Theme and message

Table of contents

Identity

An important theme in the short story “The Headstrong Historian” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is identity and the importance of people having their own voices and their own place to belong. This theme is illustrated especially by Anikwenwa and Grace, but also through the hints we get about the relationship between Europeans and the native African populations.

When Anikwenwa arrives at the Catholic mission school, the first action of Father Shanahan is to change his name to Michael because “it was not possible to be baptized with a heathen name.” Through this action, Anikwenwa’s entire identity is erased and regarded as inferior. 

At first, Nwamgba does not seem to see anything wrong with the fact that Father Shanahan wants to call Anikwenwa “Michael”: “His name was Anikwenwa as far as she was concerned; if they wanted to name him something she could not pronounce before teaching him their language, she did not mind at all.” Nwamgba does not see the significance of the name change until Anikwenwa starts behaving like Michael, moving away from his Igbo identity and adopting an entirely European viewpoint, with a rigidity that seems extreme at times. He will pass on the same viewpoints and identity to most of his family.

Grace can be considered in many ways the opposite of Anik...

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