People Who Only Talk About Themselves and the People Who Encourage Them: I Stopped Listening a Long Time Ago

It’s not about you. For once, it’s not about you.” (445).

When Adichie first introduced Shan, the sister of Ifemelu’s now ex-boyfriend, Blaine, I disliked her immediately. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone is so self absorbed that they can only talk about or listen to things that directly affect them. And in Shan’s case, that is very obviously evident in her behavior and her dialogue. But then, Adichie takes it a step further by demonstrating that every other character is just as enamored with Shan as she is with herself. That’s the moment where I immediately stopped caring about her in any way.


As someone who actually listens to people when they speak, I find it almost impossible to put up with people who only care to discuss themselves and disregard comments or additions to the conversation made by anyone else. I have found myself forming friendships with people like this and I can assure you, knowing you’re being ignored is one of the worst feelings in the world. Ifemelu doesn’t strike me as a character who would be easily ignored. She is very open about her opinions on things and is welcome to criticism from her online readers as well as healthy debates, so when I realized the vanity behind Shan, I assumed Ifemelu would, in no way, put up with her. So imagine my surprise when Ifemelu doesn’t immediately put Shan in her place during their first meeting.

That ties into Adichie choice to characterize how other characters respond in Shan in the way she did. I think because of how “confident” Shan was in her vanity, Adichie was able to manipulate Shan into becoming almost an icon for Ifemelu upon their first meeting. Ifemelu recognizes that Shan is full of herself and worshiped by everyone else and yet she falls right along in the worshiping. Because of this, Shan almost represents who Ifemelu would want to be, what with her success and confidence and the positivie attention she receives from others. Also, disliking Shan would cause a divide in the relationship between Blaine and Ifemelu, something Ifemelu seems determined to hold on to.


Shan also acts as a foil to Ifemelu’s character because the audience is able to see a change in Ifemelu through how she to reacts to Shan. Originally we’re given the “blind worshiping” which then transitions to Ifemelu wanting to speak out against certain things that Shan says and finding Blaine’s devotion to her irritating and then finally with the quote mentioned above where Ifemelu is flat out fed up with Shan in the way I was when first introduced to her character. Overall, while Shan is irritating as all get out, I do understand why she would be necessary to the story as well as how she impacts Ifemelu’s character.

That’s it for now.


1 thought on “People Who Only Talk About Themselves and the People Who Encourage Them: I Stopped Listening a Long Time Ago”

  1. I too thought Shan was a very dynamic and important character. When she was introduced I immediately started thinking about all the people I know that are just like her. I think it’s really interesting and I’m glad you brought up that Ifemelu feeds into Shan’s self absorbtion at first, but when she starts to become more comfortable with her relationship with Blaine and with her place in America, she begins to go back at Shan and doesn’t continue to blindly worship her.


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