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Anthology Breakdown:
The Danger of A Single Story

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The speech was originally delivered at TED Global in 2009.

 

Summary:

  •  The anthology is about the dangers of understanding only one perspective and stereotypes in the media. It encourages inclusiveness and the impact of it on people. She talks about the dangers of a one-dimensional viewpoint (the only story she knew).

  • For example, when she visited Fide’s house, she was overcome with shock as she didn’t expect that her family could make something because all she heard was how poor they were, therefore, “it became impossible for her to see them as anything but poor. Their poverty was my single story for them.

  • She experienced being stereotyped and also bought into the single story of Mexicans.  

  • She says “That is how you create a single story, show people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over, and that’s what they become.

  • ● Adichie explains how stories matter as they can promote peace. They affect our views and how we feel toward a certain situation as we are impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story.

Structure:

  • It is a formal speech delivered at a TED conference. The structure reflects this. It follows the pattern of most speeches with an introduction, exposition and conclusion.

  • In the introduction, Adichie introduces herself and sentences are short and language is clear and direct. This is because she wants the audience to understand and focus on the fact that she is a storyteller and is, therefore, well-versed in the topic that she is talking about.

  •  She introduces irony and humour in paragraph 2 and so the audience is engaged and slowly understands her character. “My poor mother was obligated to read” The humour used here brings a light-hearted tone to her speech but underlying all of that is a really important message that she wants the audience to take seriously.

  • The purpose has been made clear in the exposition part of her speech. It is informative and explains the purpose of the talk. This can be seen when she justifies her points with “because”.

  • Much of this section takes the form of personal anecdotes and how they affected the way she thought. ● The one-sentence paragraph helps reflect the limited view. “She assumed that I didn’t know how to use a stove”

  • Parallel structure- “my roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe.”It draws attention to the one word that has changed. This suggests that the roommate saw Africa as a place of catastrophe. It also highlights the limited view.

Meaning:  

  • Stereotyping can affect people’s views, especially when it comes to how they are portrayed in the media. The speech is informative and interesting as she uses personal anecdotes to express her thoughts on the dangers of a one-dimensional view.

Imagery:

  • She describes stereotypical Africa as poor and uncivilised with tribes and poverty.

  • You can also visualise Fide’s house- “Beautifully-patterned basket made of dried raffia that his brother made.”

  • When she describes what she visualised Mexico to be like: “There were endless stories of Mexicans as people who were fleecing the healthcare system, sneaking across the border, being arrested at the border, that sort of thing.”-negative image.

  •  After visiting Mexico, it opened her eyes to how the country really is and how she was guilty in the question of a single story. “I remember walking around on my first day in Guadalajara, watching the people going to work, rolling up tortillas in the marketplace, smoking, laughing. I remember first feeling slight surprise. And then, I was overwhelmed with shame.” - much more of a positive image.

  •  Imagery is also displayed when she says “They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained.” The imagery illustrates the tranquillity of the people that was regained because of a story that was accurate in nature

Language:

  • The language used throughout is formal with a conversational tone.

  • In the title- she uses “story” as a metaphor for stereotypes.

  • The use of the word danger explains Adichie’s first argument ie: a single story can be harmful and can lead to a great misunderstanding of different cultures etc. It foreshadows the main argument. The title has a cautionary tone to it.

  • Adichie uses pathos to appeal to the reader as she uses emotion as a way of convincing the audience through her anecdotes.

  • In the introduction- “I’m a storyteller”- the personal pronoun used engages the audience.

  • “Few personal stories” - personal anecdotes coming up. “The danger of a single story”- juxtaposes and gives a cautionary tone, reminding the reader that what she’s about to say is important.

  • “Although I think four is probably close to the truth” - Her honesty and modesty make her appealing to the audience. The audience is more likely to listen and accept what she says. Ethos can be seen here (establishes credibility).

  • “my poor mother was obligated to read”- Pathos is in the form of humour which makes the Adichie more likeable.

  • She lists “all my characters were white and blue-eyes…” - listing here emphasises the monotony of the type of stories she was reading and the how uninspiring it was.

  • Adichie juxtaposes (antithesis) how different her life was compared to the stories she read.

  • “Impressionable and vulnerable”- Emotive language is used. The tone is just becoming more serious. She wants the audience to reflect on the harmfulness of these stories.

  • She uses the collective pronoun “we”- she’s trying to encourage a sense of unity with the audience.

  •  “Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye” - Adichie establishes credibility by mentioning these authors of African origin, proving that she’d well-read.

  •  “Unintended” the language choice here creates an empathetic tone- this makes her sound not bitter and more friendly as she wants to engage the audience.

  • The punctuation used “: it saved me from having a single story of what books are.- draws attention to the following clause. ● “Mariah Carey” using popular culture as a contrast- humour (engages the audience)

  • Well-meaning pity- carefully selecting language choice which creates an empathetic tone.

  • Anaphora “no possibility”- it emphasises the dangers of patronising.

  • She critiques herself and says that she’s “guilty” of accepting a single story. She’s suggesting this shared responsibility.

  •  “Fleecing”, “sneaking”. The words have negative connotations and highlight how negatively the media portrays Mexicans (and other cultures).

  • Use of repetition: “as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again...”- emphasises that it is a cultural problem. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

  •  “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign “ the juxtaposition emphasises both sides and the great possibilities of stories if they are told correctly.

  • The anaphora of “when we” in the last paragraph. The collective pronoun highlights shared responsibility

Effect on the reader:

  • The speech has a striking effect on the reader as they are engaged throughout. The formal, light-hearted conversational tone and use of ethos and pathos appeal to the audience. The emotive language and collective pronouns used encourages a sense of unity with the audience.

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