Date of Award
Master of Arts
MichÃÂ¨le A. Schaal
With her latest novel Americanah (2013), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie portrays the effect that the experience of migration—namely from a Western African country such as Nigeria—has on one’s identity. While Americanah centers on Ifemelu and her relationships with family, friends, and lovers, it also follows the story of her childhood sweetheart, Obinze as they immigrate, respectively, to America and England. Americanah illuminates the unique experience of two Nigerians emigrating and their encounters with confining social categories. Nevertheless, as it is relatively new, the novel has not garnered much scholarly criticism though it relevantly contributes to conversations on immigrant identity formation. In order to remedy this, my thesis focuses on Americanah, and, in it, I contend that Americanah must be examined through the lens of intersectionality because the issues Ifemelu and Obinze encounter during their migration and relocation extend much deeper than one simple analysis based solely on nationality or gender or race or geographic location could unearth. Rather, because of the complex interrelations between these identity factors, Americanah lends itself textually to an intersectional identity analysis. My analysis of Americanah examines how intersectionality operates within the novel as well as the identity fractures and formations brought about by a Nigerian emigrant’s experiences – the personal cost of immigration.
As Adichie portrays in the novel, migration allows an individual to experience many new things, and, chiefly, how different societies allocate power by defining hierarchical social categories. Within my analysis, I consider the intersections of gender, race, and class as Ifemelu and Obinze move across geographic boundaries, and I analyze how this affects Ifemelu and Obinze’s identities as they migrate to and from Nigeria. Specifically, within my first chapter “Intersectionality of Gender and Geographic Location in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah”, I examine the intersections of gender with geographic location for both Ifemelu and Obinze. Within Nigeria, Ifemelu embraces her femininity, but, after traveling to America, she is at a loss in its strict patriarchal society; not only does she have to reckon with her realization of race as a social category but also her gender. During his time in England, Obinze similarly discovers the difference in being a Black man living in Nigeria with relative power to being a Black man living in England. Both Ifemelu and Obinze find themselves in societies that embrace rigid gender roles, and they struggle until they return to Nigeria in trying to align the gender role prescribed for them with their race and other social categories.
Within my second chapter “Geographic Location and Racialization in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah,” I analyze the way geographic location alters one’s concepts of race and class by studying Ifemelu and Obinze prior to their immigration from Nigeria, during their stays in different countries, and after returning home from abroad. As both characters become acquainted with the concept of race in the Western world, they are forced to realize that prejudices occur as well as how to best combat racism in their daily life. Though they both return to Nigeria, they do so as individuals with nuanced understandings of how they construct their identity in their homeland and how their identity is constructed for them abroad. Finally, I conclude that in Americanah Adichie provides readers with characters who demand to be examined in multiple ways, such as through their gender and race, and refuse examination through only one lens of Othering.
Mary Margaret Bonvillain
Bonvillain, Mary Margaret, "Shifting intersections: Fluidity of gender and race in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah" (2016). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 16435.