As with the themes of racism and identity, Americanah allows Adichie to observe and critique the cultures of Nigeria, America, and England through scenes that are sometimes humorous and sometimes tragic. In Nigeria (particularly Lagos), Adichie focuses on the culture of corruption and materialism, where most people get rich through fraud or corruption, officials expect bribes, and women date or marry a man based on his wealth and prestige. Everyone is expected to grovel before the rich, who are expected to ostentatiously show off their wealth by visiting Western countries and sending their children to Western schools. This leads to a Nigeria where essentials are lacking for most of the population (there is rarely consistent light or water), and Western culture and whiteness are idealized over Nigerian culture.
In America, Adichie focuses mostly on the racial hierarchy and prejudices Ifemelu discovers there, but she also comments on the prevalence of depression and anxiety in American society. She especially focuses on liberal white Americans, who like to criticize their own country but still imagine it as superior to others, the one dispensing charity instead of needing it. Adichie spends less time on England/Europe, and much of that involves racism, but she also highlights the fear of immigrants—a fear that ignores England’s own colonial past, as the people from the countries England itself created eventually make their way to England. Along with all these serious criticisms, the novel also contains many lighthearted observations about the different cultures, like ways of speaking or dressing. Americanah is a large and complex enough book that it can encompass individual stories of romance and personal growth, searing critiques of racism, and many astute observations about the cultures of Nigeria, England, and America all at once.
Cultural Criticism ThemeTracker
Cultural Criticism Quotes in Americanah
And after you register your own company, you must find a white man. Find one of your white friends in England. Tell everybody he is your General Manager. You will see how doors will open for you because you have an oyinbo General Manager. Even Chief has some white men that he brings in for show when he needs them. That is how Nigeria works. I’m telling you.
“Ginika, just make sure you can still talk to us when you come back,” Priye said.
“She’ll come back and be a serious Americanah like Bisi,” Ranyinudo said.
They roared with laughter, at that word “Americanah,” wreathed in glee, the fourth syllable extended, and at the thought of Bisi, a girl in the form below them, who had come back from a short trip to America with odd affectations, pretending she no longer understood Yoruba, adding a slurred r to every English word she spoke.
“You know, we live in an ass-licking economy. The biggest problem in this country is not corruption. The problem is that there are many qualified people who are not where they are supposed to be because they won’t lick anybody’s ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick or they don’t even know how to lick an ass. I’m lucky to be licking the right ass.”
Later, she said, “I have to take my braids out for my interviews and relax my hair… If you have braids, they will think you are unprofessional.”
“So there are no doctors with braided hair in America?” Ifemelu asked.
“I have told you what they told me. You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed.”
There it was again, the strange naivete with which Aunty Uju had covered herself like a blanket. Sometimes, while having a conversation, it would occur to Ifemelu that Aunty Uju had deliberately left behind something of herself, something essential, in a distant and forgotten place. Obinze said it was the exaggerated gratitude that came with immigrant insecurity.
It was like a conjurer’s trick, the swift disappearance of his hostility. His face sank into a grin. She, too, was the help. The universe was once again arranged as it should be.
“How are you doing? Know where she wants me to start?” he asked.
“Upstairs,” she said, letting him in, wondering how all that cheeriness could have existed earlier in his body. She would never forget him… and she would begin the blog post “Sometimes in America, Race is Class” with the story of his dramatic change, and end with: It didn’t matter to him how much money I had. As far as he was concerned I did not fit as the owner of that stately house because of the way I looked. In America’s public discourse, “Blacks” as a whole are often lumped with “Poor Whites.” Not Poor Blacks and Poor Whites. But Blacks and Poor Whites. A curious thing indeed.
She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.
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.
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.
Obinze watched him leave. He was going to tick on a form that his client was willing to be removed. “Removed.” That word made Obinze feel inanimate. A thing to be removed. A thing without breath and mind. A thing.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”