Americanah

Americanah Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Angolans keep raising the price for Obinze to get the green card marriage, and they have Cleotilde’s passport as well so neither can escape the deal. Obinze doesn’t have any more money, so he has to ask Emenike for help. Emenike agrees to meet at a restaurant. He is dressed in cashmere and immediately starts complaining jokingly about his white wife, but in a way that shows he still thinks her to be “inherently superior” to him. Emenike says they just came back from a trip to America, and that Obinze should visit there sometime.
Just as Obinze was helpless to oppose Vincent’s new demands, so Obinze and Cleotilde can do nothing but meet the Angolans’ new price. Emenike has “made it” in England, but he still manages to idealize the West and whiteness, even after marrying a white Englishwoman. His comment about America is especially cruel considering Obinze’s old dreams.
Themes
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Obinze wishes that Emenike would just give him the money, but Emenike rambles on, telling stories of different adversities he has overcome. Emenike says he misses Nigeria, but his wife wouldn’t survive a visit there. He seems to have made Nigeria into “the jungle” and himself the “interpreter of the jungle.” Finally Emenike gives Obinze the money, which is twice what he had asked for. He asks Obinze to count it, which is very rude in the usual Nigerian way of exchanging money.
Emenike appears as an extreme example of reinvented identity. He has willingly taken on a Western worldview and now portrays Nigeria as foreign and uncivilized. He has purposefully forgotten Nigerian etiquette and rubs his newfound wealth in Obinze’s face, creating a deep sense of disconnection between the former friends.
Themes
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Obinze slowly counts the money, feeling humiliated, and he wonders if Emenike hated him all those years at school. Obinze hadn’t made fun of him like the other kids, but he hadn’t defended him either. Emenike takes a call from his wife, Georgina, and says that she wants to meet them for dinner. Georgina arrives and Obinze is surprised at how confident and forceful she seems, unlike the “hapless English rose” Emenike had described.
Georgina as a strong and capable woman doesn’t fit into Emenike’s narrative of her as an idealized, white “English rose,” and so even though he seems to truly love her, Emenike doesn’t describe Georgina as she is when he is boasting about his success to Obinze.
Themes
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Romantic Love Theme Icon
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Obinze watches Emenike and Georgina interact and realizes the way in which Emenike is different now: he is self-satisfied. He has a British wife, a British passport, and a British job, and has finally achieved the life he always longed for. He and Georgina take Obinze to a fancy restaurant, where Emenike does most of the talking, telling exaggerated stories about their school days. Georgina invites Obinze to a party they’re having the next night.
Emenike has changed his identity through his outward situation, but his personality has also been changed by those outside forces. In Nigeria he was always insecure but ambitious, and in England he is now self-satisfied and complacent. He still has his old tendency to present exaggeration as truth.
Themes
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Romantic Love Theme Icon
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Obinze arrives at their large home the next day and Emenike invites him into his study. Obinze looks around at all the photos of Emenike in famous places, thinking of how Emenike visited those places not because he wanted to but just so he could take these photos. Obinze and Emenike discuss literature briefly, and then Emenike starts talking about antique furniture, which is a totally alien concept in Nigeria.
Emenike has built up his whole life in opposition to his past, creating exactly the identity he always wanted. The problem is that living this way offers no real joy, but only self-satisfaction. The concept of antiques implies the luxury of being bored with new things, and so idealizing the old.
Themes
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The guests arrive and Emenike introduces them to Obinze. One of them is a flamboyantly gay man, and Obinze thinks of how once in school Emenike had lured a boy suspected of being gay into the bathroom and helped beat him up. The guests compliment the mismatched plates, and Emenike says they got them in India, “handmade by rural women.” Obinze wonders whether Emenike really thinks such plates are beautiful now, or if he has just learned to pretend.
Emenike is now acting like someone like Kimberly—idealizing the foreign poor, making himself feel sad and charitable now that he has the luxury of happiness and bounty. Emenike’s new self is a positive change in that he is at least less homophobic now.
Themes
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Emenike discusses his recent trip to America, and in doing so says “us Brits,” confirming to Obinze that he considers himself only British now. The other guests talk about America, particularly the nationalism of its citizens. One remarks that American progressives like to criticize their country, but don’t like it when foreigners do.
Emenike’s guests make a similar observation to that expressed by Adichie earlier, regarding liberal Americans. Emenike has remade himself to the degree that he no longer considers himself a Nigerian—he is an Englishman now.
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One guest, Alexa, says she is working with a charity trying to keep African doctors in Africa, as they have a “responsibility” to help their people. Another guest argues that English doctors should then have a responsibility to work in the poor towns of northern England, not in London where they get paid more. There is an awkward silence and then dinner is served. The conversation turns to immigration, which makes Obinze tense up.
The guests were criticizing liberal Americans, but they fall into a similar trap. Alexa assumes that the situation in Africa is entirely different from that in England, and never even considers that she might be giving hypocritical advice. The guest who rebukes her delivers Adichie’s biting response to a condescending and racist sentiment.
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The guests discuss the differences between immigration in America and in England, and seem to conclude that America is more racist. They then ask Emenike about racism in England, with Alexa implying that the English aren’t racist, only prejudiced like all people are prejudiced. Emenike then tells a story of being explicitly denied a cab, but he tells it like an amusing anecdote. Earlier he had told the same story to Obinze, but explained how he was shaking with rage at the time.
Alexa again plays the part of the hypocritical progressive, seeing racism elsewhere but disconnected from the reality of it in her own country. As with Curt telling his friends the story of Ifemelu and the carpet cleaner, Emenike’s experience with obvious racism is reduced to an amusing anecdote instead of a dehumanizing experience.
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Alexa says that England needs to remain open to refugees from wars in other countries, and she asks Obinze for his opinion. He agrees, but feels a shiver of alienation. He realizes that all the guests would understand immigrants fleeing from war or starvation, but not immigrants like him, who are “merely hungry for choice and certainty,” raised to always consider other countries as superior.
Adichie makes a very important point here—that immigration isn’t always about escaping physical violence or starvation, but it can also be about longing for more choices, for a better place that has been idealized as superior to your own country. The novel’s immigrants are all relatively well-off in Nigeria, but feel that their potential will be wasted if they stay.
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