Americanah Characters

The main characters in Americanah are Ifemelu and Obinze.

  • Ifemelu is the novel’s protagonist. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Ifemelu moves to America as a young woman to attend school and lives there for years before returning to Lagos. She maintains two successful blogs over the course of the narrative.
  • Obinze is Ifemelu’s first love. As a young man, Obinze lives in the UK and works illegally before returning home to Nigeria. He is now a businessman in Lagos.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1746


Ifemelu is the protagonist of Americanah. She's born in Lagos, Nigeria, where she's raised in a small apartment by her mother and father. Her childhood is difficult. Her mother gets taken in by a zealous evangelical church and begins an unhealthy habit of fasting until she gets sick. Ifemelu's father loses his job at an unnamed government agency, and the family struggles to make ends meet. In spite of all these obstacles, Ifemelu excels in school, where she meets the love of her life, Obinze. Intellectually, the two are equals, but Obinze has had a more refined upbringing, thanks to his mother. Ifemelu feels drawn both to his body and his mind, and during their first sexual encounters she's so overcome with emotion that she's unable to see the ceiling even with her eyes open (this is the source of her nickname for him, "Ceiling"). Ifemelu commits to Obinze as a young woman, but is unprepared for a long distance relationship. Soon after arriving in America, she stops responding to Obinze's letters. She falls into a deep depression, which she refuses to think of as "depression" because she doesn't believe in the American habit of diagnosing every feeling as a kind of mental illness.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Americanah Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Nevertheless, Ifemelu becomes Americanized. She starts picking up the slang, puts on weight, briefly straightens her hair, and experiences true racism for the first time. As a result, she's forced to identify as a non-American black and to contend with the racism she sees around her and in the media. While in college, Ifemelu works as a nanny in the suburbs, where she meets Curt, her boss's cousin. Though initially wary of his wealth and connections, she allows him to set up a job interview for her at a public relations firm in Baltimore. Soon after, they move in together, but in spite of his well-meaning and "progressive" views, Curt, who is white, still harbors some racial bias. This leads Ifemelu to break up with Curt and to get together with Blaine, an African American professor whose politics more closely align with hers. Ifemelu grows dissatisfied with their relationship, however. This is a pattern in Ifemelu's life: dissatisfaction and the yearning for something she can't identify or explain. Eventually, she moves to Nigeria, where she reconnects with Obinze, finding fulfillment at last.


Obinze was raised in Nsukka. His mother, a professor at Nsukka University, taught him how to cook (a rare thing among Nigerian men) and fostered his love of books. His upbringing opens many doors for him, and his refined beliefs and mannerisms attract Ifemelu to him all the more. His social status, however, doesn't help him secure a visa, and when he can't join Ifemelu in America he goes to Great Britain, where he lives and works as an illegal immigrant. Like many Nigerian immigrants, Obinze is at the mercy of governments and immigration authorities that think nothing of his education. When a treacherous man tips off the police, Obinze is arrested and deported. This experience shames him. In the end, however, it works out in his favor because he falls into a lucrative business in Lagos, where he becomes a wealthy man. Throughout all of this, he never forgets Ifemelu, and when she returns to Nigeria he's forced to choose between her and his wife.

Obinze's Mother

Obinze's mother is a professor at Nsukka University. When Ifemelu...

(The entire section contains 1746 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Americanah study guide. You'll get access to all of the Americanah content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Quotes
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial