Americanah – Themes

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah

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Americanah – Themes

Belonging/Alienation 

From the moment we meet Ifemelu, she is concerned with where she belongs. Does she belong in Princeton, where she has earned a fellowship? She wants to belong there, “someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty” (3), but to do so would be to “pretend to be someone else” (3). Does she fit in at the African braiding salon, or has she become too Americanized? She knows that the braiders will mock her for eating a granola bar, “as if the length of years in American explained Ifemelu’s eating of a granola bar” (47).

Ifemelu did not always struggle with belonging or feel alienated between cultures. As a teenager, she was popular and fit in easily. In university, “she did not feel as though she did not belong because there were so many options for belonging” (110). Yet, the immigrant experience imbues Ifemelu, Obinze, Uju, and Dike with a strong sense of alienation. Ifemelu masks her Nigerian accent in order to feel a deeper sense of belonging in America, as she is condescended to and discounted for her natural accent. Yet, speaking like an American is a burden. “It took effort, the twisting of lip, the curling of tongue” (213). Her attempts to “belong” in America cause her emotional pain and physical pain, too, as when she chemical relaxes her hair to appear more professional to white Americans. Similarly, Obinzefeels alienated in London. His inability to use his own name makes him feel invisible, and he envies those who can work and live using their own identity. His only respite is reading American novels, something that allows him to “become Obinze again” (317). But even reading those novels fills him with a longing to belong in America, to live in a country “he had imagined himself a part of” (317).

Uju moves to rural Massachusetts and must travel thirty minutes to find a shade of lipstick that matches her dark skin. Though she is an educated, competent doctor, patients constantly assume she is the nurse or receptionist because of her race and one patient tells her…

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