Story is a word that has many different and broad definitions, due to the fact that the word itself can be used in various ways. Essentially, a story is anything that is told or written. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a story is “A short account of an amusing, interesting, or telling incident, whether real or fictitious; an anecdote.” An alternate definition of the word as a verb rather than a noun, also provided by the Oxford English Dictionary is “to relate in a history, to record the history of.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines story as “an account of incidents or events; a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question.” According to Dictionary.com, a story is “a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.” While all of these definitions point to sharing of information, some emphasize aspects of diction, writing, history, and anecdotes. Stories have been written in literature, or have been passed down by word of mouth for generations. Stories are also a large part of history, as before books were written, stories were passed down to spread of information.
The word story has had many different meanings over time, all of which have evolved to create the meaning of the word today. In the 1200’s a story was originally defined as “narrative of important events or celebrated persons of the past.” The word is derived from Old French estorie, estoire, “story, chronicle, history,” from Late Latin storia, and then later was shortened from Latin historia “history, account, tale, story.” According to Etymonline.com, in the 1200’s, the word story was known as a “connected account or narration of some happening,” The word was first recorded in the late 14th century, and it meant “recital of true events.” The word story was originally derived from the word history, however in the 1500’s the word was finally differentiated from history. In the 1690’s stories were often considered as a euphemism for a lie.
Stories have been written in literature, or have been passed down by word of mouth for generations. Stories are also a large part of history, as before books were written, stories were passed down to spread of information. Stories are most often found within three mediums; literature, passing from word of mouth, and used within everyday life. In most daily conversations, people tell stories as a form of discussion, and basic communication. However, stories within literature can also be considered many different things. A novel itself could be considered a story, or stories could be found within the context of a novel.
One reason stories are important are because they allow us to learn lessons. One component of stories is that there needs to be a lesson or takeaway at the end. Children can only learn so much by just being told something. Having a story allows for the children to internalize the lesson and understand why it’s important (Rathnam). A story always adds a layer of realness to a lesson. The Inuit people use storytelling as opposed to yelling. For example in order to teach kids to stay away from the water they told kids that a big monster would drag you down to the bottom if you wandered too close. Kids wouldn’t need to be yelled at because they would just be afraid (Doucleff). Even if the story being told is fiction, reading about the characters and the situation they go through helps children empathize with both fictional characters and real people.
Stories are also important for understanding different cultures. Every culture on earth has its own stories. They span from a collection in a book like European fairy tales to spoken legends from Native American culture. While the stories all may seem similar, the lessons and central themes are very different. For example, a common theme in Northern European fairy tales is the idea that you will be rewarded for being good. A prime example of this is Cinderella. Cinderella is treated very poorly by her step sisters, as they make her do every chore in the house while calling her names, like Cinderella. All the while Cinderella kept working and trying to be nice and polite to her new sisters. In the Grimm Brothers version, at the end the sisters eyes are pecked out by birds while Cinderella becomes the princess. Another story this lesson is present in is Snow White. Snow White is regarded as the fairest in the land in her story, which makes an evil witch jealous. The witch tries to have snow white killed by assassin and later by poison. At the end of the story when the witch fails, she goes to Snow White’s wedding where she is forced into red hot iron shoes to dance until she’s dead while Snow White also becomes a princess. Contrast this with the ideas of American Folk Tales where they focus on determination. One American folk tale is John Henry. John Henry was a railroad worker in early America. When a new machine came that threatened to put all the workers out of business, John Henry challenged the machine to a race. Through his determination and strength he won, only to die shortly after from working so hard. Another story is that of Paul Bunyan, who became a legend with his work clearing trees. It’s important to realize these differences in cultures, so we can avoid judging others by the standards of our own culture.
Stories are beneficial for understanding other cultures through more of their own lens and for teaching lessons to people. These both go hand in hand as the stories a culture choses to tell also determines what lessons that nation will learn. Stories are important because with stories we can start to understand cultures that we didn’t grow up in.
A single story plays a significant role in literature and today’s society. A single story creates biases or paints the wrong picture of a particular person, group or event. In her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Adichie explains how a story can have dangerous attributes if it is told via the “single story” approach. Adichie says,
So, after I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate’s response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide’s family (5:44, 2009).
The single story represents the racial prejudice that has and still does occur in today’s society as it allows us to make assumptions, create stereotypes, emphasize our differences, and dehumanize other races. Adichie provides examples of this concept through her personal experiences when she states, “I remember walking around on my first day in Guadalajara, watching the people going to work, rolling up tortillas in the marketplace, smoking, laughing. I remember first feeling slight surprise. And then, I was overwhelmed with shame. I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind, the abject immigrant. I had bought into the single story of Mexicans and I could not have been more ashamed of myself” (Adichie 8:42). What Adichie does here is refer to how in today’s society, we are judging people based on what we have been told to believe, which Adichie disagrees on when seeing the other side to the “story”. It shows how media can play a role in shaping the single story by only representing a culture based on how they want to portray it, or what they think that know. Today, people will hear a single story, believe in that story and run with it, with no desire to become knowledgeable of the reality that no culture, person, or race can be depicted by a singular story. This is exemplified towards the end of the Ted talk when Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (Adichie 12:45).
Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric provides different examples of how the single-story concept comes to play. In doing so, she addresses and presents the numerous microaggressions, or the unintentional or subtle things said or done to discriminate against someone, that black people have to face on a consistent basis. By inviting the reader to experience the stories being told via the second person, it shows just how powerful these racial prejudices that are caused from the singular story are. One example that illustrates this is when Rankine talks about the Caroline Wozniacki imitation of Serena Williams controversy. Wozniacki, another very talented tennis player, imitated Serena by stuffing towels in her top and shorts as a joke with supposed “good intentions”. This exemplifies the danger of a single story. Wozniacki racially targeted Serena by associating her attributes to that of Sarah Baartman, a woman with large breasts and a large butt. She was used as a symbol during the 19th century. Her body was used as an attraction and to represent hypersexuality of a black woman. During that time, her parts were compared to females of European decent. She was considered more developed than the average woman and that fascinated the public during that time. According to Meserette Kentake,
Baartman was exhibited at a venue in London after her arrival. For 2 shillings, from 1pm to 5pm, at 225 Piccadilly, people could witness Baartman displayed as animal-like and exotic. On stage she wore skin-tight, flesh-coloured clothing, as well as beads and feathers, and smoked a pipe. She was forced to show off her derrière in a cage that was about a metre and half high. Wealthy customers could pay for private demonstrations in their homes, with their guests allowed to touch her (The Weekly Challenger, 2017).
This negative cognition is represented in Wozniacki’s way to dehumanize Serena while still mocking and pretending to be the best tennis player in the world. She created the idea that Serena is similar to Sarah and if someone didn’t know Serena other than she was the best tennis player in the world, then they would be corrupted with the single story that she is a black woman with huge breasts and a huge butt. She will be viewed in the eyes of others with this hypersexual aspect.
Additionally, Rankine addresses the microaggressions that are demonstrated in the text while reminding the reader that it is a result of the single story that was told to the neighbor in the example. Rankine says, “You and your partner go to see the film The House We Live In. You ask a friend to pick up your child from school. On your way home your phone rings. Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes. The guy is walking back and forth talking to himself and seems disturbed. You tell your neighbor that your friend, whom he has met, is babysitting. He says, no, it’s not him. He’s met your friend and this isn’t that nice young man. Anyway, he wants you to know, he’s called the police” (Rankine III). This shows that in this situation, the neighbor automatically assumed this black person was causing mischief. The neighbor most likely thought this way because he is using the single-story lens to predict the outcome of what this black person’s motives were, as people tend to associate black people with crimes more so to that of a white person.
Though stories are seen to be informational, for pleasure or to teach a lesson, stories can have a damaging effect. Think back to stories you have heard in your life or when someone tells you about a story or conflict they had with another person. When you’re not told both sides of the story, you immediately become defensive for the friend who shared the story, but what about the other party? What about their side of the story? How would you feel if someone treated you a way when they didn’t know your stance? It can be damaging and unfair. Now just imagine the damage or how bad the world is because of these single stories. If we don’t know about something or want to know, try to get a more accurate story or ask multiple people. Knowing what a single story can do, we need to move away from this and do further unbiased research.
“Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story.” PsycE“Chimamanda Adichie:
Doucleff, Michaeleen. “Storytelling Instead Of Scolding: Inuit Say It Makes Their Children More Cool-Headed.” NPR, NPR, 4 Mar. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/03/04/689925669/storytelling-instead-of-scolding-inuit-say-it-makes-their-children-more-cool-hea.
Kentake, Meserette. “Sarah Baartman: The ‘First Known Black Female Victim of Trafficking.” –, The Weekly Challenger, 5 Jan. 2017,
Rathnam, Tharani. “Why Is Storytelling Important To Children In This Digital World?” ParentCircle. Parentcircle, 02 May 2019. Web. 01 May 2019.
“story, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/190981. Accessed 6 May 2019.
“Story | Search Online Etymology Dictionary.” Index, www.etymonline.com/search?q=story.
“Story.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/story.
www.theweeklychallenger.com/sarah-baartman-the-first-known-black-female-victim-of-trafficking/.Vang, Nong. @californong Now I can read in the dark. 2018 unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/9pw4TKvT3po