Americanah

Americanah Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Aunty Uju starts dating a divorced Nigerian man named Bartholomew. He comes over for dinner one day and Ifemelu is appalled at how unintelligent and arrogant he is, and that he takes no interest in Dike. She is especially surprised at how Aunty Uju fawns over him. When they are watching TV Bartholomew makes a blanket statement about Nigeria and Ifemelu contradicts him. After that Bartholomew ignores her.
Aunty Uju has been “subdued” by America not just in her stressed-out, impoverished life and personal appearance, but also in her romantic life. She has gone from being the lover of one of the most powerful men in the country to desperately pursuing someone like Bartholomew.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Later Ifemelu reads the articles Bartholomew said he posts on a website called Nigerian Village. She notices all the angry and pointless arguments in the comments. Ifemelu imagines all the other expatriate Nigerians like him, working constantly and saving up to visit Nigeria, trying to keep up their appearances to relatives back home, and then returning to America to argue about Nigeria on the internet.
With this website Ifemelu sees another facet of immigrant unhappiness—this lashing out at other immigrants and desperately trying to keep up a facade of success and happiness. The arguments on the website prefigure the comments on Ifemelu’s own blog.
Themes
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Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Aunty Uju asks Ifemelu what she thought of Bartholomew. Ifemelu points out that he used cheap bleaching creams on his face, and that in Nigeria a man like him wouldn’t even have the courage to talk to her. Uju seems tired and anxious and reminds Ifemelu that they aren’t in Nigeria. She is pleased enough that Bartholomew has a good job, and she wants to have another child. Ifemelu is sad that Aunty Uju has “settled merely for what was familiar.”
Aunty Uju has lowered her standards so drastically because she has been worn down by her life in America, and longs for anything comfortable and familiar—any Nigerian man with a job, no matter how rude or unintelligent he might be. Here is another example of Nigerians lightening their skin.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Ifemelu visits Manhattan and is intimidated because of how Obinze had idealized it. Afterward she informs him that “it’s wonderful but it’s not heaven.” Ifemelu and Obinze promise each 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 she needs to take out her braids and relax her hair for her interviews, as Americans think braids are unprofessional. Ifemelu is mystified by this.
Ifemelu’s phrase describing Manhattan will later echo Obinze’s own experience when he first visits the America he has so idealized. Black female hair as a symbol is introduced (chronologically) here, as Aunty Uju has learned that she must “subdue” her natural hair to be considered respectable and professional as an American doctor.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
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Ifemelu thinks that Aunty Uju seems to have left something of herself behind in Nigeria and cloaked herself in a “strange naiveté” since coming to America. Obinze tells Ifemelu that it is the “exaggerated gratitude that came with immigrant insecurity.” The summer comes to an end and Ifemelu is eager to start school and find the “real America,” but also hesitant to leave Dike. She takes him to Coney Island on her last weekend in Brooklyn.
Obinze is still in Nigeria, but he still has a surprisingly apt explanation for Aunty Uju’s changed personality. Grief for The General has also affected Aunty Uju’s change, as she seems to have left part of her heart back in Nigeria. As Dike grows up he becomes more of a major character.
Themes
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Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Aunty Uju gives Ifemelu her friend’s driver’s license and social security card, as Ifemelu now has to pretend to be “Ngozi Okonkwo” to find legitimate work. Ifemelu is worried because she doesn’t look like the woman at all, but Aunty Uju assures her that “all of us look alike to white people.” She says the only important thing is to remember her new name. Dike cries as Ifemelu leaves for Philadelphia.
Ifemelu literally takes on a new identity as she leaves the relatively familiar world of Aunty Uju’s apartment and ventures out alone into America. Ifemelu can’t yet believe the pervasive racism in American society. She experiences yet another separation in leaving Dike.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon