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Themes and Colors
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Americanah, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Romantic Love Theme Icon

The central plot tying Americanah together is the romantic relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze. They have a kind of idealized teenage love as they find each other in school and become incredibly close, but they are then separated when Ifemelu goes to America. Ifemelu cuts off contact with Obinze during her period of depression, and this silence goes on for years. During this time each character has their own romantic experiences: Ifemelu dates Curt and Blaine, while Obinze marries Kosi. Even while Obinze and Ifemelu are separated, their romantic lives remain the central plot focus, particularly as Ifemelu deals with racial and cultural issues in her romantic relationships. With this Adichie not only creates tension and an interesting plot, but also delivers social commentary through an individual and emotional lens.

Apart from this central relationship, Adichie examines other kinds of romantic relationships as well, like Kimberly’s idolization of her narcissistic husband Don, Aunty Uju becoming the devoted mistress of The General, and many of the women of Lagos dating and marrying for money alone. Most of the novel’s romantic relationships are portrayed as somehow unhealthy or lacking, and the contrast to this is the kind of pure, romantic love and connection between Ifemelu and Obinze. The novel ends without them reaching any definite conclusion, but it does at least end on a hopeful note, implying that Ifemelu and Obinze’s love might be able to rise above the world of materialistic, one-sided, or unhealthy relationships.

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Romantic Love Quotes in Americanah

Below you will find the important quotes in Americanah related to the theme of Romantic Love.
Chapter 4 Quotes

But Obinze said little, and Kayode was left to carry the conversation, his voice getting boisterous, and from time to time he glanced at Obinze, as though to urge him on. Ifemelu was not sure when something happened, but in those moments, as Kayode talked, something strange happened. A quickening inside her, a dawning. She realized, quite suddenly, that she wanted to breathe the same air as Obinze.

Related Characters: Ifemelu, Obinze Maduewesi, Kayode
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the moment when Ifemelu and Obinze fall in "love at first sight." Originally Obinze was meant to be set up on a date with Ifemelu's friend Ginika, but then it turns out that Obinze is more interested in Ifemelu herself. This is an important scene because it starts off the love story that carries throughout the entire novel. Ifemelu and Obinze will eventually grow apart and live on different continents for decades, but they always share an intimate bond that begins with this somewhat idealized, nostalgically-portrayed teenage romance. Here Adichie also shows that for all her incisive cultural criticism, she also knows how to tug at the heartstrings with her language.


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She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.

Related Characters: Ifemelu, Obinze Maduewesi
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes from the same scene in which Obinze and Ifemelu first meet, but now they have begun explicitly talking and flirting with each other, and are alone together—experiencing a first intimate moment of connection. Adichie continues the language of teenage romance and young love here, but also introduces a crucial aspect of the relationship between the two protagonists—it is not only based on romantic love for each other, but also on self-love, or a particular way the relationship makes both of them feel more affirmed and comfortable with their identities. At this point in the story this particular quality is just another aspect of a young crush, but as Ifemelu goes through different relationships later in life, it will seem more and more important to her. With Obinze she can truly be herself—she doesn't have to modify or suppress her identity for someone else's sake, or explain why she does what she does.

Chapter 22 Quotes

Later that day she would send an e-mail to Obinze’s Hotmail address: Ceiling, I don’t even know how to start. I ran into Kayode today at the mall. Saying sorry for my silence sounds stupid even to me but I am so sorry and I feel so stupid. I will tell you everything that happened. I have missed you and I miss you. And he would not reply.

“I booked the Swedish massage for you,” Curt said.

“Thank you,” she said. Then, in a lower voice, she added, to make up for her peevishness, “You are such a sweetheart.”

“I don’t want to be a sweetheart. I want to be the fucking love of your life,” Curt said with a force that startled her.

Related Characters: Ifemelu (speaker), Curt (speaker), Obinze Maduewesi
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point Ifemelu and Obinze have been separated by an ocean and several years of noncommunication, and this email is Ifemelu's first attempt at reaching across that gap. The separation between the two protagonists makes up the majority of the book, and its last parts describe how Ifemelu and Obinze gradually move closer to each other and reestablish the powerful connection and love they once had. At this point, however, we only see things from Ifemelu's point of view, and it seems like Obinze doesn't want to reconnect—he doesn't respond to the email.

Meanwhile, Ifemelu is dating Curt, a wealthy, handsome white man who introduces her to a world of spontaneous travel and luxurious living. Ifemelu is happy with Curt, but always feels like something is missing in their romance. Here it becomes clear that Curt feels no reservations whatsoever about Ifemelu—he wants to be the "love of her life"—but Ifemelu still feels a disconnect between herself and Curt.

Chapter 29 Quotes

He was making fun of his wife, but Obinze knew, from the muted awe in his tone, that it was mockery colored by respect, mockery of what he believed, despite himself, to be inherently superior. Obinze had remembered how Kayode had often said about Emenike in secondary school: He can read all the books he wants but the bush is still in his blood.

Related Characters: Obinze Maduewesi, Kayode, Emenike, Georgina
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote refers to Emenike, Obinze's old classmate from Nigeria, who has now come to England and become rich and successful, and has also married a white Englishwoman. Even as a teenager, Obinze remembers, Emenike was ambitious and would pretend to be richer than he was (he was actually from a very poor bush village). Now Emenike has assumed a new identity—that of the successful Englishman who also retains his Nigerian roots. Obinze will later learn that Emenike really is romantically in love with his wife (Georgina), but here Obinze only notices how Emenike holds his wife to a different standard because she is white. Emenike might complain about her or make fun of her, but he still considers Georgina inherently superior to himself. This is another of Adichie's cultural criticisms of how race is viewed in both the West and Nigeria—whiteness is assumed to be best, and this view is so normalized by those in power that even black Africans have developed an inferiority complex about their blackness.

This quote also suggests that Emenike may have been so successful in England precisely because he is so skilled at assuming new identities to fit his situation. When he was friends with the rich teens like Obinze, he pretended to be rich, and now he pretends to be fully English (but he also knows how to flatter white people and play his role as a "grateful immigrant"). Seemingly no one has any idea who the "real" Emenike is, as he has learned to adapt so well that he has no fixed identity or personality aside from his adaptiveness and ambition to better his social standing.

Chapter 31 Quotes

The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive.

Related Characters: Ifemelu (speaker), Curt
Page Number: 359
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu is at a party, and addresses a black Haitian woman who claims she had dated a white man for three years, and "race was never an issue for them." Ifemelu is a little drunk, so she decides not to let the issue pass, and she accuses the woman of lying. Ifemelu then gives this statement that encapsulates many of her (and Adichie's) ideas on race in America.

Because of this quote's subject matter and position in the narrative (right after Ifemelu and Curt's breakup), it's clear that Ifemelu is here referencing her own past relationship with Curt, and finally admitting some things to herself that she had been unable to see when she was actually dating Curt—like the fact that there was always a kind of separation between them because of their experiences of the world, and the way society viewed them racially. In private they experienced a real connection, and were in love with each other romantically, but in public they were always separated by the issue of racial identity and experience. Ifemelu had an entirely different experience because she was black—meaning that American culture treated her as different or inferior—while Curt had no idea this was going on, and was inherently unable to understand it. The privilege of white ignorance is a divide in interracial relationships, Ifemelu suggests, because the non-white partner will always seem to be offended or hurt by things that the white partner doesn't even have to recognize as existing.

These are issues of racial justice and social criticism, but here Adichie also shows how these issues affect one's personal life, like one's identity and romantic relationships. Ifemelu's identity is inherently divided from Curt's because of their different experiences, and the way that society sees them affects their relationship even in private. Essentially Adichie is saying that nothing exists in a vaccuum, and these issues of racism and isolation affect even the most seemingly private of human affairs.

The simplest solution to the problem of race in America? Romantic love. Not friendship. Not the kind of safe, shallow love where the objective is that both people remain comfortable. But real deep romantic love, the kind that twists you and wrings you out and makes you breathe through the nostrils of your beloved. And because that real deep romantic love is so rare, and because American society is set up to make it even rarer between American Black and American White, the problem of race in America will never be solved.

Related Characters: Ifemelu (speaker)
Page Number: 366-367
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes from one of Ifemelu's blog posts, and relates to her earlier discussion of her own relationship with Curt. She here takes her ideas on race as related to romantic love and puts them in the wider context of "the problem of race in America." Ifemelu suggests that the best way to "cure" racism is for more white people and black people to fall in love—truly in love, not just a "safe, shallow love." (The "breathing" language here is also reminiscent of Ifemelu's first true love, Obinze, whom she "wanted to breathe the same air as.") But then Ifemelu laments the fact that American society has made it so difficult for this to happen. Ifemelu has just discussed the separation between herself and Curt during their romance because she had a totally different experience of the world, as a black woman, than Curt did as a white man, despite the fact that they were lovers and equals when they were alone together. American society, whether intentionally or not, places obstacles in the way of interracial relationships, in that the non-white partner will always be treated and viewed differently from the white partner, and the couple itself will be seen as something "different" or even dangerous. This is just another way cultural racism affects one's personal life, as Adichie continues to explore the nuances of race in America.

Chapter 46 Quotes

“Yes. She approached me, but their budget was too small for me. That girl never understood the first rule of life in this Lagos. You do not marry the man you love. You marry the man who can best maintain you.”

Related Characters: Priye (speaker), Ifemelu, Ranyinudo
Page Number: 492
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that she's back in Nigeria, Ifemelu tries to reconnect with some of her old school friends. One of these is Priye, a woman who is now a wedding planner. Here Priye discusses a friend's wedding that she was considering planning, and then gives a half-joking statement about romance in Lagos, Nigeria. Adichie has spent most of the book's middle section critiquing American society, but in the final sections she turns her attention back to Nigeria, and offers a cultural criticism of Lagos society in particular. Much of this centers around romantic love, and also connects with the kind of corruption, flattery, and extravagance that Adichie has previously criticized in the Nigerian "big men."

Most of the romantic relationships Adichie portrays in her book are unhealthy or lacking in some way, and in Nigeria she often sees that unhealthiness as related to money and prestige. Romance is more transactional in Lagos, as Adichie sees it—women are supposed to find the richest and most powerful man, rather than the man they actually like most. It is also assumed that women should keep moving from one man to another in order to climb the social ladder—dating progressively richer and more powerful men. On the male side, "big men" assume that their money or power can buy them anything, and so if they find a woman attractive or desirable, they assume that they can "have" her. This is basically an exchange of sex for money, with a show of beauty and prestige mixed in, and very little real romance or love.

Chapter 51 Quotes

Finally, he said, “I can’t imagine how bad you must have felt, and how alone. You should have told me. I so wish you had told me.”

She heard his words like a melody and she felt herself breathing unevenly, gulping at the air. She would not cry, it was ridiculous to cry after so long, but her eyes were filling with tears and there was a boulder in her chest and a stinging in her throat. The tears felt itchy. She made no sound. He took her hand in his, both clasped on the table, and between them a silence grew, an ancient silence that they both knew. She was inside this silence and she was safe.

Related Characters: Obinze Maduewesi (speaker), Ifemelu
Page Number: 543
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu and Obinze have reconnected after decades apart, and now Ifemelu finally tells Obinze the story of why she broke off communication. This is a cathartic and poignant moment—one that most of the book has been leading up to—and also a lovely passage in itself, as Adichie intertwines language of the scene's intimate physicality and the vast significance of the moment in the emotional lives of both protagonists. The physical and interpersonal separation that made up the center of the novel—Ifemelu and Obinze's separation—is now in the process of being dissolved, as it seems that the two characters are reestablishing the powerful connection they once shared. In the arc of the novel's romantic plot, this also shows Ifemelu returning to her first true love, Obinze, after many relationships with other men in America.

Chapter 54 Quotes

Once she had told him, “The thing about cross-cultural relationships is that you spend so much time explaining. My ex-boyfriends and I spent a lot of time explaining. I sometimes wondered whether we would even have anything at all to say to each other if we were from the same place,” and it pleased him to hear that, because it gave his relationship with her a depth, a lack of trifling novelty. They were from the same place and they still had a lot to say to each other.

Related Characters: Ifemelu (speaker), Obinze Maduewesi
Page Number: 563
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu and Obinze have rekindled their old romance, and feel like they are having a whirlwind teenage romance all over again. Here we see this from Obinze's point of view, as he reflects on something Ifemelu told him that made him feel special and affirmed in their relationship. The quote is a sign of the strong romantic love and connection that has survived for years between the two protagonists, but it also highlights issues Ifemelu experienced in her relationships back in America: mostly the problem of separation of experience or cultural misunderstanding. She was always having to explain things to Curt or Blaine, and vice-versa, because they all came from such different backgrounds and even experienced society and American culture in totally different ways (mostly because Ifemelu is a Black African, while Curt was a wealthy white American and Blaine was an African American and Ivy League professor).

Chapter 55 Quotes

The pain of his absence did not decrease with time; it seemed instead to sink in deeper each day, to rouse in her even clearer memories. Still, she was at peace: to be home, to be writing her blog, to have discovered Lagos again. She had, finally, spun herself fully into being.

Related Characters: Ifemelu, Obinze Maduewesi
Page Number: 585-586
Explanation and Analysis:

After reconnecting and rekindling their old romance, Ifemelu has "broken up" with Obinze again because of his refusal to leave his wife, Kosi. This quote then sums up a crucial kind of growth that Ifemelu has experienced over the course of the book, and particularly since returning to Nigeria—a new maturity of both romantic love and self-love. Though they are divided again, Ifemelu still loves Obinze deeply and feels the "pain of his absence," and yet at the same time Ifemelu also feels peaceful and whole without Obinze. She has finally found an identity for herself as a writer, as a woman, and as a Nigerian/American citizen.