The working title for my dissertation is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Existing in Literature. It looks at gender, race and disability in literature. I am using Adichie’s work as the focus of my topic but I will also be using other writers to illustrate these points. The core texts by Adichie are Purple Hibiscus, Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun and Thing Around Your Neck. This book is a collection of short stories so I will be using a sample of them in my writing. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003. It is set in post colonial Nigeria. It is the story of fifteen year Kambili Achike and her brother Jaja. They come from a wealthy family dominated by her devoutly Catholic father, Eugene. Eugene is both a religious zealot and a violent man. Because it is set in post colonial Nigeria it deals with many of the issues of race that I would like to discuss in my thesis. The fact that it is also told through the eyes of a child is also very useful. These issues stand out more and resonate with the reader because everyone can relate to the voice of a child no matter what age they are.
The second book that I will be looking at is Half of a Yellow Sun. This is her most famous novel. It has recently been made into a feature film staring Thandie Newton. The book was published in 2006 and it won the Orange Prize for Fiction. It is once again set in Nigeria during the time of the Biafran war in the 1960’s. It looks at the effect of the war on Nigeria. It examines how little notice the rest of the world took to the plight of the Nigerian people. The two main characters are sisters. This book will be useful because it examines these women lives by exploring themes of race and gender. Another one of the main characters is an English man named Richard. The perspective of an outsider is also very beneficial for my writing because it looks at the contrast between Nigeria and an empire like England. The differences between the way these characters are treated in society are of course very stark. This will allow me to demonstrate to the reader how people of a different race and gender were treated at the time this book is set.
Adichie’s book The Thing Around Your Neck is a very varied collection of stories that also deals with all of these with themes. I will need to select them carefully and choose the best and most appropriate stories that advances my writing. The fourth and most recently published book Americanah was written in 2013. The book was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. It won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award and it was shortlisted for the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
It is different to other books because it is a love story. The characters are again Nigerian but the story travels to many other places. This allows the reader to see the characters interacting with people from outside their cultures. This is useful to me because it is a modern account of race. The book follows these characters who leave their home in Nigeria and travel to the West. I think that it is very useful to use Nigeria as a starting point when looking at the subject of race because it is an african country. African culture is often misrepresented in literature. It is very different to our own and that often leaves it open to misinterpretation and generalisations that leave out too much of the story. This can leave the reader with a very narrow view point. I hope to be able to expand the readers mind as well as my own and help to fill some of the gaps that have been left out in other accounts of African culture. The fact that this novel is set in such a modern times helps my writing because I can give a more accurate account of race and gender nowadays. I am using these texts because I believe that Adichie’s work explains the point I am trying to make in my thesis really well. I have read all of Adichie’s novels but I am looking forward to re-examining them over the next few months with my thesis question in mind.
I am also going to explore some of the writers that Adichie says influenced her writing. One such writer is Chinua Achebe. He has had a profound affect on Adichie’s writing. His most famous book Things Fall Apart is the story of a yam farmer named Okonkwo who lives during the colonisation of Nigeria. This book and another of Achebe’s called Arrow of God will provide me with another example of life in an African country. I want to be able to give an accurate account of the representation of race in these stories. The fact that Achebe is a male writer is also useful because it will give me a male and female perspective.
As I mentioned in my introduction disability is also one of the main topics in my thesis. Adichie’s work does not cover this issue directly. However many of the issues that arise when she writes about race are similar. Therefore I will have to expand my search outside of her work. I have recently been introduced to a writer called Tom Shakespeare. He is a sociologist that has written many books on these topics. I am currently looking at his research. I have so much more to read but so far I am really interested in his work. It touches on issues of feminism and anti-racism as wll. The things that he talks about explore many of the issues I hope to cover in my thesis. Some of his writing includes a book called Disability Right’s and Wrongs. He later revised this book, Disability Right’s and Wrongs Revised. Here Shakespeare examines disability in terms of the social model and how inaccurate it can be. I hope to argue that this approach adds to the singular representation of people with disabilities in modern literature.
Through my research I discovered many other books that will aid me in my writing. The first is a book called Gendering Disability by Adrienne Asch. This book examines gender and disability roles and allows the reader to see how society stereotypes these groups. Society often believes that putting people into boxes helps us to understand things better but really it hinders us. These boxes make it harder for us to see the real truth. This leads us to a lot of hurt and misunderstanding. I hope to use Asch’s book to dispher some of these myth’s. Another book by the same author called Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics goes into further details about women with disabilities and the general perceptions that are out there. This book is useful because it includes a lot of psychological statistics as well as personal accounts. I will also be looking at Feminist Disability Studies. This book explores both feminist theory and disability studies. It examines what is considered normal in society when it comes to functionality and appearance.
I hope to use these books to help me to illustrate how social norms have impacted on popular culture. I want to examine story telling and how it is constructed. A book that has been really fascinating to me is called Diversity in Disney Films: Critical Essays on Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Sexuality and Disability. This book looks at classical fairy tales that we all grew up with and challenges their representation of Race, Gender and Disability. These works along with Gendering Disability by Jacob Jutta have helped me to challenge my own perceptions of these issues as well as trying to show others. These are the key aspects of my dissertation and so I am very interested in writing about what I have learned from these texts. I know that I have only scratched the surface. There is so much more to learn and I look forward to discovering more as I continue to explore the material.