Americanah

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Americanah Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kimberly gives Ifemelu some extra money as a “signing bonus,” and Ifemelu is relieved. She buys some shoes and sends them to her mother. Her mother calls and says that Obinze came to visit her, and that Ifemelu needs to talk to him about whatever problem she is having. Ifemelu changes the subject. She keeps trying to overcome her self-hatred and call Obinze, but she can’t do it. She deletes his messages and emails. One day she gets a letter from him, and its presence makes her incredibly sad. It sits unopened on her table for a week, and eventually disappears under other papers and books.
Ifemelu is now making a conscious decision to strengthen the silence and separation between herself and Obinze. We don’t get Obinze’s point of view about this time yet, but he is clearly very worried. Ifemelu’s impulsive nature (and the ease of deleting computer messages) leads her to continue down this path of destroying the romance that had brought her happiness and confidence.
Themes
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Kimberly’s two children are a younger boy named Taylor and a slightly older girl named Morgan. Taylor is innocent and playful, while Morgan is very intelligent and withdrawn. She seems far older than her years, always appearing quiet and judgmental. One day Morgan calmly goes into her room and starts tearing down the wallpaper and ripping up the carpet. Ifemelu finally stops her, and later Kimberly cries and asks Morgan what was wrong. Morgan only says that she’s too old for the “pink stuff” in her room. After that Kimberly sends Morgan to a therapist.
Adichie delves into the lives of Kimberly’s family while Ifemelu works for them, offering some observations and critiques about raising children in America. Morgan is a brilliant child, but doesn’t do well with Kimberly’s compliant style of parenting. Adichie’s observations about mental health issues in America continue: here they begin even at a young age.
Themes
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Don tries buying Morgan presents, but she ignores him. Kimberly notices that Morgan only listens to Ifemelu. Ifemelu wants to say it’s because she isn’t as easily pushed around as Kimberly lets herself be, but doesn’t. She just tells Kimberly that it’s a “phase.” She finds that she wants to protect Kimberly from the harsh truth.
There is a disconnect between Morgan and her parents, and Morgan only listens to Ifemelu because of Ifemelu’s straightforward, no-nonsense approach—arguably a less modern, liberal, American way of childcare.
Themes
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
One day Laura, Kimberly’s sister, brings over a magazine with a picture of a celebrity surrounded by skinny African children. Ifemelu remarks that the celebrity is skinny by choice, while the kids are not, and Laura laughs and calls her “sassy.” Later Kimberly apologizes for her sister. Kimberly often apologizes for Laura, who questions Ifemelu aggressively whenever she visits. Eventually Ifemelu finds Kimberly’s apologies “self-indulgent,” as if she could fix everything wrong with the world just by saying sorry.
Kimberly recognizes that “sassy” is a stereotypical term for black women, and she apologizes for Laura’s patronizing comment. Ifemelu eventually grows weary of Kimberly’s apologies because Kimberly chooses to simply say she’s sorry, instead of trying to fix things or change her sister’s ideas.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
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A few months later Kimberly decides to let Ifemelu use their “spare” car to go to and from work. Laura questions the decision, asking if Ifemelu has an American license. Ifemelu notices that both sisters are unhappy, but in different ways. Ifemelu tells the story of the driving class she took in Brooklyn, and how the instructor changed people’s answers to make sure they all passed. Ifemelu says that before that, she thought that nobody in America cheated.
Adichie’s cultural criticisms of wealthy, liberal Americans show Laura as unhappy because of a bitter sense of defensiveness, and Kimberly because of a sense of guilt and unworthiness. The drivers’ class was yet another experience to shatter Ifemelu’s ideals about America.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
One day Ifemelu gives Taylor an orange, and he is disgusted to find that there are seeds inside—he doesn’t even know that oranges have seeds, as he has only eaten seedless ones all his life. A carpet cleaner arrives, and he is shocked when Ifemelu answers the door. He looks hostile until she reveals that she is the “help,” and then he visibly relaxes and acts friendly.
The carpet cleaner’s attitude is a good example of a small incident that has a large and complex issue behind it: racial hierarchy. Ifemelu might have been rich enough to own such a house, but the fact that she was black is enough to upset the status quo.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Later Ifemelu would write a blog post about this, commenting how in America race often is class. The carpet cleaner hadn’t cared how rich Ifemelu was—the fact that she was black and the potential owner of a mansion meant that she was upsetting the proper social order. Ifemelu notes that in America’s public discourse, it is always said “Blacks and Poor Whites,” instead of “Poor Blacks and Poor Whites.”
In Ifemelu’s blog posts Adichie can be more direct in her criticisms about race, identity, and American culture. Ifemelu is examining these things as an outsider, and so perhaps has a unique point of view. Here she shows how race and class often overlap in America.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Ifemelu doesn’t tell Kimberly about the carpet cleaner, but she does tell her about the orange. Laura arrives with her young daughter, Athena, and she and Kimberly discuss the party they’re having the next day. Laura talks about a Nigerian doctor she met recently, and says he reminded her of Ifemelu and other “privileged Africans” who are allowed to come to America. She compliments how “well-groomed and well-spoken” he was.
Laura uses more phrases that aren’t racist in themselves but are associated with racial stereotypes, like complimenting an African man for being “well-groomed and well-spoken,” which implies that most Africans are not so. Calling African immigrants “privileged” to come to America also implies America’s superiority.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Laura then compares the doctor to another African woman she knew at school, who didn’t get along with the African-American in the class because “she didn’t have all those issues.” Ifemelu points out that the African woman could have had a father running for parliament or studying at Oxford, while the African-American’s father was still unable to vote because he was black. Ifemelu says that Laura should understand history better before making such a simplistic comparison, and Laura goes upstairs in a huff. Ifemelu follows her and apologizes, but only because the incident made Kimberly look so sad.
Laura repeats the sentiment that Jane and Aunty Uju had expressed earlier—that black Americans have more “issues” than black Africans. Ifemelu now understands this idea better and knows what lies behind it—that the “issues” come from a recent history of slavery and discrimination. Ifemelu speaks out, as she often does, even when it might be impolite to do so. Unlike Kimberly, Laura cannot accept that her views might be wrong.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
The next day Don and Kimberly throw a party for a friend who is running for Congress. Kimberly invites Ifemelu and Ifemelu senses that Kimberly needs her. Laura ignores Ifemelu during the party. The guests talk to Ifemelu about how beautiful African women are, “especially Ethiopians,” and they discuss their various charities doing work in Africa. Ifemelu recognizes that there is a kind of luxury in being able to be charitable, and she wishes she had this confidence of always having enough.
Ifemelu can tell that Kimberly now counts on her as a supportive friend, not just an employee or interesting acquaintance. The guests offer more examples of vaguely offensive comments, as they are essentially well-meaning but still stereotype or condescend to Africans. Ifemelu again feels the insecurity of being from the place that receives charity.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Another guest invites Ifemelu to apply to work for her charity, as she’s always looking for “local labor.” Ifemelu suddenly wishes she was from a “country of people who gave and not those who received,” so she could feel the confidence and self-satisfaction that Kimberly and her guests feel. Ifemelu goes out on the deck and sees Don on the phone, looking secretive about something. He makes awkward small talk with her and then they both go back inside.
As the only African surrounded by people who see Africa as a sad case requiring their help, Ifemelu feels like she herself is somehow inferior and being patronized to by these wealthy Americans. The scene with Don strengthens the idea that his relationship with Kimberly is uneven, or even that he is cheating on her.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Ifemelu leaves the party early to call Aunty Uju. Uju says that Dike has been asking why he doesn’t have his father’s last name, and if it means that his father didn’t love him. Ifemelu has noticed that since moving to Massachusetts, both of them have changed. Dike seems to have put up walls around himself, and his grades are failing. Aunty Uju scolds him more and more, and she uses Igbo whenever she is angry. Uju has been surprised by how everyone is white, and she feels out of place. Dike’s principal has called her and said that Dike is “aggressive,” which she says is “marking” him as different. The principal assured her that they don’t see Dike as different at all.
Adichie doesn’t focus on Dike much yet, but she does offer hints like this about his struggle for identity. He is not only one of the only black children at his school (and being singled out because of it, even by white faculty that might be totally well-meaning), but also a an illegitimate child growing up without a father, and even without his father’s name. Uju likewise continues to feel alone and like everything is working against her in America.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon