Americanah

Americanah Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative returns to Ifemelu, who almost purposefully sabotages her relationship with Curt by cheating on him with a man from her apartment. She realizes that she never was able to truly “believe herself” while with Curt, and didn’t feel everything she wanted to feel. She has sex with the man, a white man who purposefully dresses shabby, and then tells Curt. He can’t believe it, and then he tells Ifemelu she gave the stranger “what he wanted.” Ifemelu corrects him to say that she took what she wanted. Curt breaks up with her and calls her “bitch,” and Ifemelu is hurt to know that she has made him the kind of man who would say that.
Ifemelu’s restless side takes over and destroys the satisfaction and complacency she finds with Curt. We have already seen this rebellious, slightly self-destructive side of her, and here it manifests itself through cheating and ruining her relationship with Curt. Ifemelu is then hurt by what she has done, and angry at herself. She assures Curt that the act was her decision—she was the one with the power, “taking” something, not the other man.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Ifemelu goes back to her apartment and cries on the floor. She wonders why she destroyed the relationship when it had been so good to her. She spends weeks calling Curt and waiting outside his building, but finally accepts reality. Ifemelu goes to a bar. She feels like there is something wrong with her, like she is always restless and incomplete within herself.
This restlessness in Ifemelu’s heart leads her to do self-destructive things like this, but it also inspires her intellectual curiosity, incisive cultural criticism, and her constant search for pure, true human connection and romantic love.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
The novel then jumps to a scene at a party years later, when Ifemelu argues with a Haitian woman who says she had dated a white man for three years and “race was never an issue for them.” The woman is shocked that Ifemelu would try to explain her own experience to her, but Ifemelu says that the woman is just in denial, or trying to make others feel comfortable. She says that in Africa race was not an issue, but she “became black” when she came to America. Race might not be an issue when you and your white romantic partner are alone, but whenever you are in public it is always an issue.
Now that Ifemelu’s relationship with Curt is over, she can step back (years later) and examine the social dynamic of it apart from her own emotion. This is one of Adichie’s important points of the book: that romantic love can provide true human connection across racial or cultural divides, but that there are also outside forces of racism and society trying to maintain the status quo.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Ifemelu is slightly drunk, and would later apologize to the woman and the party’s host. She goes on to talk about Curt. She and Curt never avoided the issue of race, but though he was very sensitive and understanding about many things there were many things he seemed unable to grasp. She was often amused by the constant looks of surprise from people when they saw that she was Curt’s girlfriend, but eventually it started wearing her down.
No matter how close they were romantically, there were still many issues dividing Ifemelu and Curt, even if it was only misunderstanding or ignorance. As Curt’s girlfriend, Ifemelu enjoyed some of his privilege, but she also had to constantly watch people being surprised by their relationship.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
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Curt would sometimes be insightful, like correcting his mother when she claimed that America is now “color-blind,” but sometimes he wouldn’t understand, as when he defended his aunt for talking about nothing but the black people she liked when Ifemelu came to visit. Once they walked into a nice restaurant together and the host asked Curt “table for one?” Curt assured her that the host didn’t “mean it like that.”
In this speech Ifemelu is able to quickly relate many racist situations and microaggressions that she experienced during her time with Curt. He was usually understanding, but sometimes not—and these divides affected their romantic relationship.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Ifemelu eventually accepted that there were just some things Curt couldn’t see. Once he flipped through one of her magazines and said that it was “racially skewed.” Ifemelu then took him to a bookstore and made him flip through many women’s magazines, all of them with white or light-skinned women on the covers. Even the makeup and hair advice inside had nothing to offer for black women. Curt apologized, but that night Ifemelu had emailed Wambui, going deeper into the same subject. Wambui suggested she should write a blog.
This scene allows Adichie to offer more criticism of prejudice in American culture, and also to reintroduce black women’s hair as an important symbol. The observant, intellectually curious Ifemelu finds herself intrigued by this cultural and racial criticism applied to daily life, and it ultimately leads to her successful blog.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
Ifemelu considered the idea, and wondered how many other non-American black women chose to be silent about their experiences. It was a few weeks after that that Ifemelu broke up with Curt, and then started her blog. At the party Ifemelu finishes her story, but ends with words from her first blog post: that the solution to the problem of race in America is not friendship or tolerance but romantic love. The problem is that there are many obstacles to romantic love between black people and white people in America, and so the racial issue will never be truly solved.
This is the most explicit explanation of Adichie’s theme of romantic love: that it can provide pure, genuine human connection across racial or cultural divides, but society and a history of racial inequality have set up many obstacles that make such love difficult to find. Ifemelu wonders if other women like her might benefit from an online community like she found regarding her hair.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Romantic Love Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon
The chapter ends with a different post from Ifemelu’s blog. She talks about how she and a white friend are both “Michelle Obama groupies.” But the white friend doesn’t understand that Michelle Obama’s hair doesn’t naturally look that way. Ifemelu then says that black women’s hair is a “perfect metaphor for race in America.” Black women are always supposed to do something to their hair, because to leave it natural is unprofessional or unsophisticated. She says she would like to see at least once what Beyoncé or Michelle Obama looked like with their hair left untouched. Ifemelu ends with her own regimen for taking care of her hair.
Adichie now comes out and explains the meaning of her symbol of black women’s hair—it isn’t just a literary symbol in the novel, but also an encapsulation of American racism in real life. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama start to emerge as important figures for Ifemelu. Ifemelu’s blog is not only about cultural criticism and humor, it is also another inclusive community for black women choosing their natural hair.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Separation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Cultural Criticism Theme Icon