The Danger of a Single Story

Key:

Language

Tone

Structue

How the writer describes her childhood

  • 'My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth.' The writer's use of this shows how the writer had a good education, and also makes us feel closer to her through the use of an amusing anecdote about her mother.

  • 'I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: all my characters were white and blue-eyed' for Adichie shows how even she favoured  Western characters of, as through books she effectively grew up with a Western culture of reading.

  • 'I had become convinced that books [...] had to be about things with which I could not personally identify.' This shows how the young Adichie had become convinced of her own marginalisation through the books which she had read, accepting this as normal.  Stories to her were purely fantasy, rather than reality.

  • 'I came from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family.' This shows the writer’s own privilege when compared to others, and may contradict the stereotypes than some readers might have through their own ‘single story’ of Africa and Nigeria.   This is particularly emphasized in this fact that she is extremely ‘conventional’, and uses a tricolon of adjectives to emphasize this fact further.

  • 'We got a new farm boy [...] I felt enormous pity for Fide' showing how even she had created a ‘single story’ of another, less fortunate family.  There is also a more insidious judgement here, that she is surprised that Fide’s family can create things of beauty. It suggests that either she did not think they had the luxury of appreciating beautiful things, or that poverty also equates to a lack of culture and talent.

How the writer is stereotyped

  • 'She asked if she could listen to what she called my "tribal music" [...] This shows the racist assumptions which her roommate made about her, ‘tribal’ being a particularly reductive word.  

  • Adichie uses these examples to emphasize how her roommate stereotypes her when she came to university, using examples that make the reader feel sorry for her and slightly outraged on her behalf that she was asked such embarrassing questions and assumed to be so ignorant. 'Tribal music' is in quotes to show how it is such a stereotyped concept and to mark it out as something which the writer is mocking the assumption of. Short sentences here are used to express how shocked and saddened she was made by these incidents.

  • 'She had felt sorry for me before she saw me [...] My roommate had a single story of Africa.' This makes us understand that everyone stereotypes people, whether they know it or not. 'Before she saw me' shows the entrenched cultural ideas which children get without even knowing it. 'A single story of Africa' is itself reductive, as it gives everyone one identity, even though Africa is made up of numerous countries and cultures. Alliteration in 'single story' which makes it a catchy phrase to repeat throughout the extract and have the reader remember.

  • How she stereotypes other people as well 'I remember first feeling slight surprise.' The writer goes on to show her own guilt of stereotyping people when she visited Mexico, recalling her personal experience. This informs the reader that it is not only Americans or Western people who use stereotypes, but instead it is everyone. She implies that the news and the government also form a false impression, even though they are meant to inform. This then could be thought of as irony.

 

The power of storytelling

  • 'how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children'. The power of storytelling is often conveyed via figurative language, here telling us that children are more 'impressionable' as they know little of the world. 'Vulnerable' implies that they are open to ideas which may be bad for them, whilst 'in the face of a story' uses personification to make the story seem more immediate and more threatening for the children.

  • 'But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye, I went through a mental shift'. Again, Adichie uses figurative language of 'mental shift' to convey how reading writers from her own culture completely changed her mind and her outlook on life, as though it changed the whole world around her.

  • 'They opened up new worlds for me.' The previous point is made even stronger in this quote, as it suggests that reading books can metaphorically open up whole new landscapes as well as new mental worlds of understanding. Exaggeration.

  • 'So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.' On the one hand, having a single story is bad because it makes you stereotype others, but it also it makes you stereotype stories, reducing their power. Emphatic language is used in 'it saved me', by making it sound like a life or death situation, making the stakes much higher and making her discovery of new writers much more dramatic. Also makes the idea of having a single story seem much more perilous.

  • 'Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.' In the first two sentences here, Adichie uses extremely short sentences in order to make her point and exaggerate it, catching the reader's attention again. Uses juxtaposition of the terrible things stories can do and the good things to create a contrast and to emphasize how powerful stories are, and the immense effect they can have on people's lives, both able to 'dispossess' them and to 'empower' them.

 

Structure

  • 'I'm a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call “the danger of the single story.’  Contrast between the few personal stories and the danger of a single story. Anecdotal structure (a few personal stories) is used so that her own account of her life and her experiences isn’t reductive and doesn’t fall into the trap either philosophically or structurally of only having one single story.

  • 'Now things changed when I discovered African books.'  Writer uses frequent turns of phrase at the start of times to make it seem as though we are experiencing things alongside her.  

  • Repetition of phrase 'single story', relate this to the anecdotal structure, hammers home the idea that this is the major point of her talk.

  • 'when we realize there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.'  The last sentence here use of collective pronoun ‘we’ in order to make us feel more involved, gets us to think about it and includes the speaker with the audience to make them feel closer to her.   ‘We regain a kind of paradise’ is extremely powerful as it uses hyperbolic language to suggest we can regain what we have lost in creating a single narrative. Also has subtle moral connotations as well, suggesting that we have sinned by having only a single story and to have multiple stories would be to morally put that right.  

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