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Independent Study Update

hsymonds's picture

I am working with Americanah, which I am about halfway through reading. I am focusing on the characters' (especially Ifemelu's) experiences as immigrants, struggling to belong in a new country, but also not fitting in if they return home. For instance, I might think about different characters' use of language. Ifemelu at first looks down on American English, but picks up some expressions unconsciously and spends several years intentionally cultivating an American accent, which she then abandons because she realizes that she doesn't want to sound American. Her speech is still different, though: When she runs into Kayode, she says that they "[lapse] into their Nigerian voices" (p. 276). Ginika, on the other hand, tries to talk to Ifemelu as they talked in Nigeria, but she uses many outdated expressions. Aunty Uju still talks to Ifemelu in Igbo sometimes but rebukes Ifemelu for speaking Igbo to Dike.

Anne suggested that Aunty Uju might be a sort of foil for Ifemelu, and I think I agree, but I am still trying to figure out what I think of Aunty Uju. It is interesting the way her relationship with Ifemelu shifts when Ifemelu moves to America. Before, Ifemelu looked up to Aunty Uju and turned to her for advice; now their roles are not exactly reversed, but Aunty Uju seems less dependable and more dependent, always complaining to Ifemelu about the things that are going wrong in her own life, while showing little concern for Ifemelu. Aunty Uju ought to be the more "successful" immigrant, having come to America as a doctor, but after her initial struggles (and even trauma) Ifemelu settles into her new life better, while Aunty Uju continues to struggle. Both women find financial security in their relationships with men, but while Aunty Uju seeks this, for Ifemelu it is incidental, and a little uncomfortable. So yes, I suppose Aunty Uju is a foil, but I am not yet sure what this means in the context of the novel.


Anne Dalke's picture

thanks for this update. When we spoke, you also talked about the discussions you've been having in your French class about exile in a postcolonial context--the struggle to make a home for oneself in a new country and the lack of belonging one feels when one returns home; so let's keep those possibilities in the mix here as well.

As you develop the contrast between Aunty Uju and Ifemelu here, I realize of course that Aunty Uju stayed in the US, while Ifemelu returned to Nigeria. What are her motivations for both moves? Along this line, another interesting foil for your questions might be Obineze, who never settles abroad. At a dinner party, he reflects that others

"would not understand the need to escape form the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happend in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty" (p. 278).

Later, Ifemelu feels "suddenly, guiltily grateful that she had a blue Amerian passport in her bag. It shielded her from choicelessness. She could always leave; she did not have to stay" (p. 390).

Along the lines of choice, some other possible frameworks:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. "We should all be feminists." TEDxEuston, April 29, 2013.
Beyonce (sampling Adichie), Flawless
Niki Minaj (sampling Beyonce), Remix, and
Adichie on Beyonce: "Her Type of Feminism is not Mine."

Looking forward to seeing where this goes,