Date of Award
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013) guides readers through the internal questions and external pressures that contribute to identity formation of her transnational characters. This paper examines the specific ways in which Adichie’s protagonist, Ifemelu, engages with both self-discovery and self-fashioning in order to shape the narrative of her past and make a plan for her future. Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Ethics of Identity offers a philosophical framework to consider the many components of identity formation and the ways in which individuals form personal and collective identities. Adichie uniquely addresses personal and collective identities through the transnational experiences of her characters. Her protagonist, Ifemelu, experiences Homi K. Bhabha’s concept of unhomeliness and seeks belonging as she moves from Nigeria to the United States. More importantly, once she finds ways to belong in the United States, she makes the decision to return to Nigeria.
Adichie presents Ifemelu’s story through her braided memories by jumping back and forth between varied experiences of the past and the present. Through Ifemelu’s reflection on her actions to find belonging and fashion her identity in the United States, she crafts a narrative of her experience which helps justify and empower her in the decision to return to Nigeria. Adichie’s characters immerse themselves in literature and the stories around them. Ifemelu, especially, shapes her understanding of the world through the books she reads. She seeks stories which help her imagine her life as a narrative toward self-actualization.
Ifemelu discovers that the “single story” for 21st century immigrants in the United States is one of suppressing alterity in order to assimilate. When she first arrives in America, she follows the advice of fellow African immigrants and begins to hide her identity by imitating an American accent and relaxing her hair. She even uses another woman’s name in order to search for a job while she does not have a green card. However, Ifemelu finds this existence unfulfilling and makes the deliberate decision to stop conforming to the expectations placed on her by others. She stops speaking with an American accent and cuts her hair. Rather than feeling more isolated, Ifemelu finds that embracing her alterity allows her to connect to an online African hair movement. She writes a blog in America and gains financial stability and social connections. By expressing herself through writing, Ifemelu further recognizes how she can delineate her worldview and even influence those around her.
It is when Ifemelu has the option of staying in America, that she realizes her desire to return to Nigeria. The “single story” of immigration celebrates finding a home in the host country, but Adichie presents a different story through Ifemelu. Adichie shows Ifemelu’s ability to embrace the parts of her identity like her name and accent that make her unique, while she seeks new stories to guide her self-fashioning. As a transnational migrant, Ifemelu views the world from the threshold. She exists in the liminal space between nations, cultures, and languages. This allows her to imagine many possibilities of her life, choose the life she wants, and inspire others to do likewise.
Oosterink, Julie, "“Arriving at Your Own Door”: Transnational Identity Formation in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah" (2019). Masters Theses. 952.