rewashed: Prose Homework on the Signifance of America on Ifemulu’s character

Americanah is a novel about a Nigerian immigrant’s journey in America and her lifestyle and world view changes that America has forced on her. Ifemulu makes and breaks several relationships, opens her own blog, and helps raise Dike. The novel ends with its titular “Americanah” returning home to Nigeria, the only place she believes she truly belongs. Of course this is expected of her; the exploitation and disillusionment she experienced during her search for the American Dream has scarred her for life.
Ifemulu, like Aunty Uju and all of their family and friends believed that America was a place of easy living. It did not matter which part of America. In their minds, “America was America.” However, from the first moment Ifemulu steps into this foreign land, it fails to meet her expectations. She had expected to arrive “[in] a cold place of wool coats and snow.”, but she arrived in a heat-wave. She saw Aunty Uju for the first time in years, but Aunty Uju “Brushed their meeting…as if it had been weeks [instead of] years since they had last met.” She saw a man urinate outside, and slept on the floor of her Aunty’s tiny apartment quite like in Nigeria, but saw Aunty Uju with “her roughly braided hair, her ears bereft of earrings” and was confused. Nothing was inherently wrong with peeing outside, or sleeping on the floor, “but this was America at last, glorious America and last, and she had not expected [it].” Was this the America she had heard so much about? Was this the America that she had dreamed of with Obinze? Her “eagerness to discover America” would lead her through a lot of pain before she ever got a glimpse of what America is like for the rich and powerful.
All she could do is watch in moments when her “glorious America” was destroyed. In moments of disparity as to what America was to immigrants and was in real life, Ifemulu become a symbol instead of a character. She was not quick to snap at people with her smart mouth; she could not easily interact with many of her classmates in college and her roommates. With the exception of Ginika, all of her relationship became forced, and her “old intimacy” with Aunty Uju suddenly relapsed. A girl who was the most popular in her class because people genuinely liked her, a girl who could verbally insult her religious leaders, became a girl whose only friend was her kid cousin. She experience racism in forms that she had long thought was dead. “America had subdued her.”

Ifemulu’s experience with exploitation left her mentally scarred for the rest of her life. When she first arrived, instead of looking for a summer job to help with her college tuition, she was practically forced to watch Dike, without pay as Aunty Uju went out to work her three jobs. As much as Aunty Uju was being used by the system with she was not familiar, she took out that pain of Ifemulu and Dike. Ifemulu was also approached by Marlon, her neighbor’s husband; because it seemed that she could not say ‘no’, she didn’t say anything at all, and avoided him and the neighbor she was just getting to know. As an immigrant student, she could not pay her rent, and had inconsiderate roommates who did not seem to care about her well-being at all. She fell into despair as her bills started to pile up. She, who in Nigeria mocked her mother for calling out the devil when things go wrong, blamed the devil for not being able to find a job. The situation in America, not Nigeria, was so grave that she sold her dignity for a night for a mere $100, and finally tipped her despair into a state of depression. Everything she had thought she knew about America was wrong. Horribly, terribly, wrong.

America shaped her character from a smart-mouthed, fun girl to a cautious, haughty, smart-mouthed woman. Her ideals had changed ever so slightly because of her life there too. She sees sex now as a way to assert her independence instead of a way to consummate love. She complains mercilessly about the new Lagos, as if “the new America” was far better. Ifemulu, after seeing what sleeping with a married man can do to both Aunty Uju and Ranyinudo, choose to ask Obinze to home-wreck his marriage.

America may have broken her pride, but it did not let her settle on the ground. Now she stands above all non immigrants, Christians, and anyone she does not deem worthy below her. I believe that she did this in a way to mend herself after feeling exploited and disillusioned.

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