The Danger of a Single Story


Adichie, Cimamanda Ngozi




Born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1977, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an internationally acclaimed writer of novels, short fiction and nonfiction. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship along with many other awards, Adichie was educated in Nigeria and in the United States, and she lives and works in both countries. Her 2008 TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story” is one of the 25 most popular TED talks of all time. Adichie begins by describing herself as a child, reading British and American children’s books populated solely by Caucasian characters. She writes of these beloved stories, “They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature.” Adichie goes on to explore the pitfalls of approaching the world in terms of any single narrative: for example, that Africa a continent defined by “catastrophe,” or that “poor people”—like the family of Fide, a boy who did domestic work for her middle-class parents—are defined solely by their poverty. Her talk raises provocative questions about power, identity, community, and how stories connect and divide us.

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Connection and RelationshipDiversity and DifferencePower and PrivilegeRace, Ethnicity and CultureSpeech and Expression

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?Why is connection important? What does it enable? What does it impede?How do we connect with those who are different from us?How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?How do we recognize sameness but acknowledge difference(s)?What assumptions do we make about others?What is power? How does it work?How does my race, culture or ethnicity shape who I am?What assumptions do we make about people from different races, ethnicities and cultures?What does it mean to have a voice?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What came to mind when you first heard Adichie’s title, “the danger of a single story”? Based on its title, what did you expect Adichie’s talk to be like?
  2. In her opening sentence, Adichie identifies herself as a storyteller. In what ways are reading and storytelling related for her? How do the stories she read as a child affect the stories she writes now?
  3. Why does being “impressionable” in the face of stories mean being “vulnerable”? Are these bad things?
  4. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” What do you think Adichie means here? Do you agree with her?
  5. How does Adichie’s account of her stereotyped view of Fide complement the story of her college roommate’s stereotyped view of Adichie herself? Would her talk as a whole have a different impact without the story of Fide and his family?
  6. How does Adichie’s willingness to share the story of Fide, and later the story of her visit to Mexico, affect her relationship with her audience—both the people in the room on the day she gave her talk and the much larger audience that would later view the video?
  7. It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.” In what ways is storytelling a form of power?
  8. In listening to the talk, did you feel a sense of connection or identification with Adichie? If so, how do you think that happened?
  9. What single stories have you heard about others? About yourself? In what way(s) are these stories incomplete?
  10. What do you think Adichie means by saying, at the end, that to reject the single story is to “regain a kind of paradise”? When a single story is rejected as untrue or impossible, what takes its place?
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