In Americanah, Adichie spends a lot of her descriptive energy on people's appearances and what she reads into them, especially regarding their upbringing and their culture. For example, when Ifemelu describes her feelings about The General, she begins by narrating, "The General had yellowed eyes, which suggested to Ifemelu a malnourished childhood. His solid, thickset body spoke of fights that he had started and won, and the buckteeth that gaped through his lips made him seem vaguely dangerous" (95). This focus on external details demonstrates how important it is to Ifemelu that people wear their identity externally, through their skin color, body type, hair, and more.
A physical feature Adichie returns to multiple times is fatness, which she describes as only having negative connotations in America. The topic is introduced when Ifemelu makes the trip from Princeton to Trenton by train and sees the change in racial make-up and body types as she travels. She notes that true confidence is a fat woman wearing a short skirt, looking at this woman's body with her trademark dual view as a Nigerian and an American of a sort. In Nigeria, however, the same body type indicates beauty, wealth, and femininity; for example, Adichie writes, "Ranyinudo got up. There was a luxurious, womanly slowness to her gait, a lift, a roll, a togle of her buttocks with each step. A Nigerian walk" (480). In detailing these images of fatness, Adichie undoubtedly means to communicate important messages about beauty, women, and the roles of gender and wealth in contemporary American and Nigerian society.
Morgan Tearing Up Her Room
Adichie also often makes use of vivid, climactic moments to drive home certain points or themes of the story. One such moment occurs when Morgan, one of the two children that Ifemelu babysits, has a climactic conflict with gender and age. Adichie writes, "Suddenly, Morgan put down her book, calmly walked upstairs and ripped off the wallpaper in her room, pushed down her dresser, yanked off her bedcovers, tore down the curtains, and was on her knees pulling and pulling and pulling at the strongly glued carpet when Ifemelu ran in and stopped her" (198). This careful description of the dismantling of girlhood parallels Ifemelu's leaving her home and recently making a significant jump into mature womanhood when she was forced to do intimate things with the tennis coach and leave behind her youthful relationship with Obinze.
Nigerian Sights and Sounds
Adichie is able to describe America in a way bordering on literary defamiliarization by focusing on Ifemelu's first days in the country and the way she must grapple with the food, language, and culture. Through Ifemelu's move back to Nigeria after living abroad for so long, Adichie is able to capture the same effect again in Ifemelu's re-experience of her culture through new eyes. The first sentence of Part 7 reads, "At first, Lagos assaulted her; the sun-dazed haste, the yellow buses full of squashed limbs, the sweating hawkers racing after cars... the heaps of rubbish the rose on roadsides like a taunt" (475). This highly descriptive language helps readers from all over the world understand the differences between America and Nigeria and the ways in which Ifemelu herself has changed with reference to these places.
Americanah Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Americanah is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.