Americanah

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Aunty Uju Character Analysis

Ifemelu’s aunt, an intelligent, strong-willed doctor. In Nigeria she becomes the mistress of The General and lives off of his wealth, but then she has to flee to America, where she lives a life of stress and hardship. She is always the closest to Ifemelu of any of her relatives, even after she seems to change and harden in America.

Aunty Uju Quotes in Americanah

The Americanah quotes below are all either spoken by Aunty Uju or refer to Aunty Uju. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor edition of Americanah published in 2014.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“You know, we live in an ass-licking economy. The biggest problem in this country is not corruption. The problem is that there are many qualified people who are not where they are supposed to be because they won’t lick anybody’s ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick or they don’t even know how to lick an ass. I’m lucky to be licking the right ass.”

Related Characters: Aunty Uju (speaker), The General
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu's Aunty Uju gives a rather straightforward "lesson" about how Nigerian society works. At this point Uju is the mistress of the General, a powerful military figure in the Nigerian government, who provides Uju with a house and many gifts. Here Adichie again criticizes the corruption in Nigerian society, albeit in a humorous way. What seems most frustrating (but also amusing) to some of the characters in the book isn't just the corruption in Nigeria, but also how obvious and open it is. As Uju says, the entire economy is based on flattery and manipulation, and the best way to succeed is to acknowledge this fact and work within the system.

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Chapter 9 Quotes

“Dike, put it back,” Aunty Uju said, with the nasal, sliding accent she put on when she spoke to white Americans, in the presence of white Americans, in the hearing of white Americans. Pooh-reet-back. And with the accent emerged a new persona, apologetic and self-abasing.

Related Characters: Aunty Uju (speaker), Ifemelu
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point Ifemelu has just moved to America, while her Aunty Uju has been there for years, so Ifemelu is observing both this new culture and the way it has changed her aunt's identity. In Nigeria, Uju was a confident, outspoken woman who seemed to understand Ifemelu better than anyone else, but now it's clear that living in America has "subdued" Uju's identity in many ways. As this quote shows, Uju has learned to be apologetic about her foreignness, and she tries to speak with an American accent in front of white people so as to bring less attention to herself. Clearly many instances of racism or ignorance have led to Uju's creation of this new "persona," but Ifemelu is seeing it for the first time and is appalled.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Later, she said, “I have to take my braids out for my interviews and relax my hair… If you have braids, they will think you are unprofessional.”

“So there are no doctors with braided hair in America?” Ifemelu asked.

“I have told you what they told me. You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed.”

There it was again, the strange naivete with which Aunty Uju had covered herself like a blanket. Sometimes, while having a conversation, it would occur to Ifemelu that Aunty Uju had deliberately left behind something of herself, something essential, in a distant and forgotten place. Obinze said it was the exaggerated gratitude that came with immigrant insecurity.

Related Characters: Ifemelu (speaker), Aunty Uju (speaker), Obinze Maduewesi
Page Number: 146-147
Explanation and Analysis:

Aunty Uju has just passed her exams and is licensed to become a doctor in America, so she is planning out what she has to do to get a job practicing medicine—and part of this involves straightening her hair. This quote is an important explanation of the symbol of hair (and particularly black women's hair) in the novel, as Uju has learned that for a black woman to wear her hair naturally or in braids is considered "unprofessional"—or essentially, not white enough to be professional. Here Adichie is critiquing American culture for the way racism is ingrained at every level—even including standards of beauty and fashion—but also showing another way Uju's identity has been "subdued" by this society. In order to protect herself, it seems that Uju has given up an important part of her character, and this feels tragic to Ifemelu.

Obinze then has a good explanation for this (that immigrants are taught to be so grateful for being allowed to live in America that they submit to its society's racist practices), but it's also worth noting that Obinze himself is not yet an immigrant—he's still in Nigeria. He can observe this phenomenon from the outside, but it's only once he's illegally in England that he too can understand real racism and the pressures to conform and subdue one's own identity.

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Aunty Uju Character Timeline in Americanah

The timeline below shows where the character Aunty Uju appears in Americanah. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
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As all this is going on, Ifemelu’s father’s sister, Aunty Uju , becomes the mistress of “The General,” a powerful military man who buys her a... (full context)
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Ifemelu’s mother is angry, and takes her home. Aunty Uju comes to visit, and Ifemelu’s mother tells her to give Ifemelu a talking-to. Aunty Uju... (full context)
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Aunty Uju sits with Ifemelu and reminds her that she can’t always speak her mind. Ifemelu asks... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Aunty Uju , meanwhile, spends all her free time focused on The General. She avoids the sun... (full context)
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...says he has asked his wealthy relative for a loan. Ifemelu knows he won’t ask Aunty Uju for money, but he wouldn’t reject it if she offered it. Ifemelu tells Aunty Uju... (full context)
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The next weekend Aunty Uju takes Ifemelu to her upper-class hair salon, and says that The General gave her the... (full context)
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Aunty Uju is still infatuated with The General, even though she recognizes that he is physically unappealing.... (full context)
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One night Ifemelu meets The General at Aunty Uju ’s house, and is surprised by his “gleeful coarseness.” He always gives Uju the gossip... (full context)
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There is a holiday, and The General is supposed to spend it with Aunty Uju instead of his wife. Aunty Uju spends a long time preparing for his visit, but... (full context)
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That evening Aunty Uju ’s two “friends” visit—she knows they only like her because of The General, but she... (full context)
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Soon Aunty Uju gets pregnant. Ifemelu’s mother is distraught, as the pregnancy shatters her created idea of The... (full context)
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Aunty Uju has the baby, a boy named Dike. She gives him her own surname instead of... (full context)
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...State engineered it, fearing that the officers on the plane were planning a coup. When Aunty Uju hears the news she can’t believe it, and then she starts to weep. Immediately some... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...cannot understand this, but she wants to go to Ibadan as well, because that’s where Aunty Uju went. Before they submit their applications, however, Obinze’s mother has a fainting spell in the... (full context)
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...her side and she starts throwing up. She fears that she is pregnant. She calls Aunty Uju , who tells her to go to the medical center and get a pregnancy test.... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...to England. The process of getting visas seems arbitrary, and many are rejected. In America, Aunty Uju is working three jobs and isn’t yet qualified to practice medicine. She has been there... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...surprised at how hot it is, as she had always assumed America would be cold. Aunty Uju picks her up from the airport in New York. Uju seems tense and unhappy, different... (full context)
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...Dike, who is now a precocious first-grader. Ifemelu has to sleep on the floor, as Aunty Uju and Dike share the single bed. Ifemelu expected everything to be more glamorous than it... (full context)
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The next morning Aunty Uju wakes Ifemelu up with brisk instructions, telling her that she should take care of Dike... (full context)
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At the grocery story Aunty Uju only buys what’s on sale. Ifemelu notices that she takes on an American accent when... (full context)
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That night Ifemelu talks to Dike in Igbo, and Aunty Uju rebukes her, saying that things are different in America, and learning two languages will confuse... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...the news—still used to the patriotic Nigerian news—and soon starts to feel paranoid and afraid. Aunty Uju laughs at this, saying that the only difference is that they don’t report all the... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Aunty Uju starts dating a divorced Nigerian man named Bartholomew. He comes over for dinner one day... (full context)
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Aunty Uju asks Ifemelu what she thought of Bartholomew. Ifemelu points out that he used cheap bleaching... (full context)
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...other that they will be together again soon, which makes their plan seem more real. Aunty Uju gets her results and finds that she passed her medical exams. She immediately says that... (full context)
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Ifemelu thinks that Aunty Uju seems to have left something of herself behind in Nigeria and cloaked herself in a... (full context)
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Aunty Uju gives Ifemelu her friend’s driver’s license and social security card, as Ifemelu now has to... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...job interviews, but even the ones she thinks go well don’t hire her. One day Aunty Uju calls her to say that Dike was found in the closet with a girl, “showing... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...She keeps scrubbing at her hands. She finds herself unable to call Obinze. She calls Aunty Uju , who is pleased that she earned money and doesn’t even ask how she made... (full context)
Chapter 16
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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... (full context)
Chapter 17
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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.... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
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Aunty Uju lives in Warrington, Massachusetts now. Every time Ifemelu visits, Uju tells stories of new grievances,... (full context)
Chapter 19
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A friend and Aunty Uju both tell Ifemelu to get rid of her braids and straighten her hair for her... (full context)
Chapter 21
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One day Aunty Uju calls Ifemelu, upset that Dike won’t wear the shirt she wants him to wear for... (full context)
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Aunty Uju compliments Ifemelu about making Curt like her, even with her hair “like that.” Uju complains... (full context)
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...now charmed by Curt as well. They soon go back out to play more basketball. Aunty Uju tells Ifemelu that Curt “holds her like an egg,” and she agrees. She feels fragile... (full context)
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One morning Aunty Uju has a fight with Bartholomew about him always leaving toothpaste in the sink. He says... (full context)
Chapter 32
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After breaking up with Curt, Ifemelu feels aimless for a while. She visits Aunty Uju on weekends. Uju has met a new man, a divorced Ghanaian doctor, and she seems... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...it. But Blaine doesn’t seem to, and so Ifemelu goes to Willow to stay with Aunty Uju . (full context)
Chapter 39
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Ifemelu stays with Aunty Uju , who does yoga now. Ifemelu, however, takes a perverse pleasure in buying unhealthy, inorganic... (full context)
Chapter 41
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...can do. She takes the train back to Princeton and then gets a call from Aunty Uju . Aunty Uju says that Dike tried to kill himself by overdosing on Tylenol. She... (full context)
Chapter 42
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...She says she is crying, and that Obinze’s mother was the only adult other than Aunty Uju “who treated me like a person with an opinion that mattered.” She says she is... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...night, thinking about what might have happened if Dike’s attempt was successful. Sometimes she blames Aunty Uju for not supporting him and listening to his experience. She points out one time Dike... (full context)
Chapter 50
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...and Ifemelu calls him every other day. One day Dike asks to visit Ifemelu, and Aunty Uju reluctantly buys him a ticket. When he arrives, Dike says “Oh my God, Coz, I’ve... (full context)
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...about his father, and Ifemelu vaguely talks about The General. She takes Dike to see Aunty Uju ’s old house, the one The General had bought for her. Dike says that he... (full context)
Chapter 51
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...go inside and sit down. Obinze turns off his phones and asks about Dike and Aunty Uju . Obinze and Ifemelu talk about Nigeria, and there is a nervousness but easy intimacy... (full context)