Americanah Summary and Analysis of Part 3


In Part 3, the narration switches away from Ifemelu for the first time in the novel to Obinze's point of view. In parallel to Ifemelu's early struggles in America, he was in London illegally, trying to set up an expensive green-card marriage. He had been in London for "exactly two years and three days" (282) when he met with two Angolan men in a tube station to start arranging the marriage. Though the men tried to convince him that he was getting a good price and that a lot of the money would go to the woman he marries, he didn't believe them. He was surprised when he met the girl in the arrangement, Cleotilde, who was young and shy. Though the men would rather they only talked with them as intermediates, the two decided to meet for fish and chips to get to know one another; Cleotilde was Angolan and Portuguese and had never been to Africa. Obinze thought about how he would like to kiss her, but he decided that it should wait until they were married and "the business side of their relationship was finished" (284). Though Obinze soon found out that the Angolans indeed gave Cleotilde only a fraction of what he paid, they did take care of him by taking him to see a visa lawyer, providing him with fake water and gas bills, and arranging for him to meet with someone to get a fake driver's license. At the government building where Obinze went to register for marriage, he saw the name of a past classmate on the board - Okoli Okafor. This led him to think of his mother, whom he felt like he had betrayed by leaving Nigeria, and to think about the fact that he had always wanted not just to go abroad somewhere but to go to America. In this vein of thought, we learn why he was never able to join Ifemelu: he had gone to the American visa office at least four times but had been turned down because of what his mother calls "terrorism fears" (289). Though life seems to have been fine for him at the time - living with his mother, sleeping with university students, and watching Nigeria modernize - he pined for America constantly. Then, one day, his mother was invited to a conference in London and she put Obinze on her British visa application as her research assistant. He went with her, but he felt guilty that she lied for him and didn't contact her for months once there. During his three years in London, he says, he only talked to her a few times because of the lack of things to say.

In Chapter 24, the narration zooms back to the beginning of Obinze's time in London. As he narrates, "Everyone joked about people who went abroad to clean toilets, and so Obinze approached his first job with irony: he was indeed abroad cleaning toilets" (293). He worked at an estate agent's office cleaning the men's toilets, where he tried unsuccessfully to befriend the Ghanaian woman cleaning the ladies' toilet. One evening, he found that someone had shit directly on top of the toilet lid, as if on purpose for someone to find and clean up, and he quit the job immediately. That evening, he received Ifemelu's email after seeing Kayode at the mall, her first contact after more than five years. Angry at her silence and the fact that she wrote to him now, on the day he just quit a humiliating job, he deleted the email. Obinze writes that his cousin Nicholas, who had been popular as a young man in Nigeria and had behaved in romantic and outrageous ways with his girlfriend Ojiugo, helped him navigate London as a foreigner. He told him that the most important thing was to get an "NI number" (295) so that he could work and then marry an EU citizen. Nicholas had come to London years before and now lived anxiously but proudly with Ojiugo, now his wife, and their children Nna and Nne. They became boring, talking only of their children's daily accomplishments and speaking only in careful English so that their children would not "lose their precious British accents" (296); when Obinze brought this up, Ojiugo reminisced briefly about their youthful exploits but said that "Marriage changes things" (297) and "This country is not easy" (297). Obinze hung around their house, waiting for calls about jobs and helping cook and care for the children. Obinze watched Ojiugo with a mix of confusion and respect as she gave up all of her personal aspirations to plan incessantly for her children's futures, ping-ponged from one weight-loss program to the next, and commiserated with friends about the unworthy African men people had to marry once in London.

In Chapter 25, Obinze switches from profiling Nicholas and Ojiugo's family to talking about his childhood friend Emenike. Emenike was always on top of gossip and culture, but people discovered one day that he was not from a wealthy family like he pretended. Obinze and Emenike grew closer at university, where they read books and played Scrabble together, and people sometimes mistook them for brothers. During a strike in their second year, Emenike went to England, so Obinze contacted him first upon his arrival years later. However, Emenike's life had moved on so that Obinze seemed always to be calling at the wrong time. Instead, another friend from university named Nosa picked him up and took him for a beer. He and his friends were vaguely negative about the prospect of getting an NI number, saying "Just keep your ear to the ground" (307). Nosa pointed Obinze toward his own cousin Iloba, whom Obinze had forgotten was living in England, and Obinze got his number from Nicholas. Iloba helped him with the National Insurance number, saying it's too risky to let Obinze use his own but that he knew a man named Vincent who could give him his. When Obinze met with Vincent, they struck a deal that Vincent would get 35 percent of what Obinze made or else he would report him to the authorities; with this, "Obinze became Vincent" (310).

After quitting his job cleaning toilets, Obinze got a job cleaning halls at a detergent-packing warehouse, where he met another cleaner named Duerdinhito and shared a bond over being able to pronounce foreign names. When Obinze was fired from this job, he got a job installing kitchens which he didn't like because of the strain of the physical work and the way the company's drivers called him "laborer" (312). When he was sent to a different warehouse, he worried that he wouldn't have opportunities for overtime, but he soon found that the chief of this warehouse, Roy Snell, was much more good-natured. Snell asked him genuine questions about his life and began to call him Vinny Boy, a name he continued to use throughout the next few months, and put him to work with a young man named Nigel. The men at the warehouse talked incessantly about "shagging" (314), but Nigel was a nice partner to work with and showed Obinze the sights of London after work. Nigel and Obinze became something of friends; Nigel asked Obinze for dating advice and split the tips evenly with Obinze, which other drivers didn't do.

Once a week, Obinze treated himself to a coffee at a bookshop while reading the books for free. He read American contemporary fiction and American newspapers, still obsessed with the idea of America. On one particular visit, a woman and her child asked to sit with him. The boy and then the mother began to talk to Obinze, and he found out that her husband passed away last year. As the woman was leaving, she gave Obinze a long look that awakened a strong sexual lust in him. On the tube afterwards, he saw a news headline about immigrants and saw the woman reading the paper scowl at him. Later, on the train, he looked around and saw many Nigerians surrounding him. Thinking of the suspicions of the white people around him and the way he wanted his life to be, he felt incredibly lonely.

One morning in the summer, as soon as he arrived at work, things were strange. He worried that the police had been called on him until everyone gathered around him and congratulated him on his - Vincent's - birthday. That night, Vincent called him asking for a raise to 45 percent of Obinze's earnings. Obinze ignored him, thinking he would back down, but a week later Roy called him into his office to talk about a call he received ratting out Obinze. He asked Obinze to bring his passport the next day and Obinze agreed, but knew he could not go back. Later in life, Obinze foreshadows, he revealed his real name to Nigel and offered him a job in Nigeria. In the meantime, the Angolans pressured Obinze for more money. Having already borrowed money from Nicholas, Obinze was forced to now ask Emenike. They met that Friday and Emenike spent a long time filling Obinze in on his posh life attending plays and traveling with his wife. Finally, Emenike handed over a thousand pounds, telling Obinze to count it in a way that shocked Obinze with its foreignness. Emenike got a call from his wife, Georgina, and they decided to go out for dinner. Obinze was surprised by Georgina's frankness when she showed up; he thought that Emenike portrayed her as more delicate and saw a change in his friend when his wife showed up that he attributed to "self-satisfaction" (330). They ate fancy food, some of which disgusted Obinze, and at the end of dinner Georgina invited Obinze to a dinner party they're holding the next night. He arrived early the next night so Emenike dropped Obinze in a beautiful study full of books. When Emenike returned, Obinze was reading The Heart of the Matter and thinking of his mother. Emenike took him downstairs and introduced him to the other guests: Mark and Hannah, Phillip, and Alexa. They talked about Emenike and Georgina's recent trip to America, squabbling over its merits from the African and British points of view. Moving on from this subject, Alexa brought up a charity that she started working with that attempts to block Africans from getting medical jobs in Britain so that they will have to stay and practice in Africa; Mark challenged this by saying that people in London have as much responsibility to those in the small towns in the north of England as African doctors do to their fellow Africans. In another important turn of conversation, Alexa asked Emenike how he saw race in America, calling it an "iniquitously racist country"(339), and many responded that racism exists in Britain in a different form and sometimes plays a secondary role to class. Following this, Emenike told a story about a time he experienced racism in London while hailing a cab and Obinze noticed that Emenike was careful to tell the story "in a tone cleansed of anger" (341) around these guests. The dinner party closed with a discussion of immigration where it was clear that these friends of Emenike drew strict lines between refugees from war and those simply fleeing, as Obinze puts it, "the oppressive lethargy of chiocelessness" (341).

Nicholas lent Obinze a suit for his wedding and headed off to meet Cleotilde, who wore a dress Obinze had to buy her for the occasion and carried the rights they had bought as cheaply as possible a week before. As the time approached, Iloba took pictures of the supposed wedding party while Obinze was filled with anxiety. As they walked into the civic center, a man with red cheeks approached Obinze and told him, "Your visa is expired and you are not allowed to be present in the UK" (343). Suddenly, Obinze was in handcuffs, Cleotilde was crying on the floor, and then Obinze was in the police car and at the station. Obinze was told to undress and was questioned about his marriage; he responded to the questions that he did know his visa expired but that the marriage was genuine. When the lawyer came in, Obinze quickly agreed to be "removed" (345) back to Nigeria.

Obinze was led through Manchester Airport in handcuffs and put in a room with bunkbeds and a few other African men which was connected to a TV room with even more men, many of them Nigerian. The men compared stories of how and how many times they were caught. Obinze generally kept quiet; he was refused reading material when he asked for it so he spent his time talking to his mother on the phone and thinking about Ifemelu. When Iloba came to visit him, the man started to cry and said that it "was not supposed to happen like this" (348). When Nicholas and Ojiugo visited, on the other hand, they were too positive for Obinze's taste, treating it like he's "ill in the hospital" (348) and talking as always about their children. Obinze had to stay in Dover until a seat in opened on a plane directly to Lagos. Finally, he and seven other Nigerians were put on a plane back to Nigeria, again in handcuffs and suffering the scared and critical looks of British travelers. A jolly man took them off of the plane in Lagos, telling them "Welcome home!" (350) and even asking Obinze for money before sending him on his way through the airport where his mother was waiting.


The parallels drawn between Obinze and Ifemelu are some of the most important aspects of this part of the story. While they have ceased communication, it is as if they are more connected than ever, both working jobs that are beneath their levels of intellect and struggling to maintain a semblance of identity while forced to hide in plain sight with false names and credentials. Interestingly, while this is a painful but ultimately fruitful process for Ifemelu, Obinze does not have such luck and is forced to return to Nigeria at the close of Part 3, causing the reader to wonder whether one's ability to endure this type of plan is based on chance, circumstance, or some other factor that Ifemelu possessed and Obinze did not.

In a further parallel, even when Obinze just experienced the pain of being cut out of Ifemelu's life, he too cuts off almost all contact with his mother. Both Ifemelu and Obinze feel very lonely at this time in their lives, and Obinze does not seem to feel truly connected to any characters besides Ifemelu and his mother throughout the book. Furthermore, his contact with friends and cousins from his childhood who live in London, many who have become established with stable, even lavish lives, show that people and relationships can change greatly during this period of life.

The institution of marriage is questioned in this section of the novel, as Obinze pursues a green-card marriage, pouring his time and money into substantiating a fake relationship. In a moment of irony, Obinze thinks that he might even like to try a relationship with his fake fiance, but only after they are married so as to not complicate the nature of their current relationship. The meaning and sanctity of marriage will continue to be a question as Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and she and Obinze grapple with their relationship while he is married to Kosi.

While Adichie exposes many similarities between the experiences of a Nigerian immigrant in England and the United States, she also spends time exploring the differences, especially in the way race and class are dealt with. At dinner at the home of Emenike and Georgina, a small group discusses the treatment of black people in the US and in England, with Emenike asserting that "in America blacks and white work together but don't play together, and [in England] blacks and whites play together but don't work together" (340). Emenike, however, later tells a story about a racist cab driver with humor rather than the "rage" (341) and downplays the difficulties outside of the sphere of work as an African man in London.

One surprising and significant moment in Part 3 comes when Obinze waits to be deported, living cooped up like a criminal until a seat on a plane opens up. His cousin Iloba comes to visit him and cries, saying it "was not supposed to happen like this" (348). Since Obinze and Iloba did not seem to have a particularly close relationship, with no displays like this earlier in the book, the reader is left to wonder whether Iloba is crying over Obinze's deportation or perhaps the injustice of the entire system. All of the family and friends Obinze reached out to while in London encouraged him to keep his head down and work until he had enough money to pay for a marriage and get a green card. When Obinze is caught and deported so close to the fruition of this plan, it is undoubtedly shocking to all of the characters, reminding them how much danger and chance there is in such a plan and how quickly a situation can change.