What is an important theme of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?

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jules-cordry eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most important themes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is Americanization. When the novel's protagonist, Ifemelu, returns to her home country of Nigeria after spending years in the United States, her friends in Lagos teasingly call her an “Americanah” because she has picked up new slang, adopted a more blunt way of speaking, and developed opinions on race, gender, and Nigerian culture that her friends find distinctly Americanized. Adapting to American life was not easy for Ifemelu—she struggled at first to make ends meet, and she had to get used to being seen as black rather than Nigerian—and now she faces the challenges of readapting to Nigeria. Ifemelu is reluctant to acknowledge how much her years abroad have changed her and resists the label of “Americanah,” but it is evident that her life in the US has had a powerful effect on her character and the way she sees and relates to the world. Ifemelu eventually begins to readjust with the help of her old friend Ranyinudo and a club for Nigerians who have recently returned from abroad. Having shut down the popular blog on her experiences as a non-American black woman in the US, Raceteenth, before moving back to Nigeria, Ifemelu starts a new blog focused on her life in Lagos. She may be Americanized, but she is embracing the new life she has begun in Nigeria as well.

alexcarlton15 | Student

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah paints a telling portrait of American society from an outsider's very authentic point of view. One important theme in the novel is the idea of xenophobia. Upon her arrival in America, Ifemelu is faced with challenges that she does not understand and is subsequently forced to question her identity.

To Ifemelu, her Nigerian accent was simply a part of her being. She had never felt embarrassed or ashamed of this marker of her foreignness until she was faced with a classic case of American xenophobia. She has several encounters with people who automatically assume that she is unintelligent or cannot understand English simply because of the way she speaks. When registering for classes, Ifemelu has an experience with a university employee who subjects her to this kind of discrimination for the first time. 

Ifemelu half smiled in sympathy, because Cristina Tomas had to have some sort of illness that made her speak so slowly, lips scrunching and puckering, as she gave directions to the international students office. But when Ifemelu returned with the letter, Cristina Tomas said, "I. Need. You. To. Fill. Out. A. Couple. Of. Forms. Do. You. Understand. How. To. Fill. These. Out?" and she realized that Cristina Tomas was speaking like that because of her, her foreign accent, and she felt for a moment like a small child, lazy-limbed and drooling (Chapter 14).

In American society, there is a tendency to label anything foreign as the "other," which leads to cases of discrimination just like Ifemelu experienced with Cristina Tomas.

Not only is she labeled as the "other" because of her foreignness, but Ifemelu is also put into this category because of the color of her skin. She had never considered herself black before she was forced into this role in America. The concept of race is a new one to Ifemelu, and along with it came the harsh reality of racism in the US. Ifemelu addresses the challenges that she faces in terms of race and racism in her blog.

Ifemelu experiences a journey of self-doubt resulting from the prejudice that she experiences every day while in America. Adichie's novel brings to light many of the egregious flaws in the American ideals of togetherness and freedom with a highly intelligent commentary on the theme of xenophobia. 



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