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Separation vs. Connection Theme Analysis

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.
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon

A more metaphorical theme that spans the novel is the idea of separation versus connection. This involves personal misunderstandings, physical distances, and cultural and racial divides. The most obvious separation that defines the plot is when Ifemelu and Obinze are physically separated by thousands of miles, with Ifemelu going to America and Obinze staying in Nigeria and then going to England. This then leads to the personal separation between the two when Ifemelu breaks off contact with Obinze. The later parts of the novel are then about reestablishing that close connection between the two, as they reconnect geographically by both returning to Nigeria.

Other personal separations concern the other characters as well, like Ifemelu’s mother’s disconnection from the corrupt realities of life, Aunty Uju’s disconnection from Dike’s experiences, and Obinze’s personal distance from Kosi. Among all these personal and physical separations, there are also the many cultural and racial divides focused on in the themes of race and identity. Ifemelu’s experience and blog focus on the many misunderstandings and prejudices that fill her life in both America and Nigeria. But just as Ifemelu’s relationships with Obinze and Dike are shown as hopeful portrayals of real connection, so there are also examples of human connection crossing racial and cultural divides, as with Ifemelu’s friendship with Kimberly and her relationship with Curt, the diverse characters at Shan’s “salon,” and Obinze’s friendship with Nigel.

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Separation vs. Connection Quotes in Americanah

Below you will find the important quotes in Americanah related to the theme of Separation vs. Connection.
Chapter 4 Quotes

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.


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Chapter 14 Quotes

They mimicked what Americans told them: You speak such good English. How bad is AIDS in your country? It’s so sad that people live on less than a dollar a day in Africa. And they themselves mocked Africa, trading stories of absurdity, of stupidity, and they felt safe to mock, because it was a mockery born of longing, and of the heartbroken desire to see a place made whole again. Here, Ifemelu felt a gentle, swaying sense of renewal. Here, she did not have to explain herself.

Related Characters: Ifemelu
Page Number: 170-171
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu has recently started college in America, and she feels isolated and disconnected from the rest of the students—until this scene, where she is invited to the "African Students Union" and she meets other students from Africa. Surrounded by people who experience the same kind of racism, ignorance, and homesickness that she does, Ifemelu feels a new sense of connection with these students, and she also feels reaffirmed in her identity as a Nigerian. She doesn't want to have to subdue herself and change her identity like her Aunty Uju has, but she also doesn't want to keep being hurt by racism and ignorance. In moments like these Ifemelu gets a renewal of strength and personal connection as she seeks to adjust to a new culture while also staying true to herself.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“Isn’t she just stunning?”

“No, she isn’t.” Ifemelu paused. “You know, you can just say ‘black.’ Not every black person is beautiful.”

Kimberly was taken aback, something wordless spread on her face and then she smiled, and Ifemelu would think of it as the moment they became, truly, friends.

Related Characters: Ifemelu (speaker), Kimberly (speaker)
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu is now working for Kimberly, a wealthy white woman, and this new environment exposes Ifemelu to yet another aspect of American culture—the subtle racism and condescension of some wealthy, liberal Americans. Ifemelu has noticed that whenever Kimberly is talking about a black woman, she uses the word "beautiful" to describe her, even if the woman isn't actually beautiful. This is an astute and humorous bit of cultural commentary about white America on Adichie's part. Many white people do things like this and don't even know it, or intend any harm by it, but it still adds to the narrative that blackness is different from the cultural norm and needs to be lifted up by well-meaning white people. This scene is also important because Kimberly doesn't get angry or defensive when Ifemelu calls her out—and it's for this reason that Ifemelu feels a sudden sense of connection with Kimberly, and feels like the two women are now really friends. For the isolated, depressed Ifemelu, this is a crucial moment.

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 27 Quotes

The wind blowing across the British Isles was odorous with fear of asylum seekers, infecting everybody with the panic of impending doom, and so articles were written and read, simply and stridently, as though the writers lived in a world in which the present was unconnected to the past, and they had never considered this to be the normal course of history: the influx into Britain of black and brown people from countries created by Britain. Yet he understood. It had to be comforting, this denial of history.

Related Characters: Obinze Maduewesi
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Obinze reflects on the current environment in Europe, in which white people feel that their culture is under attack and fear that they will be "overrun" by immigrants from Africa or the Middle East. This is one of Adichie's overarching cultural criticisms of the West—that wealthy countries want to exploit poor countries, but then Western citizens feel afraid or hateful when the people from those exploited countries seek asylum.

This idea also shows how race and racism affect even people's views of history and memory. Adichie suggests that white Europeans choose to forget their history of colonialism precisely because its victims were so far away, and were people of color. And once this history comes back to haunt them, in the form of refugees and immigrants from countries exploited by colonial powers, it's easier for white Westerners to distance themselves from their past and only deal with their present fear—essentially separating themselves from history, and pretending that present events are happening in a vacuum, without precedent.

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 37 Quotes

“You know why Ifemelu can write that blog, by the way?” Shan said. “Because she’s African. She’s writing from the outside. She doesn’t really feel all the stuff she’s writing about. It’s all quaint and curious to her. So she can write it and get all these accolades and get invited to give talks. If she were African American, she’d just be labeled angry and shunned.”

Related Characters: Shan (speaker), Ifemelu
Page Number: 418
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Shan continues her speech on racism and America, and delivers a broad statement that also subtly criticizes Ifemelu and makes her seem like an outsider. Shan suggests that Ifemelu can only write her blog about race in America and be praised for it because she herself is not American—she's disconnected from the real experience of being AfricanAmerican and experiencing that particular kind of racism. This implies that white Americans are willing to listen to outsiders' perspectives on their culture moreso than to oppressed Americans themselves. At the same time, Shan also makes Ifemelu feel isolated and separated with this statement, as if her experience of racism is less important or less real because she isn't African American.

Chapter 44 Quotes

“Americanah!” Ranyinudo teased her often. “You are looking at things with American eyes. But the problem is that you are not even a real Americanah. At least if you had an American accent we would tolerate your complaining!”

Related Characters: Ranyinudo (speaker), Ifemelu
Page Number: 475-476
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu has now returned to Nigeria after living in America for many years, and she is basically having an identity crisis—is she American, Nigerian, both, or neither? Her confusion seems encapsulated by the word "Americanah," which she and her Nigerian classmates had long ago used to mock Nigerians who go to America, come back, and pretend to be more sophisticated or Western. At the time the word was just a joke for Ifemelu, but now she really does feel unsure about her identity as either an American or a Nigerian. In America she was always an outsider, separate from the culture at large, and now that she's back in Nigeria she feels like a stranger or foreigner as well—even her tastes and instincts have changed to become more "American." And as her friend Ranyinudo points out, Ifemelu doesn't even fit the stereotype of the "Americanah" because she hasn't assumed an American accent. Ifemelu feels separated from both her cultures, and must learn to affirm her own unique identity.

Chapter 48 Quotes

He was looking at her, soliciting her agreement with his eyes: they were not supposed to watch Nollywood, people like them, and if they did, then only as an amusing anthropology.

“I like Nollywood,” Ifemelu said, even though she, too, thought Nollywood more theater than film. The urge to be contrarian was strong. If she set herself apart, perhaps she would be less of the person she feared she had become. “Nollywood may be melodramatic, but life in Nigeria is very melodramatic.”

Related Characters: Ifemelu (speaker), Fred
Page Number: 504
Explanation and Analysis:

Ifemelu has gone to a "Nigerpolitan" meeting—a group of various Nigerians who have lived for a long time in Western countries, returned to Nigeria, and now feel out of place. Ifemelu finds herself relating to a lot of their stories and complaints (mostly about how unsophisticated Nigerian culture is, how it doesn't have food "they" can eat, etc.) but then feels uncomfortable about this fact. Ifemelu doesn't want to be the kind of "Americanah" who returns to Nigeria only to look down upon it, or to feel disconnected and separate from her home culture. At the same time, Ifemelu is still feeling confused and conflicted about her identity. At this meeting, at least, she realizes the kind of person she doesn't want to become, and so she purposefully goes against her actual feelings and defends Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry).

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.