Growing Up in Words: Blog Post by Becky Gawn


When reading texts such as ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ and ‘Who’s Irish’ you realise you have forgotten what it is like to grow up. Everyone has their memories but being able to re-live these is easier when reading an accurate version of what truly happened. 

I had a relatively average upbringing and fitting in came easily. When thinking about what it could have been like if I was to have been placed in a different society with a different culture is overwhelming. Adichie however manages to show how it can be done and how quickly time can pass. Within five months you can both gain and loose relationships and very rarely are you unaware of the lost relationships. By showing a person taken out of her natural surroundings during a pinnacle age stresses how much can be forgotten. Contrasted with Jen who is constantly reminiscing of what a Chinese girl should be reminds us as the reader of how complex it is when trying to comply to societal norms which feel alien to those involved.  

What is achieved in Adichie’s work from providing us with a real, personal account is showing us what it is like to be a stranger. We see our protagonist leave home to her stay with an uncle (not blood related) but she wanted to remain true to herself, remember who she was and where she came from. Determined is a word I would use to describe her. The emotions felt are insinuated from her uneasiness to engage with others and create relationships. The same can be said for Jen who believe to remain true to her Chinese heritage from her references and eventually being able to live with a family she felt so conflicting to herself.   


 Keeping an account of daily interactions and emotions enables a person to look back and recount what has been and how deeply it affected them. Much like Satrapi’s work you can imagine both Adichie and Jen writing at various points of their lives and it being true to each of them. Neither have lost themselves or fallen victim to written for the audience.

 Both of these women have allowed us into their lives at varying moments and reminded us how natural it is to make mistakes. The challenges each person may face will only help to build their character but it is crucial to always remain true to oneself and remember who you are in order to tell your story, your way.  



13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Zoha Hussain on November 15, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    I really enjoyed this blog. I like how you have brought the two writers together. I think the element of writing and expression through words is important in Adichie’s story where the protagonist has this urge to write her feelings and convey them in letter form to her family.
    In both stories we have the woman who is working and I think there is subversion of gender roles that takes place in Gish Jen’s story, where the husband John simply goes to the gym. The words “because he is a man, he say, and thats the end of the sentence” highlights the rigidity and how ironically the man is still considered somehow superior to the working woman.


  2. Posted by Camara Butler on November 15, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post, particularly the way you wrote it – linking the short stories to your own life made it feel personal. You are also completely correct in that we often forget what it is like growing up. I thought the novels also deal with the struggles those from a mixed heritage or to be ‘alien’ in society can face, particularly in Gish Jen’s one.


  3. Posted by Lily Money on November 15, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    This blog was really interesting, I liked how you link the two short stories together. I felt you could see and feel the frustration between the two protagonist who were trying to adjust to the society around them and how they had to adjust themselves so they could be accepted. I agree with your statement about linking it to Satrapi’s work, I also saw parallels between Who’s Irish and Mansfield’s, Prelude. If you’re looking at the role of genders, I think there is a distinct theme running between the two.


  4. Posted by Rachel Chandar on November 15, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    I really liked your blog Becky, and I also liked how you combined the two stories together. As you mention, both Adichie and Jen’s texts are true to them, as they are somewhat realistic recounts that voice their frustration, deal with their loneliness and convey their vulnerability as they adapt to a new society. In both stories, especially in Adichie’s text, there is a certain lack of trust that anyone could relate with and understand what it feels like to struggle in their adjustment to society. The protagonists are guarded as they often feel vulnerable.


  5. Posted by Fern Dalton on November 15, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    I loved how personal you made your blog, Becky, and I think it is particularly interesting to look at both stories from a personal perspective. I couldn’t imagine being bought up with difficulties, and I feel very privileged to be where I am today and am grateful for the life that I have and I love it when stories such as this, place a twist on it and brings you back to a reality that nobody has the same situation as you and not everyone is quite as lucky.


  6. Posted by Bronagh M on November 15, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    Fab post Becky! I too loved the personal spin of this post. The majority of the texts on this course give us a window into the lives of those who are so different to us. Yet as you demonstrated, ultimately we are all human beings and can connect with each other, so we should always look for our similarities rather than our differences. I felt like there was a lot of motion within ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, yet the heroine seemed suspended in stasis, as if she were too detached from her origins, but not emmersed enough within American culture. This really made me think about identity and cultural identity struggles.


  7. Posted by Ruzina on November 15, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post. I think the one of the main themes of both texts is cultural differences. Adichie criticises the African/Nigerian migrants who move to the West and easily adopt the lifestyle which rejects their own cultural traditions. As a result, the ‘thing around your neck’ becomes a symbol of the narrator’s anxiety as she loses a part of her identity. Gish Jen clearly presents the differences between her home, China, and American traditions when the grandmother says, “In China, daughter take care of mother. Here it is the other way around.’’ Natalie, the daughter completely disregards the mother’s culture.


  8. Posted by Sara on November 15, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    This is a good response to both stories due to the way you have linked both in the essence where the revisit their accounts of struggling to adapt to their new environment. We can clearly see their struggles to maintain their own identities while trying to blend in with their environment which often clashes with their own views and leads to their burst of frustration. Do you, therefore, think that one must give up a part of their original identity and learn to adopt the identity their new environment is presenting to them in order to integrate themselves into this new society?


  9. Posted by Carmen Luis on November 16, 2017 at 12:21 am

    I great blog especially due to the fact that you made the blog much more personal to yourself. I particularly enjoyed the idea highlighted the difference in the approaches Jen and Adichie took whilst living in different cultures. Adichie relatively adapts to her new surrounding but consequently neglects her family and essentially her identity. On the other hand, Jen constantly fights a battle with her daughter and granddaughter who refuse to accept their Chinese ancestry and choose to rebel against her, hence leading her to be ostracised from her surrounding. It could be argued however that she does this to herself as her stubbornness to not conform has led to her alienation.


  10. Posted by ambermillar1995 on November 16, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    I loved this blog, Becky, your personality shines through in your writing. I find that in both of the texts, there is a really distinct narrative voice that helps the audience connect with the personal accounts they are providing us. Especially in Jen’s piece, the use of vernacular speech allows for a strong intimacy between narrator and listener and provides us with an example of a collective human, but also female, experience – exploring motherhood, societal expectations and the process of growing and changing.


  11. Posted by Georgia on December 11, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Really interesting read, I thought ‘Who’s Irish’ really demonstrated the differences in cultural norms, in terms of parenting. The use of vernacular speech brings it more to life. ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ also demonstrates the difficulties of having to adapt to a new culture which subsequently leaves her character with a fractured family life and an identity crisis.


  12. Posted by Ella Bukbardis on January 19, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    Hi Becky, great blog. I really liked the personal aspect of your writing, it really helped to build a contrast to the characters upbringing in both Adichie and Gish’s texts. I think what was also important in Adichie’s text was how she reacted to her white American boyfriend’s behaviour, as he showed eager attention to her ethical background, a true pinnacle to the characters already unsure new surroundings.


  13. This was a very interesting post. I enjoyed the link you made between the two stories in terms of environment – both express the struggles surrounding living in these areas. I found the stories touching, as they gave an insight into life in these places, something I could not possibly understand beforehand.


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