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With every story there is a plot and within that plot characters whom we can relate and identify with. In Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, the main characters are a female, Ifemelu, and a male, Obinze, who are both from Nigeria. Throughout the novel we follow these two characters, their travels abroad, and ultimately back to Nigeria. Both characters have their own struggles but I feel that there is a difference in how Ifemelu and Obinze are represented. Obinze, in my opinion, gets proper representation while Ifemelu’s character seems more conflicted. In Americanah Ifemelu, and other females, are represented as a dependent on her circumstances and the men around them.
The prime and first example of females in our novel being represented in the form of dependence is Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju. Aunty Uju appears to have the perfect lifestyle as a doctor in Nigeria, living in a nice home, with nice belongings, and socializes with the higher social classes in Nigeria. Aunty Uju carries on a relationship with a character referred to as “The General”. The General is a married man and Aunty Uju is his mistress. One could argue that Aunty Uju is a doctor in Nigeria, so not all of her success comes from The General.
However, even Aunty Uju gives this credit to The General, “The hospital has no doctor vacancy, but The General made them create one for me” (93). This goes to show that even her occupation was dependent on her relationship with The General. She gets most of the nice things that we see early in the novel from The General. She even goes to say to Ifemelu, “You know, we live in an ass-licking economy. The biggest problem in this country is not corruption. The problem is that there are many qualified people who are not where they are supposed to be because they won’t lick anybody’s ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick or they don’t know how to lick an ass. I’m lucky to be licking the right ass” (93).
I found this pretty funny, but true, and it only emphasizes her dependence on The General. Once The General dies we see Aunty Uju’s world turned around almost instantly. Aunty Uju is forced out of her home and flees the country to the United States where she can start a new life with her son, Dike. When Ifemelu arrives to America she finds that Aunty Uju’s lifestyle is completely opposite of what it used to be. She is working three jobs, taking exams to become a doctor again, and her living conditions are poor compared to that in Nigeria. Aunty Uju is in a place of desperation working three jobs, paying the bills, so when Ifemelu arrives she uses Ifemelu to watch Dike during the day to save her babysitting expenses.
Aunty Uju meets a man, Bartholomew. Ifemelu feels that Aunty Uju is outside his social class, but Aunty Uju is in such a state of desperation that she ends up in a relationship with his where she moves to Massachusetts with him. She ends up staying in a relationship with him until she realizes that she no longer needs Bartholomew, and that she was in fact paying some his bills. If I had to sum up Aunty Uju in one sentence it would be, in her own words, “You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (146). We can see that Ifemelu does indeed do what she has to do following the advice from Aunty Uju.
Our main character, Ifemelu, is not without flaws but I feel that her life events are dependent upon her circumstances and the other characters around her. It is hard to identify with what Ifemelu truly values. Throughout our novel Ifemelu has a relationship with three men: Obinze, Curt, and Blaine. Her character seems to change with two of the three people she dates and in between these men based on her circumstances. Ifemelu seems like a strong character up until the point where she is in America and has to pay for her college debt and rent. She has a hard time finding a job and has to resort to “massaging” a coach.
This is the first point at which we see Ifemelu break from her normal character and do something that we did not see coming. After being pressured for money she goes to the coach where she, “placed her hand between his legs, she had curled and moved her fingers” (190). From this we can imply that she gave the coach a hand-job. Following this she is really conflicted with herself and everyone around her. It is at this point she stops contacting Obinze goes through a state of depression. I felt that Ifemelu compromised on her values and molded to the circumstances to do what needed to be done, like Aunty Uju had told her.
Following her state of depression, she runs into Blaine on a train. She is attracted to him but loses contact with him because Blaine is in a relationship and ignores her calls. Ifemelu meets Curt, a rich white man, who is Kimberly’s cousin. Initially Ifemelu was not even attracted to him, the text states, “She began to like him because he liked her” (237). I find this shallow, but we see Ifemelu change in her relationship with Curt. Good things started to happen to her, Curt’s positive attitude seemed to bleed over into her life. Like Aunty Uju’s situation, Curt was able to get Ifemelu a job through his dad’s relations with public relations.
This shows her dependence on Curt and her good fortunes are dependent on another character. Ifemelu ended up sabotaging her relationship with him but she even states that she, “stumbled around, trying to remember the person she was before Curt… She no longer knew who she had been then, what she disliked, wanted” (370). I think the following sentences are extremely important because it shows that Ifemelu herself states that her identity was built off of those around her. She gets into a relationship with Blaine after meeting him at a social event. Her identity starts to shift and she got a gym pass, starting letting him read and recommend changes to her blogs, she even changed her diet based on Blaine’s beliefs. Blaine was more of a man of action where Ifemelu was more of a woman of words.
Blaine believed in standing for what you believe in. Ifemelu lied to Blaine and didn’t show up to a protest. Once Blaine found out that she was at a lunch instead of the protest they had an argument which ended up being the demise of their relationship. I feel that Ifemelu lacks a moral compass. She doesn’t get that lying to your partner is a big deal. This changes the passion in their relationship. I feel that Blaine’s passion for President Obama gave something for Ifemelu to be interested in, and kept their relationship alive based off this shared interest.
Once she graduated Princeton she broke off her relationship and moved back to Nigeria. As a reader it becomes hard to identify with Ifemelu because it seems she lies very easily to keep people interested. When Pyrie offers to host Ifemelu a wedding Ifemelu responds, “Thank you, but I thing Blaine will prefer a governor-free event” (492). I don’t understand why Ifemelu cannot just identify with herself, and constantly needs a man involved in her life. Obinze seems to be the only character she can be transparent with; it is as if they are operating on the same frequency.
When she finally meets Obinze they are a week into seeing each other again before they start having a relationship. Their relationship hits a friction point when Obinze goes to Abuja alone so he can think things over. At this point Ifemelu calls him a “fucking coward” and breaks contact with him. It isn’t until Obinze confesses to his wife and friends his intentions with Ifemelu and informs Ifemelu of everything that she finally accepts him back into her life. This is where the end of the novel leaves us but it goes to show that she is mainly a character of circumstance and of the relationship with the men in her life.
Throughout Americana we see Ifemelu and other female characters represented by circumstance or on the men they are in relationships with. Aunty Uju is the prime example of the female’s dependence, in this novel, on men and a victim of circumstance. Ifemelu follows suit with Aunty Uju in her relationship with Curt putting her dependence on a man. She doesn’t appear to have any true feelings for Curt or Blaine during their relationships but we see that she loses her identity with those relationships. It isn’t until she comes back to Nigeria that she starts doing things for herself and taking a stance for her character.
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