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Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah is a work of fiction that tackles many of the issues immigrants in America face. Many themes emerge throughout the text, including the racism present in current society, love and relationships in a romantic context, and most importantly, personal identity. While all of these topics are relevant and essential components to Americanah, I believe that the main point of the book is to discuss the struggles that individuals face when attempting to be a part of a new community yet also strive to keep a part of who they are regarding where they are from originally. This, of course, surrounds personal and cultural identity.

There are many examples of Ifemelu trying to remain faithful to her Nigerian roots, but also being influenced by the American culture around her (when she is in both the US and Africa). She is told, time and time again, that to be successful in the United States she must conform to stylistic expectations (which take away from her Nigerian culture). This also impacts other characters within Americanah.

“I have told you what they told me. You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed”…

…Sometimes, while having a conversation, it would occur to Ifemelu that Aunty Uju had deliberately left behind something of herself, something essential, in a distant and forgotten place. (146)

Aunty Uju feels she must change her appearance, which is a direct indicator of her cultural background, to fit into American societal norms and become a doctor. This is also a battle Ifemelu faces, but because she is self-aware regarding these cultural issues, it makes it even harder for her to cope with her ever-changing identity. People tell her that America is changing who she is and molding her Nigerian background in negative ways, infuriating her and leading her to feel self-conscious about her personal identification.

Her Ethiopian taxi driver said, “I can’t place your accent. Where are you from?”

“Nigeria? You don’t look African at all.”

“Why don’t I look African?”

“Because your blouse is too tight.”

“It is not too tight.”

“I thought you were from Trinidad or one of those places…You have to be very careful or America will corrupt you.” (255)

Ifemelu went on to write a blog post about this years after it happened, mad because she knew that the taxi driver was only being sincere in his examination of her. However, there are places where Ifemelu defends her position in society, being an immigrant, and how behaviors are not just ‘country-specific,’ another theme which makes Americanah as diverse and complex as it is. When speaking about Dike and his suicidal tendencies, Ranyinudo states:

“I don’t understand how a fine boy like Dike would want to kill himself. A boy living in America with everything. How can? That is very foreign behavior.”

“Foreign behavior? What the fuck are you talking about? Have you read Things Fall Apart?” Ifemelu asked, wishing she had not told Ranyinudo about Dike. (524-525)

Ranyinudo makes it seem as if mental illness is specific to western culture, but Ifemelu immediately retorts with an example (in the novel Things Fall Apart) of how anybody, no matter their origin or a particular community, can face the sorts of psychological struggles that lead to suicide. Another example of this is presented when Ifemelu is watching television with Aunty Uju and Bartholomew.

“A girl in Nigeria will never wear that kind of dress,” Bartholomew said. “Look at that. This country has no moral compass”…

…”Girls in Nigeria wear dresses much shorter than that o,” Ifemelu said. (142-143)

Batholomew is dissing the stylistic choices that are made in American culture, noting that females back in their country of origin would never be so promiscuous. Readers see Ifemelu defend the choice of clothing and point out that it is not just specific to America (where girls wear shorter dresses) and that girls have the ability to wear short skirts in Nigeria also. She later provides an example of changing in friends’ homes to avoid parental judgment on the garments they chose to wear.

It is clear that Ifemelu is conscious of the battle between American and Nigerian culture and has an ongoing struggle with how she defines herself. Americanah focuses on the war such immigrants can have within themselves pertaining to how they choose to describe where they are from despite multiple cultural influences that may keep others from agreeing with their definition of who they are socially and culturally.

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