Gender Expectations in Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Being written in the first-person narrative, Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells a confession-like story of a young independent female office worker in still largely patriarchal Lagos in Nigeria. The tale of her short affair with a married and rich businessman opens a small window into a complicated world of gender roles and expectations. The main heroines rebellious behavior and unwillingness to meet the traditional societys expectations becomes the driving force of the short story.

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The story is structured as a flashback into the main heroines relationship with her lover which she experiences while waiting in the traffic jam and noticing an expensive-looking woman in the back seat of the car next to hers. The woman has the look of a person for whom things were done (Adichie) and for some reason the narrator decides she might be her lovers wife. While the narrator recollects the details of her affair with the married urbane man of forty-five who carefully slipped off his wedding-ring before he touched her, the reader finds out that the relationship was a big misalliance. Not only the lover does not care for his mistress, the whole relationship is just a fascinating game to indulge his vanity. Apparently, the narrator is not his first lover and he even boasts to her that two of his previous lovers were also feisty like her as if it reflected his good taste (Adichie). Being a deeply vain person, the lover does good things to different people with the sole purpose of being thanked and praised. He obviously expects his new mistress to admire and worship him like all the other women usually do. The things he seemingly does for her are nothing more than seeing himself in an exciting game. However, the narrator does not react as he expects her to. She does not answer his phone when her wants to let her listen to the music he enjoys at the concert with his wife; she does not cry with gratitude and delight when he buys a new car for her and she packs her belongings to leave and never come back to their love-nest. The conflict of expectations conditions the relationship to fail as the lovers have drastically different views on their partnership. What the girl wants is genuine love and trust while her lover still perceives the world with help of obsolete patriarchal categories in which a woman is something like an expensive but inferior commodity.

The narrators diversion from traditional gender roles is manifested in the other spheres of her life too. All the other women she is familiar with can think of nothing else but settling down (Adichie). None of those women would approve of her relationship with a married man as nobody is getting any younger and they keep traditional views that the primary aim of any relationship should be marriage. The narrator also protests against her male colleagues habit to have her or her only other female colleague Chikwado cutting the cake at office birthday parties. The male colleagues and the boss stare at the narrator in utter misunderstanding when she refuses to cut the cake. Another situation the narrator rebels against the traditional norms of conduct takes place in the restaurant where she confronts the waiter who would always greet her lover but not her. The narrator has obviously outgrown old discriminatory practices which, though officially forbidden, still prevail in most peoples minds.

Therefore, the short story Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie clearly bears a message that old traditional paradigms are not easy to overcome in reality. Although gender roles have undergone a significant shift, subtle discriminatory practices and gender expectations in the Nigerian society remain almost unchanged.

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda N. Birdsong. The New Yorker.2010.Web. 15 March, 2016.

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