Style of writing
The language used by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the short story “The American Embassy” highlights the woman’s trauma of seeing her son get killed by government agents.
Throughout the narrative, the woman is mostly silent and passive or has difficulty answering questions:
When the man standing behind her tapped her on the back and asked, ‘Do you have change, abeg, two tens for twenty naira?’ she stared at him for a while, to focus, to remember where she was, before she shook her head and said, ‘No’. (p. 80, ll. 8-11)
The woman is silent whenever the man behind her pushes her to look around or comments on the corruption of the American embassy. However, the woman is clearly disturbed by the voices around her, which suggests that she is stuck thinking about her son: “She wished he would shut up. It was his talking that made it harder to keep her mind blank, free of Ugonna” (p. 81, ll. 37-39).
The woman’s passiveness contrasts with the imperatives that give her orders and tell her what to do and how to act:
Don’t falter as you answer the questions, the voices had said. Tell them all about Ugonna, what he was like, but don’t overdo it, because every day people lie to them to get asylum visas, about dead relatives that were never even born. Make Ugonna real. Cry, but don’t cry too much. (p. 83, ll. 25-29)
The voices of those around her confuse the woman, who is unable to block memories of her son and to provide an impersonal yet sensational story that could help her obtain the visa.
When it comes to the choice of words, the story contains several Nigerian words and expressions, like “abeg” (p. 80, l. 9), “Oga” (p. 83, l. 11), “abi” (p. 83, l. 18), which give the t...