21 Psychological

The Thing Around Your Neck: A Collar of Re-Vision and Self-Actualization

Logan White

“It wasn’t just your parents you wanted to write to, it was your friends and cousins and aunts and uncles…you wrote to nobody.”

–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The main character was writing to someone in fact, she was writing to herself just as the author of The Thing Around Your Neck: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote to herself in this short narrative. The why’s of the author writing to themselves come from a myriad of locations but I want to demonstrate the location of the psychological need of self-actualization met in Adichie’s writing. In The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author fulfills her need for self-actualization by establishing her identity through the process of re-vision, as evidenced by the demographic and esteem insights provided by Adrienne Rich’s When we dead Awaken and Liedeke Plates Remembering the future. This is further supported by the findings of Rather & Khan’s study on emotional intelligence and self-actualization, as well as the application of Maslow’s motivations hierarchy in the work of creative writers, as discussed by Robert J. Taormina and Jennifer H. Gao.  Adichie is reflectively writing about herself and her emotions as most writers do, this comes from the psychological needs all humans have which is no exception to great writers. To be specific in cultivating a new significance and insight into Adichie’s work, we need to pinpoint areas the character shows reflection in the author, how that affects the writing style, and how that specific writing fulfills a hierarchical need in the author.

The story is told from Akunna’s perspective, the main character who seems to share a decent amount in common with the author who both immigrated from Nigeria, who wrote and enrolled in college soon after immigrating to the United States. Now the similarities don’t finish there but the expression of an immigrant’s experience and the emotions involved are what much of the story boils down to. The immigrants’ experiences are around every turn in this short story from the characters’ reaction to Akunna or more importantly Akunna’s reaction to the world, culture, and other characters. There is an eviscerating part of the story where the reader is faced with Akunna’s uncle sexually assaulting her representing a very strong emotion but is also followed by this expression, “If you let him, he would do many things for you. Smart women did it all the time. How did you think those women back home in Lagos with well-paying jobs made it? Even women in New York City?” (Adichie 3) These assumptions on a woman’s role, or her identity or what autonomy she should have over her own body were depressing but the author obviously had intention in writing about those internal thoughts and assumptions. In the case of those assumptions, I want to look at Re-Vision starting in the article When We Dead Awaken, “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for woman, is more than a search for identity; it is part of her refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society.” (Rich 18) The self-destruction in action where the circumstance of our main character and internal monologue is emblematic of that re-vision taking place along with those challenges of assumptions. The self-knowledge of Adichie in her background is evident in her writing but I agree further in the When we Dead Awaken article where it states, “ at this moment for women writers in particular, there is the challenge and promise of a whole new psychic geography to be explored.”(Rich 19) Writing this story Adichie is exploring that psychic geography and following that drive to self-knowledge. Putting those emotions on the page proves that self-knowledge as well as the geography of understanding the roles women are cast into and the geography of trauma in that role.

I fell in love with how this line just clicked into place when framing the story with re-vision in the article Whatever happened to Re-Vision, “there is always another side to every story. As a result, the past is no longer this distant “foreign” country but a space open to multiple revisits from the perspective of the present.” (Plate 390) Revisiting those spaces is important and is exactly what this story lets the reader and author do. Revisit from a present perspective. I love how this quote references re-vision but fits perfectly with how writing in the story connects the main character with the “foreign” country of Nigeria. The form and application only go to show the process of Re-Vision active in Adichies’s work. To revisit and elaborate on spaces from the past gives an important segway on why the author would perform those tasks. In A correlational study on emotional intelligence and self-actualization of creative writers, I found characteristics such as redefinition and elaboration were associated and involved in the creative process. This greatly benefits the creative process while the study also showed that subjects have higher satisfactions who rated their careers as highly creative which would equate to their needs being met. The major takeaway from the article was how self-actualized people are secure to express in a non-aggressive and effective way. I could not think of a much more effective and non-aggressive form of expression than the narrative writing found in The Thing Around Your Neck.

All of this re-vision and expression fuels those psychological needs, defining the specific fire we are fueling moves into the Maslow and the Motivation Hierarchy article which aptly gives amazing definitions of physiological, safety-security, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization. It takes those definitions to place into a rebuilt study based on the insufficiencies of other studies to give insight into major correlations and reinforce the hierarchical nature of those needs. To start in building the framework for the needs it defines it as, “That a “thing” itself, is not a need; instead, the thing, when it is lacking, creates the need that is felt by the organism.” (Taormina 156). The lack of esteem or self-actualization would create the feeling of need felt by Adichie.

To hone in on esteem, the article conveys the definition of, “a person’s attitudinal evaluation of and the respect he or she has for his or her own nature or character and the related feelings of one’s worthiness, merit, or value as a person.” (Taormina 158-159). Focusing on that evaluation and respect for the authors own character it can be easily found how re-vision and writing as processes are contributing to fulfilling that need.

Based on the study on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs it’s found that if you contribute to one need you’re contributing to them all because of the correlations found in that study; if you have one you are more likely to have the others met. Self-esteem would lead right into self-actualization. Self-actualization can be difficult to define because if we look at it as exactly what Maslow characterization of people who were self-actualized are, we find it wasn’t based on their inherent characteristics but instead their values, “involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves” (Taormina 159) That form of expression and re-vision representing perspectives larger than just the authors experience fall right in line with Maslow’s expressed definition but if we want absolute objectivity because story is half science and half art, in evaluating it we must find some objectivity in definitions such as the one it provided later in the article. “ the process of a person becoming what he or she really and uniquely, that is, idiosyncratically, is (where idiosyncratic refers to “individual disposition; A peculiarity of constitution or temperament particular to a person.” (160) Now that process is absolutely an extension of writing. When someone writes it has them use introspection and evaluation in everything they share and everything they hear from themselves in their writing. We could explore all day how Re-Vision fits into self-actualization because we need to understand who we are. Aptly summed up by this quote at the end of the definitions, “This definition delineates the true self from what society tells us we ought to be.” (160) This story tells so much of what the process of immigration or gender roles, or sexual interactions tell a woman, tell a Nigerian, tell an immigrant, tell an author what they ought to be.  We ought to use every tool in our belt to feel self-actualized and becoming self-actualized through writing is beautifully exemplified in The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

In writing Adichie, shows an expression and exploration of facets of her own identity through an authentic literary work while using specific perspectives in writing such being a woman which we see the effects of Re-vision on her writing. To find authenticity in the authors work, to watch the author represent her identity through her work rather than work based on what other authors or other people might tell her what she ought to be. To watch those processes of characters and in turn authors become what they and uniquely are is imperative in finding insight on our own paths to self-actualization but also in any second look at Adichie’s work.

Works Cited

Plate, Liedeke. “Remembering the Future; or, Whatever Happened to Re‐Vision?” Signs, vol. 33, no. 2, 2008, pp. 389–411. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.1086/521054. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.

Rather, Manzoor Ahmad, and Mahmood Ahmad Khan. “A Correlational Study on Emotional Intelligence and Self-Actualization of Creative Writers.” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, vol. 11, no. 4, Dec. 2020, pp. 308–12. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cpid&custid=ns149246&db=a9h&AN=148893813&site=ehost-live.

Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision.” College English, vol. 34, no. 1, 1972, pp. 18–30. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/375215. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.

Taormina, Robert J., and Jennifer H. Gao. “Maslow and the Motivation Hierarchy: Measuring Satisfaction of the Needs.” The American Journal of Psychology, vol. 126, no. 2, 2013, pp. 155–77. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.5406/amerjpsyc.126.2.0155. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.

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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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