Americanah

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Americanah Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ifemelu eventually makes enough money to get a studio apartment for herself. She has perfected her American accent by now, as she learns when a young male telemarketer calls her. He is surprised that she is Nigerian, as she sounds “totally American.” When she hangs up, Ifemelu starts to feel ashamed of this. She wonders why “sounding American” should always be a compliment or an achievement, and realizes that this means that Cristina Tomas, the girl at the college registration booth, has somehow “won.” After this, Ifemelu decides to stop faking her American accent. She immediately feels more like herself.
After hitting her low point, Ifemelu has now found more and more success at building a new identity in America. She is now confident enough that she no longer feels the need to pretend to be more American than she is, and so she gives up her new accent. We have seen that most Americans (and even other immigrants) see a foreign accent as inferior, but Ifemelu decides to embrace her Nigerianness and speak as she would naturally.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
That same day Ifemelu takes the train to visit Aunty Uju. She sits down next to a good-looking young man who introduces himself as Blaine. She can tell (as she is now able to) that he is African-American, not African. They immediately start to flirt, and Blaine says that he is an assistant professor at Yale studying African politics. Ifemelu is drawn to him and starts to imagine them as a couple. They discuss grad school and malls, which Blaine hates and Ifemelu doesn’t see a problem with. Ifemelu sees it as a meaningful coincidence that she met this man on the day she returned to her true accent.
Because of the roundabout narrative structure, we know that this meeting is significant and Ifemelu will later end up dating Blaine for years. Blaine appears as an intellectual equal and kindred spirit to Ifemelu, but he has a different experience and worldview than she does because he is an African-America, not an African. Through Blaine and his interactions with Ifemelu Adichie will be able to explore these differences.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Blaine gets beers for them, and then tells Ifemelu about his years as an undergraduate. Ifemelu is disappointed when the train reaches her stop at New Haven. She gets Blaine to write his phone number on a piece of paper, and he seems sad to see her go. She calls him from Aunty Uju’s house an hour later, and then many more times over the next few days, but he never answers.
This brief romantic encounter seems to fizzle out, but Adichie has already revealed that Blaine will reappear as a more major character later. Ifemelu is clearly smitten, as she keeps calling him.
Themes
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Aunty Uju lives in Warrington, Massachusetts now. Every time Ifemelu visits, Uju tells stories of new grievances, like a white patient who didn’t believe that she was a doctor, and asked to be transferred to a different doctor after her visit. Uju says that she hardly sees Bartholomew, but she is still trying to have another child. Dike is both taller and more reserved every time Ifemelu visits, but the two cousins are still close.
Through Aunty Uju Adichie gives another perspective on racial relations in America. Uju is a doctor twice over (having passed her medical exams in both Nigeria and America), but some white people still automatically consider her unqualified because of her race.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
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After a day at summer camp Dike comes home to play soccer with Ifemelu, but he looks unhappy. Ifemelu asks him about it, and finally he tells her that his group leader gave sunscreen to all the other kids but wouldn’t give it to him, because she said he didn’t need it. He tries to say it was funny, because one of his friends was laughing about it. Ifemelu tries to comfort him. Dike says he just wants to be “regular.”
As Dike ages his insecurities grow, even though he tries to laugh them off. When his peers say offensive or isolating things to him, he has to consider them funny to avoid being ostracized. Because of the society he has grown up in, Dike considers black to be “irregular.”
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
The chapter ends with a post from Ifemelu’s blog, this one about “American Tribalism.” She explains the four kinds of tribalism: class (rich vs. poor), ideology (liberals vs. conservatives), region (North vs. South), and race. Race is the most complicated one, but white is always on top, and American Black is always at the bottom. The hierarchy of who is in between depends on time and place. Ifemelu describes how she first learned that Jewish was a race considered slightly inferior to other whites, even though Ifemelu couldn’t tell the difference between Jewish people and any other white people.
Once again Adichie delves into more non-fiction lectures through Ifemelu’s blog posts. Because they are written in Ifemelu’s voice, they also show just how much Ifemelu has learned and observed about American culture and the forces at work behind it. Here Ifemelu also reinforces the idea that she didn’t even think about race as a concept until she came to America.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon