Americanah: Summary & Analysis Video

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  • 0:02 Overview of the Novel
  • 0:37 Life in Nigeria
  • 1:19 Life in America
  • 2:03 Relationships in the Novel
  • 3:06 Return to Nigeria
  • 4:01 Themes of the Novel
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Audrey Farley

Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

This lesson provides a summary and analysis of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2013 novel, Americanah. The novel explores the life of a young Nigerian woman who moves to America and experiences racism for the first time.

Overview of the Novel

Americanah was written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2013. Americanah relates the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian native living in New Jersey. The focal point of the narrative is Ifemelu's hair-braiding. She rides a train to Trenton to get her hair done because the town of Princeton is predominantly Caucasian. At the salon, she reminisces about her past in Nigeria. The narrative alternates between Ifemelu's story and her blog posts concerning racial tensions in her new country.

Life in Nigeria

Ifemelu is a native of Lagos, Nigeria. She meets a young man named Obinze at school. The two date while Ifemelu is living with her Aunty Uju, the mistress of an affluent married man known as The General. Aunty Uju gives birth to this man's baby, whom she names Dike. When her lover dies, Uju moves to America with her son.

Ifemelu and Obinize become sexually active, and she fears she might be pregnant, though she never is. Suddenly, the university is closed after a strike. Ifemelu decides to follow her aunt to America. She earns a scholarship to attend a college in Philadelphia and spends the summer with her aunt and cousin in Brooklyn.

Life in America

Ginika, another Nigerian native living in the neighborhood, helps Ifemelu adjust to her new life. This friend explains to Ifemelu about racial politics in the United States. Ifemelu adopts an American accent in hopes of making friends and obtaining employment. Eventually, she gets a job helping a tennis instructor 'relax.'

Adichie also uses this word to refer to the process of straightening black hair. In Nigeria, Ifemelu wore her hair in braids. In America, she learns she is supposed to straighten or 'relax' it if she wants to be taken seriously as a scholar and professional. The coach touches her inappropriately and gives her some money. She is so traumatized by this event that she stops communicating with Obinze.

Relationships in the Novel

Ginika gets Ifemelu a babysitting job working for a rich mother named Kimberly. Meanwhile, Ifemulu's aunt has moved to Massachusetts with her new husband. Ifemelu visits her aunt in Massachusetts and begins to date Kimberly's cousin, Curt, a wealthy white man.

Obinze, who has been very devastated by Ifemelu's neglect, moves to England. Here, his visa expires before he can find employment. When he is identified as an illegal immigrant, he marries a woman named Cleotilde in order to qualify for a green card. On the day of his wedding, he is arrested and deported back to his home country.

Back in America, Ifemelu begins to question her relationship with Curt. She struggles in public because their interracial relationship is scrutinized. Curt eventually breaks up with her after learning of her unfaithfulness. She becomes depressed, so her parents visit. She begins blogging and finds this activity to be very fulfilling. Soon, she becomes well-known for her blog, and she is invited to speak on race at public events.

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