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Adichie and Alexie: The Resistance to the Single Story, Article Review Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1426

Article Review

The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s assumes a critical stance towards what she terms the concept of a “single story.” In short, the single story can be understood as a simplified narrative of a cultural or ethnic group, according to which the image of this group is reduced to a basic and particular aspect, quality or trait. Following the perpetuation of the single story, outsiders come to view the group entirely in terms of this basic aspect. As Adichie elegantly phrases this concept “that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become” (2009). Adichie’s concept of the single story therefore basically implies a form of prejudice and stereotyping, which informs our views of, for example, race and ethnicity. The multiplicity and complexity of individual lives are thereby reduced to a singular stereotype about these same lives.  (explanation of what single story is) This is an undesired and unsophisticated approach to looking at the world, precisely because it omits the diversity that constitutes all of us. In this regard, it can be argued that the single story itself is a form of dehumanization. Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (full name and book title) may be viewed as a critique of the single story. Alexie particularly intends with her work to debunk single stories surrounding Native Americans. Accordingly, the author wishes to provide a more complex and nuanced view of the Native American, separating them from particular stereotypes and essentially restoring their humanity through his literature. In particular, Alexie’s story can be viewed as challenging the narrative of poverty and primitivism associated with Native American culture. (identify which single story) As the main protagonist of his work is introverted, dedicated to reading and drawing, Alexie wishes to show an artistic side to the Native American which is often overlooked, such that his critique of the single story brings to the reader the image of the Native American as sensitive, intellectual and ultimately humanistic. (thesis)

In Alexie’s work, the Native American occupies a disadvantaged social and economic position on the North American continent. (paragraph 1, point)

Following this disadvantaged position, various singular stories about Indian culture simultaneously emerge, which are expressions of the essential dehumanization that occurs when an entire culture is reduced to a single narrative that falsely explains their existence. Furthermore, this singular story infects the Native Americans’ own view of themselves, such that Alexie can be said to a go a step further in his concept of the singular story, as he understands how one can believe the singular stories about one’s own culture:

“It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor.

You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then

you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And

because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an

ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.” (Alexie, 2001, p. 13) (example)

Alexie thus explains the complicated structure that the singular story can take, as a minority begins to believe the stereotypes themselves. This demonstrates how power is behind the singular story, since the disadvantaged begin believing that it is not the system that has put them in their position, but rather that they themselves are responsible. The singular story thus possesses an infecting quality that reduces self-esteem and encourages this dehumanization and feeling of less worth.(explanation)

Alexie’s work can therefore be understood as an attempt by the author to reverse this single story. He will attempt to show the beauty and creativity of Native American life, in order to unmask the singular story as a fiction. (body: proving the main point) Hence, Alexie will, for example, stress the creativity and intelligence of the parents of the protagonist. Both mother and father are inclined to intellectual and artistic pursuits. As Alexie (2001) describes them:

“I know my mother and father had their dreams…Given the change, my

mother would have gone to college. She still reads books like crazy….given

the chance, my father would have been a musician….And he sounds good.

Like a prose. Like he should be on the radio.” (pp. 11-13)

Thus, when discussing his mother, the intellectuality of the Native American is stressed. The single story which Alexie explicitly mentioned, of Native Americans being “stupid”, is challenged by the account of the mother’s avid mind for reading and the acquisition of knowledge. Furthermore, the musicianship of the father symbolizes an artistic and creative desire, as he is portrayed as someone, who having been given the opportunity would have been able to realize this creativity in a public space. Yet the suffocating system of the reservation and the dire economic straits of the characters portrayed makes such aspirations impossible. The structure of the system is too rigid in terms of its class and racial boundaries, to allow for such freedom in the pursuit of ambition. In addition, the ideology of the single story aims to provide a faulty logic for this lack of freedom. It thus, on the one hand, justifies the existing social system by explaining that the disadvantaged position of the weakest members of this society are not a product of the society itself. The single story therefore functions in a manner in which those who have power spread this single vision in an attempt to maintain their advantageous position. With the portrayal of the protagonist’s parents, Alexie realizes how the single story can used as a false justification for a social society, as the society tries to trumpet its inherent justness, blaming its weaknesses not on itself.

 Conclusion

As Adichie notes, however, the single story is not the only type of story possible. Hence, Adichie (2009) writes that “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.” Alexie’s Diary attempts to do just that. The diary strives to break the reductive story of the Indian to poverty and the understanding of the entire Native American culture in terms of their economic destitution with a contrasting account that shows the humanity of the Native Americans, their various dreams and aspirations. Much like the parents, the protagonist also possesses unique dreams for the future: “I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me.” (Alexie, 2001, p. 6) The single story is fundamentally restricted in its nature: it does not allow for communication between groups, creating segregation based on particular stereotypes. To combat the single story means to open a dialogue with the rest of the world, a dialogue that the single story attempts to stop with its essential structure of a monologue. To communicate with the world means that one speaks for oneself: the single story is a one-sided discourse, in which only those in power within the social structure are given a voice. For Alexie, the act of writing and drawing is an opposition to this structure, because it opens this dialogue and challenges stereotypes by offering an alternative view into the culture or group that is oppressed by this single story.

Alexie thus attempts to create a more complex image of the Native American and close the imaginary social gaps between ethnic and cultural groups. By emphasizing dreams, personal struggles, and deeply humane stories in his work, Alexie introduces the Native American into the greater community by showing a certain universal quality that transcends the simplified structure of the single story. By demonstrating the diverse number of characters and personalities that inhabit the reservation, Alexie explicitly combats the reductionism of prejudice, thus forcing the reader to re-evaluate the social structure in which we live, while also becoming conscious of the single stories that perpetuate this same structure. By emphasizing art and creativity, Alexie furthermore demonstrates what Adichie considers to be the emancipatory potential of stories themselves. In other words, just because single stories exist, this does not mean that other forms of narrative cannot exist. And by creating more diverse and more human narratives, one is able to resist these predetermined images and open a space for a dialogue that has the potential to transform the greater social structure.

Works cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. (2009). “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Alexie, Sherman. (2001). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Native American.

New York: Little, Brown & Company.

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