Discussion: “Ghosts” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Please use the following questions as a starting point for your response to the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie story “Ghosts”. You don’t need to answer all of the questions, or even answer any of them in full, but please keep your response focused and relevant.

  • How does Adichie relate information about the past in this story? Through scenes? Through summary? How are exposition and explanation deployed, and to what effect?
  • What effect does the first-person narration have on this story? How would this story be different if it were told from another point of view?
  • “Ghosts” looks like a realist story at the beginning, but by the end, it’s distinctly unreal. How does Adichie accomplish this transition? Does it succeed? If so, why? If not, why not?
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13 thoughts on “Discussion: “Ghosts” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. While the story “Ghosts” depicts James Nwoye’s encounter with a man he long thought to be dead, it is about much more than. It is in part a story about Nigeria and the political and social climate in the country, and also a story about beliefs and experiences. The story is told in the first person, and our protagonist is also our narrator. In order to tell the story about a nation and the current political climate, you have to be able to reference the past and discuss the changes that are going on. In writing the story in first person, it becomes very easy to integrate the past into the description of the current climate. As opposed to a third person narrator who would be describing the atmosphere from a distant perspective, we come to understand the nature of the political and social climate in the context of one man’s story, both what he went through and is currently going through. The fact that our picture of Nigeria is painted by our protagonist, who has his own biases, highlights another important point; this story isn’t just about how bad the climate is, but about how people FEEL about the current climate and how people are handling the current climate. In conveying his message, Adichie’s decision to have a 1st person narrator allows the story to be about Nigeria while not actually being about Nigeria. To that same effect, having the story told through a subjective lens allows the reader to better understand the spiritual elements of this story, because the nature of spirituality and belief is itself subjective. As the story progresses it shifts from realist story to something that is clearly not real. This transition was effective and smooth because in the eyes of our narrator, nothing about the accounts he is sharing are unreal. With the same tone that he describes the very real nature of corruption and war in his country, he describes his wife “visiting him”. This transition would not be as effective if the story was told from a third person perspective.

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  2. In order to convey information about the past to her readers, the author of “Ghosts,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie incorporates a few interesting techniques that lend a hand in creating a story that is very immersive and relatable. Most notably, Adichie chooses to deliver this information through the use of memories. Throughout his day-to-day life, the main character, James Nwoye, is constantly reminiscing about times from his past. An example of this is early on in the narrative when James is having a discussion with Vincent, a sixty year-old driver for the university. In the middle of their conversation James begins to think about his wife, Ebere, who at this point in time is deceased. James recalls how at her funeral, Vincent, “…came with his relatives for mgbalu and gave a touching, if rather long, speech about how well Ebere treated him when he was our driver, how she gave him our daughter’s old clothes for his children.” By using this method of story telling, Adichie gives her readers an inside look at the characters found within her story. Through reading these memories, we learn more about what makes these characters believable. We learn about wants, desires, who they care about, and in some very specific cases we learn about how they act at the funeral of someone they care about. These insights are important because they allow us to fully inhabit the lives of the characters that the plot revolves around. We are able to experience everything they do, as a real person would. This is also aided by the fact that the primary character, James, is also the narrator, so the plot’s narration is in reality just his inner monologue. By giving us the opportunity to experience the story first hand in this way, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie creates an interesting and very engrossing work of fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

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  3. By Samuel Antezana
    In the story “Ghosts,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes a day in the life of James Nwoye, a survivor of the war that is mentioned throughout the story. From the very beginning of the tale, we are given glimpses of James’ life and what he had been through, the theme of death being one that is immediately presented to us within the first sentence of the story. With the looming thoughts and memories of the war that occurred in Nigeria, James is reunited with an acquaintance of his from the university they were professors at, his name is Ikenna Okoro. Ever since James mentioned how he saw Ikenna die and how he wanted to throw sand on him (in order to see if he was actually alive and not a ghost, this is a tradition of what his people do to the dead) but he couldn’t because he was not anywhere near sand at the time. This detail let med to initially believe Ikenna was a ghost, even throughout Ikenna and James’ moments they had to catch up, I thought it fishy that he bumped into him and that Ikenna seemed so regretful of many things he did in the past. However, this leads me to my point of how Adichie brings out the events of the past by means of this conversation between Ikenna and James. The way the descriptions of Jame’s family and his life with them is brought about so clearly was fascinating to me because of how well crafted Adichie’s dialogue was constructed, we even got to know more about Ikenna throughout the conversation. Another aspect of this story that I thought was powerful was the feeling of normality that life had before the war happened (changing James and Ikkena’s lives), everything was much more routing and casual, it was slightly melancholic to me, but this is a quality of the story that I thought did very well to capture the attention of the reader.

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  4. (This is Josh Tan)

    The short story “Ghost” is about this professor who is visiting his old home in Africa. While there, he finds an old acquaintance of his that everyone thought to have died. Through the professor’s discussion with his old friend, the author is allowing the audience to see a glimpse of what aspects of their homeland were not desirable. These glimpses of the past are reflections that the author has while discussing with his friend. The first person narrative also allows for this message to be conveyed with more emotional attachment than if it were told in another way. The fantastical part of this story is brought up because of the author’s use of first person narrative. The narrator subtly mentions throughout the story that Eberu, his wife, would come and visit him. However, Eberu is dead, which brings the title of “Ghost” up again. Initially the audience is led to believe that “Ghost” is referring to the professor’s old friend that everyone thought had died, but now it is clear that “Ghost” is referring to the ghost of his dead wife that comes to visit him every so often.

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  5. Adichie relates information about the past both through recollection brought on by his conversation with Ikenna and explicitly through dialogue in the conversation. The summary bits of exposition allow Nwoye to not only relate the past to the reader but also relate how his character interacts with that past. The story is very much about nostalgia and how people interact with loss of both people and livelihood, and Adichie uses the character of Ikenna to run through all of Nwoye’s feelings about this past. Because the story is in first person, it allows for a degree of unreliable and subjectivity within the narrative. This is deployed to great effect because up until the end of the story, the reader is unsure whether Ebere is just a memory like all memories or if she is actually a ghost as described in the opening lines of the story. I found Ghosts to be effective in its use of unreality because memory itself, while being something that everyone has access to, always has this fantastical quality to it.

    -Stephen Meyer

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  6. In Adichie’s story, Ghosts, the protagonist, James Nwoye, tells us information about his past through conversation with an old acquaintance, Ikenna Okoro. Having these two men reminisce and remember different moments in their lives makes relaying information on the past so successful. These two men haven’t seen each other since before the war that took place in their homeland so they naturally begin to ask each other their stories. As the conversation flows between the two men we hear how they had different experiences during and since the war, which allows us to have a small glimpse into the past to better understand how these men got to where we are seeing them now. Not only does the casual conversation teach us about the two men’s’ pasts but the memories the conversation elicits for James brings up even more memories we might not have heard had he not been conversing with Ikenna.
    What also lends to the success of relating is that we get to hear this whole encounter strictly from James in first person narration. This narration allows us to get really close to James and hear his thoughts while we are simultaneously hearing about the past. I think using first person narration strengthens the story because we get to understand James and her his judgments/opinions on the people he interacts with. We get to see James’ truths even if they aren’t the same for those around him. It’s interesting to hear from him how sure he is that his late wife, Ebere, is visiting him and how fervent that belief is but he still understands that he can’t explain this truth to anyone because they won’t believe him. I really enjoy the fact that James is so aware of the potential consequences of telling others how Ebere visits him; it adds depth to his character and shows that maybe James isn’t crazy.

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  7. The first person narration works really well in this story. Because “Ghosts” incorporates so much history and factual content about wars and politics, it could have read more like a textbook if it was put into the third person. The first person allows us to hear about these events through the eyes of someone who was there for those events and who was personally impacted by the outcome. This gives more of a personal feel to the story and makes the reader more invested. It also makes the title “Ghosts” make sense. A third person narrator might not have known, or explicitly said, that James thought Ebere was a ghost. By getting that information, it adds an additional layer of depth and mystery to the story.

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  8. The amount of description in the story Ghosts brings to life an effective realistic world colored by the feelings, perceptions, and observations of the first-person narration of protagonist James Nwoye. I was able to appreciate the details that I recognize. The Harmattan is the season out of the two in Nigeria, during which it is easy to become miserable because of how the dryness irritates eyes and sinuses. Some things I also recognized were oyibo, which means white, and the way that James shook his head when discussing the state of the country with Ikenna.

    Adichie shares the past through dialogue that segues into recollections. The first-person narration is apt for this because I would not consider this story to have become distinctly unreal because of it. Everything in narration is most likely very real to the protagonist, while if the story was instead told in third-person the story’s context would definitely contradict the popular standard for what is agreed to exist in the realm of reality.

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  9. I like how Adichie recollects memory in “Ghost” through flashbacks imbedded within dialogue and efficient summary. She starts the story with “Today I saw Ikenna Okoro” a peculiar way of introducing this tale and giving us more insight to the protagonist James.
    Next Adichie takes us in scene and starts weaving the short story by giving a summary of why the character was at the university office. After this she reminds us about Ikenna Okoro which started the story in the first place. When the conversation with James and Ikenna begins, Adichie fills in summaries and flashbacks that correlate with specific responses thereby telling the story seamlessly.
    I like that Adichie uses first person narration in telling this story because the audience feels a deeper connection with James given that we have the opportunity to be inside his head. It also ties into the fact that this story is a personal account of a war as opposed if the story was told in third person narration where it will start to sound textbook like and too expository.
    I especially like how Adichie uses language making subtle references to the Igbo language when she says things like Ebere slept, the war took Zik, et al. This use of literal translation is very poetic in English and gives praise to the figurative power of Igbo as a language in this story that is highlighting Igbo peoples’ past.
    Not only is the dialogue rich it is also very realistic in soliciting emotions and resurfacing relevant flashbacks. For instance when Adichie juxtaposes when Ikenna says he went abroad to the flashback of him saying Happy independence, this shows how cowardly James thinks Ikenna is without explicitly saying those exact words.
    As if the story wasn’t already good enough and rich, Adichie goes on to tie in the ghost theme with the fact that James is convinced that his dead wife Ebere visits him.
    I like how the story is so real yet so unreal and how with great command of English and writing Adichie tells a pragmatic tale with fantastic elements of a widowed war survivor who misses his wife and is convinced her ghost visits him regularly.

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  10. The blurred line between past and present, and similarly between reality and illusion, is a central theme in the story “Ghosts” by Chimamanda Ngazi Adichie. The main character and first-person narrator James Nwoye describes the world around him as if he is in the present, making the story seem at first to be a realist story, but the reader soon comes to realize that everything he surrounds himself with is a relic of the past. During most of the story, Nwoye is at his old university checking on the status of his promised pension that he hadn’t received in three years; this brings up a nostalgic sense in him as he remembers the years he taught there and talks with the men he used to work with on a regular basis, such as his former driver Vincent. Then he spots Ikenna Okoro, a man he long thought dead, and comments that as his people would do, he should throw sand at him to make sure he’s real, but he doesn’t, claiming that it’s because he’s too educated to do something silly like that – but in reality, it’s because he is used to seeing ghosts; he sees his dead wife Ebere every week. If Ikenna Okoro is a ghost, he doesn’t want to know, he’d rather turn a blind eye, just as he does with his wife. The reader begins to observe the shift from a seemingly-realistic story to one grounded in the unreal and illusions when Nwoye first begins to mention his wife. He doesn’t say she is dead, instead using the euphemism that she “fell asleep three years ago,” as if stating the truth would make it real which he doesn’t want it to be. Nwoye is stuck in the past, and since the past is arguably all an illusion, because the only thing that one can be certain of is the present, he is perpetually consumed by illusion and unreality instead of reality. He is immersed in the world of his dead wife’s weekly visits and staying in Nigeria rather than moving to America with his daughter because he feels attached to the place and the remnants of the past that it triggers within him.

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  11. “Ghosts” is told from first person point of view. It’s about a man who returns to his old home and sees a man that everyone believes was dead. They talk and reminisce. Through memories and dialogue, the main character reveals his feelings about Nigeria’s situation and his past life, including his dead wife. The tone is very matter of fact and realistic.

    Adichie relates information about the past through James reminiscing about memories. This is particularly effective when combined with the matter of fact tone because it gives everything a realistic feeling. Being told from first person point of view is also important because we are getting a subjective point of view. The result of al of these things is that the reader doesn’t exactly know what is real and what isn’t – it’s all being presented as if everything was so and it seems the narrator believes it. If it was told from a third person point of view, it would be hard to pull off the same stunt because we would get less insight from the character’s beliefs. If the same tone was used via third person narration, it would seem like the reader was supposed to take everything as fact, but because it’s told from first person narration, the reader just takes this as what the character believes. This allows the story to transition from realistic to unrealistic without being derailed.

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  12. The story Ghosts follows the story of a Professor, James Nwoye, as he has an unexpected encounter with his friend he long thought, and most likely still, dead friend. As they talk the reader begins to learn a lot about the history of their country as well as a bit of James life story. The first person perspective of the story gives the information we learn about through exposition come off more as thoughts that the character is having at a given moment and as a result it helps everything feel very natural. A majority of the story is told from these two talking and by using that to give the audience information the author is able to make it both interesting and unforced. .The author does a good job of making everything seem natural and through the characters eyes it becomes very easy to believe that he is talking to his dead friend or that his dead wife will come sometimes visit him in the night. Adichie handles this very well as she does not do anything that seems to be too far from reality. The way she has ghosts interact with people in the story allow for this story to realistically take place in our world without making it seem like too much of a stretch. The way that the character himself says that “I am supposed to have armed myself with enough science to laugh indulgently at the ways of my people” and his simple acceptance of the fact that sometimes he sees ghosts while also accepting the fact that if he told his daughter she would immediately have him moved with her to America makes the world feel incredibly grounded in our reality. This acknowledgement also allows the reader to take a different line of thought and believe that the Professor is simply losing his old mind to age.

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  13. Throughout the story, Nwoye gives the reader information about his past through the use of different vessels. A lot of his past is shared when something in the present reminds him of the past. For example, when he talks to Ikenna Okoro he notices his teeth and then brings up how his wife, Ebere, always wanted him to get work done on his own.
    The narrator of this story is also the protagonist. This keeps the reader within his own point of view and perspective. Adichie does a good job at keeping the reader close to Nwoye. This allows us to see inside his thoughts and gives us access to his memories. The decision to tell this story through the use of first person narrative is the key to Adichie’s smooth transitions between real and unreal. It makes everything “real” in the sense that it is all real to Nwoye. It allows the reader to see the truths of Nigeria just as clearly as the fantasy of a ghost. In my opinion this transition is very well done and I did not feel like I was being taken advantage of as a reader at any point. Often times, when things seem too unrealistic, I feel as though the author is underestimating my intelligence. Adichie did a good job of getting away from that.

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