The short story, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, displays the pivotal moment the narrator, Akunna, a resolute young woman of Nigerian descent, confronts the reality of how culture compels individuals to alter their perspectives on ethnicity and relationships.Within a typical American cosmopolitan setting, Adichie explores the precarious relationship between dominant culture and its impact on an individual’s relationships, leaving the reader with an overwhelming sense of culpability towards the events recounted through an ironic distance of the second-person narrative perspective. In doing so she calls into question the characters’ ability to dictate their own storylines under the powerful forces of culture and stereotype that transcend the ability of individual reason. All this is told through the eyes of a narrator that seems to want to distance herself from such momentous events that have stigmatised her, adding to the notion that culture greatly influences the perspective of those around us.
The author explores how the rigid dichotomy between two cultural upbringings transpires in the form of a conflict in the narrator’s relationship. Through the symbolism of presents as objects embodying the boyfriend’s cultural upbringing ,Adichie emphasizes the character’s inherent disposition towards the notion that Akunna, just like any other woman from a less privileged society, wishes to embrace an American identity and is craving for acceptance in the culturally newfound society. Akunna, on the other hand, starts to feel gauche and insecure over her boyfriend’s ways of reciprocating her affection. She comments on her boyfriend’s speech in a matter-of-fact, somewhat detached manner,”but hastily added that the old man had given a lot away.” Akunna’s description tells the reader of her frustration towards, what she perceives to be, her boyfriends outright denial to acknowledge that there exists a block in their interracial relationship. Akunna’s strong dismissal of her companion’s persistent attempts to impose, what she assumes to be a profound change in cultural identity run in conflict with the boyfriend’s perspective that she desperately wishes to get accustomed to American culture. This results in a seemingly unbridgeable cultural abyss: “his presents mystified you”. The word “mystify” conveys Akunna’s inability to comprehend the necessity behind the presents, as a result of which a tense exchange between the narrator and her companion ensues: “your voice stretched in irony, that in your life presents were always useful.” Akunna states disturbingly that she found no purpose to be receiving those presents. The unsettled tone conveys Akunna’s apprehension towards accepting those presents , as though it were imposing an immense cultural drift. She is unaware of her boyfriend’s predisposed mentality towards women of societies such as Africa, and believes that on the pretext of giving her presents her boyfriend is uncomfortable with her cultural identity, wishes to make her more ‘American’. This makes her susceptible to inhibitions with regards to her boyfriend’s true affection for her and his acceptance of her cultural identity.
The boyfriend’s prejudiced view stems from the dominant culture influencing his perspective that all African women have an ardent desire to seek the similar pompous relationship status that American women possess.This is due to the idea that immigrants from less privileged nations have made a choice to enter their country looking for escape and are almost in a fraudulent manner, desperate to become a part of their culture. On the other hand, Akunna’s unyielding behaviour towards the cultural upbringing of her boyfriend, and by extension America, is built upon a perception embedded into her mind by her parents and ‘uncle’; that of “give and take”. Akunna is fearful of deserting her cultural upbringing and values in order gain in return, a cultural identity that’s part of the flock but not true to herself. In Akunna’s words, “where he went to gawk at the lives of people….never gawk back at his life”. The narrator in these words considers herself to be victimised by a seemingly hostile culture that is being imposed on her through culture-biased interactions in her relationships in the United States. The accusatory tone in the narrator’s speech draws a sharp and parallel between “his” life, representative of the boyfriend’s perspective and “the lives of people”, where Akunna consciously chooses to consider herself part of those “people”, moreover representing their bearing on her boyfriend’s ‘self-righteous” proclamation.