Americanah Themes

The main themes in Americanah are Americanization, education, and home.

  • Americanization: The novel examines how Ifemelu’s move to America and subsequent return to Nigeria change her as a person.
  • Education: Adichie highlights how education can allow and limit opportunities, especially for those who seek to immigrate.
  • Home: The concept of home is a complex one, and the novel shows how the nature of home changes as people grow, move, and become themselves.


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Last Updated on May 18, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 998


Americanization is one of the biggest themes in Americanah. In the context of the novel, America itself is a symbol of hope, wealth, social and economic mobility, and, ultimately, disappointment, as Ifemelu learns that the American Dream is a lie and that the advantages she enjoys there often come at a great price. Her Americanization is slow but distinct, and she gradually picks up the slang, adapts to her surroundings (for better or worse), and adopts American politics. Her views on gender and race change because of this, and her blog is devoted to exploring the issue of race as a non-American black in America. She's called Americanah when she returns to Nigeria, having picked up a blunt, American way of speaking and of addressing problems. She resists this label, but it's obvious to the reader that Ifemelu's years in America have changed her.

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Education is an important theme in the novel. It dictates where and when characters move and shapes their futures in unexpected ways. Obinze and Ifemelu, for instance, apply to Nsukka University after his mother falls ill, but frequent strikes on the part of Nsukka University's professors lead Ifemelu to leave Nigeria and pursue her education in America, where crushing student loans cause her to take a "job" with an unpleasant tennis coach who pays her for sex. Ifemelu's relationship with the American education system is complicated, because it both subjects her to moments of racism and prejudice and enables her to pursue a career as a blogger (her fellowship at Princeton is a great example of this). In the end, a good education isn't always enough, as evidenced by Obinze's failure to get a visa. The novel makes it clear that luck and chance sometimes play as big a role in life as education.


Americanah's main characters are all devoted to their families. Ifemelu has a difficult childhood, and as a result she grows closer to Aunty Uju than to her mother and father. Obinze, meanwhile, is raised by a single working mother and later goes on to marry and become a father. In each of these families, the parents raise their children on their own, accepting little help from others. In contrast, Kimberly's family in America relies on Ifemelu as a nanny, and Kimberly herself has less of a hand in the day to day lives of her children. That isn't to say that any of these family structures is better than the others, however. Each family is complicated in its own way. Obinze's marriage, for instance, is merely comfortable, and he coasts through life without feeling any passion for his wife. Family, in the end, plays second fiddle to love.


Home is a complicated theme in Americanah, especially as Ifemelu migrates back and forth between the United States and her mother country of Nigeria. Ifemelu struggles to find her place in America, and though she lives there for ten years it never really feels like home. She's always an immigrant, a non-American black, on the outside looking in at the strangeness and racism of American culture. It changes her in a way that makes her look at Nigeria differently when she moves back. "Home" is not a specific house or street, but, rather, a figurative place that constantly evolves in the mind.

Race and Racism

One could argue that race and racism are the central themes of Americanah . In Nigeria, race was not an issue for Ifemelu, and she...

(The entire section contains 998 words.)

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Chapter Summaries