Adichie and King’s Critiques of the Power of the Story, especially the Single Story
Many stories matter to our lives and our ways of thinking. A story is the only way to activate part of our brain and then make the listeners turn the story into their own idea and experience (Widrich 4). As we know, our lives and our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories. When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Once we have heard a story, we may always make it as our own knowledge. Then we would like to retell this story to others by verbal form, or turn it into a show or a movie. Every time we retell a story, we like to change some details into what we want or the way we understand. As a result, after the story has being retold a thousand times, the story may be changed into a different story. If we take in all the stories we have heard, then we might risk a misunderstanding adventure. Think about that: if our president gives a speech without any researches and just from others’ stories, then how would people think about him. His speech would just be a joke, and will lose credibility. Therefore, we need to be very careful about the story we heard and the story we are going to tell others, especially if it is a single story. In some cases, the dominant story often becomes a single story, which makes the story be curious and dangerous. Chimamanda Adichie and Thomas King both showed us the importance of the story and the danger of a single story. They showed that the single story makes the differences in people stand out.
In Chimamanda Adichie’s Tedtalk, “The Danger of Single Story,” she begins by telling us a story about what she would think about reading a novel as a child. She would then write stories that were similar to the foreign stories she had read, which contained white skinned children with blue eyes who were nothing like her. Until she found African stories is when she realized that people like her could be in stories (Adichie). Many times, we would feel the same way as Adichie felt. Stories have a power to set us in a dangerous opinion when we are talking about countries, nationalities, religions or any human group. If we hear or read stories about a part of the world, we would tend to perceive that part of the world as the stories describe the whole world. For example, Chimamanda Adichie eloquently tells us if she had not grown up in Nigeria and if all she knew about Africa were from popular images, she too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves, and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner (Adichie). However, how many of us hold the same definitions and images as Adichie’s story of Africa? Instead, many people continue to be fed the other side of those stories. Those stories describe Arica as a continent that is full of poverty, disease and the constant fighting. Thus, those stories we receive make us feel certain emotions, like pity, toward the people that live in those places. As Adichie said that stories have been used to “dispossess and to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of the people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity” (Adichie). A story is endowed with a very story power.
Adichie also warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. She said that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (Adichie). When hearing a story, the invaluable lesson is that by only hearing a fraction of the truth (whether in the media, in school, or in popular culture), we are creating damaging misrepresentations. The reason is that “when we show people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become” (Adichie). That is the consequence of the single story about a person, place, or issue. A single story is an incomplete description and it robs people of dignity and emphasizes how different people are. On the contrary, by engaging with all the stories of a person, place, or issue, the trap of a single story can be avoided. Adichie could have looked at the Mexican and the U.S. side of the immigration issue, so she would have balanced the stories and not fallen into the single story trap. Anything we have experienced, we can get others to experience the same. By simply telling as story, the world would plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into people’s mind. That is the reason why story is very powerful and we all need to be careful about every story.
In the Truth about Stories, novelist Thomas King explored how stories identify who we are and how we understand and interact with other people. From personal experiences to creation stories, King illustrate how stories have shaped and continue to shape our societies, as well as our personal mythologies and therefore our choices in life. He begins with the story about the earth and how it floats in space on the back of a turtle. People was been told that the earth was on the back of a turtle and there were infinite turtles below that turtle (King 1). It is a single story for us, but it is also very powerful for us for the reason that we could never forget this story even though it is not reality for some people, while it is a belief for others. “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (King 2), no matter they are fairy tales or nonfiction. A true story shows us our true world; a fairy tale leaves us with the hope that we can create a better world. King’s mother, for example, was living in an era when women were not welcome in the workforce. After her husband left their family alone, she had to be “visible” and self-supporting as a man. She worked very hard among a man’s world, but she was treated unfair. When she went to her supervisor for an answer on unequal treatment, she was told that if her work was good, she would get promoted at the end of the first year. Then she waited and waited for many years, and that year never came up. However she still believed that “the world as a good place where good deeds should beget good rewards” (King 4) was possible (King 2-4). It is the story that forced her how her life would be. It is also the story that she believed that gave her hope and energy to fight back the unfortunately life. The truth is that every story is endowed with power.
As for King’s father, it was another different story. King never knew why his father left his family, but his brother told their family the truth that his father had another family in another place. King would never forgive his father for deserting him and his family, so he told people that his father was dead. As King said, “a part of [him] had never been able to move past these stories, a part of [him] would be chained to these stories as long as [he lives]” (King 5-9). This story shows us how stories can control our lives and affect our minds. King was chained to this single story of his father and could not move from it. No matter what reasons or other stories he had been told later as to why his father left him, he would not heal his painful heart. Thomas King warns us that we have to be careful with the stories we tell, and we have to watch out for the stories that we are told. “Stories are wondrous thing, and they are dangerous” (King 9). Another example, King compares two creation stories: one Native and one the Christian genesis story. The Native story is very animated and full of dialog. King described in detail how the first woman fell from the sky and created the world by cooperating with other animals. It places us right in the thick of things. The Christian creation story was just told and sterner. However, this Bible creation story has in many ways become the single story. For example, other cultures like mine, we do not think the human was created by Adam and Eve. We believe in another story about how Pangu opened with body made heaven, earth, moon and stars, and how NuWa used soil and water to create man. Most western people do not know the Native creation story and other cultures’ stories, thus see others as less than the Bible story (King 10-22). “If we believe one story to be sacred, we must see the other as secular” (King 25). We would be less likely to doubt a story that is stranger to us because new things can always attract us and make us feel curious and interested. Nonetheless, we would not believe sometimes sine the stories we learnt before have already rooted in our mind and can never be replaced. This is the power of a story and how stories create a framework for understanding the world around us.
When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The power of stories identifies who we are and who we are going to be, no matter what cultures we have or what religion we believe. We are not born to know everything. All we know is from many stories that have been told over and over again. The message of seeing a culture or people from many different points of view, or from many different stories, rings true once you spend time actually there in person. We have all experienced this, and might even be unaware of the line between what we believe to be true and what is actually authentic. As educated adults, it is sometimes difficult to get our news from various sources and perspectives. We can seek out stories on-line, speak with people from both sides and analyze issued using various sources to gain understanding of many angles that compose a subject. We all need to open our eyes and look at the whole picture not the single story, since stories can create power that push us into a dangerous situation.
Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of the Single Story.” TED Talk, 2008. King, Thomas. “The truth about Stories.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2005. Widrich, Leo. “The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains.” Communication, what storytelling does to our brains, Dec 5, 2012.