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.
Separation vs. Connection ThemeTracker
Separation vs. Connection Quotes in Americanah
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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!”
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.”
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.
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.
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.