desires of her brother.
Themes
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The tomorrow narrator clarifies that it wasn't the summer she fell in love with Dozie; that happened several years earlier. It was instead the summer that both her hate for Nonso and her love for Dozie reached a fever pitch. And it was the summer that Nonso died. When Nonso died, Grandmama yelled at his body that he betrayed her, and asked who would carry on the family name. The neighbors helped Grandmama call the narrator's mother and tried to comfort Dozie and the narrator. The narrator listened to the phone conversation, and though she knew that Grandmama and her mother didn't like each other, the two were united in Dozie's death. They both seemed crazed.
The narrator implies here that if she'd died, Grandmama wouldn't have been as distraught. She suggests that Grandmama cares more about the continuation of the family lineage than she does about the family members themselves, as Grandmama refuses to realize that she has two other grandchildren besides Nonso. The narrator also indicates that Nonso is the favorite in their nuclear family as well as their extended family, which shows that the narrator likely feels this jealousy at home as well.
Themes
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The tomorrow narrator spoke to her mother on the phone. The narrator said little, but when her mother started crying, the narrator thought of her mother's laugh. Her mother always laughed after she said goodnight to Nonso, but never after she said goodnight to the narrator.
The narrator confirms that her jealousy of Nonso was a continual problem for her. She felt unloved and unseen, and saw that Nonso was the reason for that. This mirrors the plight of the older female characters: unseen by their husbands or boyfriends.
Themes
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18 years later, Grandmama's garden looks the same as it did then. Dozie watches the tomorrow narrator, and the narrator thinks that the secret of how Nonso died is safe with Dozie. The narrator looks at the avocado tree and thinks of her childhood love for her cousin. She wonders what he thought about being the "wrong grandson."
The narrator's musings suggest that her family, including Dozie, observes a strict familial hierarchy and certain roles within it. By taking issue with this hierarchy, the narrator steps outside of her strict role as younger, female child, which has disastrous consequences.
Themes
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Dozie says he didn't think the tomorrow narrator would come back, since she hated Grandmama. The narrator thinks that when Dozie called her to tell her that Grandmama died, she thought only of Nonso, Dozie, and all the childhood things she hadn't allowed herself to think about for 18 years. The narrator remembers eating avocados, and how Grandmama said that the narrator was wrong to like salted avocados when Nonso liked his plain.
The hierarchy isn't simply a predetermined boys-are-better-than-girls hierarchy; it also extends to prioritizing male needs and desires over female ones. The narrator suggests that had Nonso liked his avocados salted and she liked hers plain, Grandmama's reaction would've been the same.
Themes
Women, Marriage, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
After Nonso's funeral, the tomorrow narrator's mother didn't mention him for three months. When the narrator's mother finally told the narrator she was getting a divorce, she said it had nothing to do with Nonso. The narrator wondered if only Nonso was worthy of being a reason.
Again, the narrator sees that she's unable to create change in her family like Nonso is, even in death. She's extremely aware of, and upset about, her own lack of power.
Themes
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The tomorrow narrator's mother then asked how Nonso died. The narrator told her mother that Grandmama had asked Nonso to climb the avocado tree, and when Nonso was at the top, Grandmama jokingly told Nonso that the echi eketa was close to him. Nonso slipped, fell, and lay breathing on the ground while Grandmama yelled at him until he died. The narrator's mother screamed and called the narrator's father, accusing Grandmama of letting their son die. The narrator's father spoke to the narrator later, and seemed to know that the narrator lied.
The reader is told very quickly that this version of events isn't true. However, even though this is a lie that came from the narrator, it appears as though she finally is able to create change and have some power within her family by inciting anger in her mother and painting her grandmother as the bad guy. Notice too that in this version of events, the narrator even punishes Nonso by making him suffer before he dies.
Themes
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Earlier that summer, the tomorrow narrator had realized that something had to happen to Nonso so that she could survive. The narrator came up with the idea of scaring Nonso, and she told Dozie that Nonso needed to get hurt so that he was less loveable. While Grandmama was inside, the narrator suggested Nonso climb the avocado tree. Nonso was heavy from eating all of Grandmama's food. Grandmama constantly reminded the children that she made the food for Nonso, as if the narrator wasn't there. When Nonso reached the top of the tree, the narrator screamed that there was a snake. Nonso slipped, fell, and died instantly. The narrator and Dozie looked at Nonso's body for a long time before the narrator called Grandmama.
Note that the reasoning behind narrator's plan is based on the idea that Nonso is perfect and therefore worthy of love, while she and Dozie aren't perfect and are therefore unworthy of love or attention. However, the narrator's plan means going against her family role in several ways: first, it means destroying her older brother, and second, it shows a female taking control that's not considered appropriate for her to have. The plan is too successful when Nonso dies, which shows that violating those familial roles can have disastrous consequences.
Themes
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The tomorrow narrator thinks about Dozie saying that she hated Grandmama. She thinks about the months after Nonso's death, as she waited for her mother to notice her and laugh, but her mother never laughed. Dozie says he's started dreaming about Nonso, and the narrator asks Dozie what he wanted that summer.
The narrator's plan ultimately didn't work; her mother never loved her like she loved Nonso. Dozie seems to dwell on the guilt of his complicity in Nonso's death, while the narrator seems more caught up in the fact that she wasn't successful.
Themes
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Dozie comes up behind the tomorrow narrator and says that he only cared what the narrator wanted. He asks the narrator if she dreams of Nonso too, and she says she doesn't. The narrator wants to tell him about the pain and emptiness she feels, but Dozie walks away and leaves the narrator crying.
Even 18 years later, the narrator's plan still hasn't achieved what she wanted it to. Dozie seems unwilling or unable to love her now, she never received love from her mother or grandmother, and now she has to live with the bitter knowledge that this is all her own doing.
Themes
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