Diasporic Identity and Race Issues in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

Diaspora the term has been derived from the Greek word ” διασπείρω” which means “I sacatter”. Peoples leave their land for other land, region or country for various reasons known as diaspora. Oxford learners dictionary defines the term diaspora as, “The diaspora the movement of the Jewish people away from their own country to live and work in other countries.” And ” The movement of people from any nation or group away from their own country.

Diaspora is very new trend in English literature, it is occurred specially after the post-colonial era. In this trend many writers have left their impact on English literature.From India writers like, V.S.Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anita Desai, Shashi Tharoor, Rohinton Mistry and Sunetra Gupta have given their big contribution in the tradition of diasporic writing in English Asian diaspora is one of the largest diaspora in the world. Indian diaspora is largest in the south-east Asia. Over 25 million peoples of India has been spread many regions of the world, almost on every continent. Among all diasporas African diaspora is the largest diaspora in the world. Much of the African peoples are dispersed throughout the Americas, Europe during the Atlantic and Arab slave trades. Arabs took African slaves from the central and eastern portions of the continent and sold them into market in the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and the far-east. Europeans bought African slaves from West Africa and brought them to Americas and the Europe.

The Atlantic slave trade and Arab slave trade ended in 19th century and 20th century respectively. The dispersal through slave trading represents the largest forced migration in human history. Nigerian diaspora is one of the major diaspora in the African continent. Nigerian peoples have been scattered to Europe, United States and other part of the world in the search of the jobs, education and good living. Nigerian peoples are mostly affected by the Nigerian Civil war. Nigerian Civil War also known as Biafran War or Biafra war. It was fought between Government of Nigeria and secessionist state of Biafra. Nigerian Civil War fought lasted 1967 to 1970.Many were killed, many people were struggling from illness and they were in search of safe place and they took shelter in other countries. During the war period there were many refugee camps established to shelter the peoples of Nigeria. Michael Ondatje is one of the major figure in English literature in the tradition of diasporic writings. Ondatje is from Sri Lanka, he is notably known for his 1992 novel The English Patient.

From Nigeria there are many diasporic writers including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta, Helon Habila, Helen Oyeyemi, Taiye Selasi, Chika Unigwe, Chris Abani, Teji Cole, Chinelo Okpranta, Chigozie Obioma etc.The present paper will discuss the diasporic writing of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on 15 September 1977,in the city of Enugu in Nigeria. She is fifth among the six children in an Igbo family. Adichie grew up in university town of Nsukka in Enugu state. Her father James Nwoye was a professor of a statistics in University of Nigeria. Her mother Grace Ifeoma was the universities first female registrar. In Nigerian Civil War, Adichie lost her both maternal and paternal grandfathers. Adichie completed her secondary education at University of Nigeria where she has received many prizes. She edited, “The Compass” a magazine which was run by universities Catholic Medical students, while she was studying medicine and pharmacy there. Adichie left Nigeria for United States at the age of 19, to study communication and political science at Drexel University, in Philadelphia. The she transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University to be near her sister, named Uche, who had medical practice in Coventry, Connecticut.

At the age of 10 Adichie, read the novel of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ which inspired her to write. When she started to write she was inspired to seeing her own life on the pages. Her ‘Decision’ (1997) is a collection of poems and ‘For Love of Biafra’(1998) a play are her earliest writings. Her short story ‘You In America’ shortlisted her for the 2002 Caine Prize. Adichie’s first novel Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003 which received wide critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize For Fiction in 2004. Purple Hibiscus received Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book in 2005.Her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) is set before and during the Nigerian Civil War. It received 2007 Orange Prize For Fiction and Ansfield-Wolf Book Award. Adichie’s third book ‘The Things Around Your Neck’ is a collection of 12 short stories was published in 2009.Her third novel Americanah was published in 2013.

Adichie is admired by many global leaders including Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey etc. In a special event Adichie had a conversation with Michelle Obama , who is a former first lady of United States. She describes Adichie as, “One of the greatest writers our time.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is also praised by American politician Hillary Clinton. She says for Adichie, “She has the rare ability to sum up even the biggest societal problems swiftly and incisively. In October 2019, Adichie named as one of the 100 most influential Africans by the Africa Report.

This research paper will discuss the diaspora in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel ‘Americanah’. ‘Americanah’ won Adichie , National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award in 2013.The novel ‘Americanah’ was published on May 14, 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf. In This novel Adichie depicts the story of young Nigerian woman Ifemelu and her lover Obinze. Then adichie sketches that Ifemelu immigrated to United States to attend university. For the first time there she realizes that she is black. In chapter five of ‘Americanah’ Adichie introduces the word “americanah” for the first time, when Ginika was about to leave for America, on that occasion all friend were gathered together. “Ginika, just make sure you can still talk to us when you come back”, Priye said. “She’ll come back and be a serious Americanah like Bisi”, Ranyinudo said. [page 65]

Americanah is a word in Nigeria referring to people who pretend to be Americanized or have been Amricanized. Gimika’s immigration to America is also a important incident in ‘Americanah’. Ginika doesn’t want to leave her friends but she had no choice. At her house Ifemelu heard Ginika’s father say, “We are not sheep. This regime is treating us like sheep and we are starting to behave as we are sheep. I have not been able to do any real research in years, because every day I am organizing strikes and talking about unpaid salary and there is no chalk in the classrooms.” [page 64] It means Ginika’s father also had to leave Nigeria forcefully for better settlements. At that time there was a military dictatorship in Nigeria from 1966 to 1979.And peoples of Nigeria faced many problems during this regime like Ginika’s father.

One of the major protagonist of the novel is Ifemelu, She also migrated to the United States for the study and its resulted in separation from her lover Obinze. Adichie bring out the problems faced by the Ifemelu for creating an identity for the self. Ifemelu makes her living as a blog writer and so the novel texture is weaved with blog entries .Her blogs has given the shape to Ifemelu as a self-reflective and observant character who remarks objectivity on the people and social happening around her. She sums up her feeling over the racial discrimination she faced in United States is these oft quoted blog post:

Dear Non-American black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care. So what if you weren’t ‘black’ in your country? You’re in America now. We all have our moments of initiation into the Society of former Negroes. [220] Much of the Ameicanah takes place as Ifemelu sits in salon for hair braiding. Her hair represents her struggle for confidence and her identity as Nigerian immigrant and black American. Here adichie introduces many struggles of immigrants in America. When Ifemelu was living in Nigeria race was not a part of her identity but in America for a first time she realized that she is black. Later Ifemelu gains confidence. Now she reaches economic stability by writing blog. Ifemelu always needed to go somewhere else to braid her hair. Ifemelu noticed that the Princeton station is full of white people but the as the train advances to her destination the number of black peoples are there. Ifemelu always using African braiding salon to gets her hair done. Hair plays an important role in the novel. Hair of black women is so little understood and known. Hair grows naturally but is labeled coarse hair as unprofessional and unsophisticated. In her blog Ifemelu takes the hair of United States former first lady Michelle Obama in 2008 election as an example of how it could affect the campaign of Obama for presidency.

White girlfriend and I are Michelle Obama groupies. So the other day I say to her-I wonder if Michelle Obama has a weave, her hair looks fuller today, and all that heat every day must damage it. And she says –you mean her hair doesn’t grow like that? So is it me or is that the perfect metaphor for race in America right there? Hair. Ever notice makeover shows on TV, how the black woman has natural hair (coarse, coily, kinky, or curly) in the ugly “before” picture, and in the pretty “after” picture, somebody’s taken a hot piece of metal and signed her hair straight? Some black women, AB and NAB, would rather run naked in the street than come out in public with their natural hair. Because, you see, it’s not professional, sophisticated, whatever, it’s just not damn normal. (Please, commenters, don’t tell me it’s the same as a white woman who doesn’t color her hair.)When you Do have natural Negro hair, people think you “did” something to your hair. Actually, the folk with the Afros and the dreads are the ones who haven’t “done” anything to their hair. You should be asking Beyonce what she’s done.(we all love Bey but how about the shows us ,just once, what her hair looks like when it grows from her scalp?) I have natural kinky hair. Worn in cornrows, Afros, braids, No, it’s not political.

No, I am not an artist or poet or singer. Not an earth mother either. I just don’t want relaxers in my hair-there are enough sources of cancer in my life as it is.(By the way, can we ban Afro wigs at Halloween? Afro is not costume, for God’s sake.) Imagine if Michelle Obama got tired of all the heat and decided to go natural and appeared on TV with lots of woolly hair, or tight spirally curls. (There is no knowing what her texture will be. It is not unusual for a black woman to have three different textures on her head.) She would totally rock but poor Obama would certainly lose the independent vote, even the undecided Democrat vote.[Page-296-97] Michelle Obama represents a sort of black respectability, but then again ,if she wore her natural hair, since terms attached to it, such as difficult or radical are not good for presidential candidates ,Obama would not win the election.

Blaine and Ifemelu are separated from each other .Ifemelu still loves, Blaine, but now sees him as ‘a person far away’.From herself and,and there is no more passion in their romance. They do find themselves bonding over a new passion, however: Barack Obama, the hope for progress and greater racial equality that came with Obama’s race for president. On election day, Ifemelu, Blaine and Blaine’s friends, Grace, Michael, Araminta, Paula, Pee and Nathan all gathered together to watch the news. When it becomes clear that Obama is going to win the election, everyone starts crying. At that time Ifemelu gets the text from Dike saying, “I can’t believe it. My president is black like me.”[page360] These friends hoped that Obama’s victory means there is the possibility of progress in race relation in America, and it means intimate connection between people based on a shared conviction. After wins Obama gave the message to the world,

“Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled, Americans have sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of red states and blue states. We have been and always will be the United States of America.” Barack Obama’s voice rose and fell, his face solemn, and around him the large and respledent crowd of the hopeful. Ifemelu watched, Mesmerized. And there was ,at that moment, nothing that was more beautiful to her than America.[Page-360-61] Obinze, a lover of Ifemelu, is a well educated and middle class boy. He plans to move to United States to join Ifemelu. It was his dream to go to America. But his visa is denied after 9/11 incident in America. Later he moved to England with his mother for university conference, and he does not come back to Nigeria. Through this type of immigration Adichie exposed vulnerable situation faced by illegal immigrant. His visa was expired and he was forced to take on other people’s identity to find work. Through an arranged marriage, he tries to make his situation legal, but his fraud exposed and deported back to Nigeria. Now Obinze makes lot of money. Obinze Marries beautiful but uninteresting woman.

Actually in ‘Americanah’, aunt Uju was the first who left Nigeria for America. Aunt Uju arrives in the United States before Ifemelu, and brings her son Dike with her in order to start a new life. Aunt Uju is Ifemelu’s father’s sister. In Nigeria she worked as a consultant at a military hospital, having recently graduated from the university. Aunt Uju was an independent similar to Obinze’s mother, but her love for the General starts to change her into a more traditional woman of Lagos-concerned mostly with her beauty and pleasing her man. Aunt Uju was a mistress of a wealthy and powerful general and they have a one year old son named Dike. But unfortunately general dies in a military plans programmed by the governor, after generals death some of his relatives threatens her and her son to death, so she leave for America and takes everything with her. Her departure wasn’t happened due to forceful facts, such as war, famine or flood. Uju leaves Nigeria since she cannot stay and continue her life as an ex- mistress there is a kind of social pressure which forces her to move towards America. Her ambition was to run her own clinic. Her ambition remained unfulfilled as she struggles to pass the tests for medical residency.

Without passing the test, Aunt Uju is unable to gain employment, despite being well-qualified in Nigeria. “I’ve never failed an exam in my life. But they weren’t testing actual knowledge, they were testing our ability to answer tricky multiple choice questions that have nothing to do with real medical knowledge.”She stood up and went to kitchen. “I’m tired. I also tired. I thought by now thing would be better for me and Dike. It’s not as if anybody was helping me and I just could not believe how quickly money went. I was studying and working three jobs. I was doing retail at the mall, and a research assistantship, and I even did some hours at Burger King.”[109]

This narrative reflects another issue of migrant life. Just because born in Nigeria, there is a difference in her background and experience is discriminated against, given no recognition in medical field. Aunt Uju struggled for the recognition and realized within socio-economic system. Like Obinze, Aunt Uju also runs into the problems of achieving economic representation.

In this way Adichie creates a bridge between African continent and western countries, through her novel Americanah. Through this novel Adichie focused on identity crisis, which is one of the first thing that an immigrant faces on landing in a new land. Americanah is an excellent example of an intercultural novel. The story confirms that the definition of migration and intercultural interwoven throughout the novel needs to be read ‘in between lines’. Adichie skillfully illustrates the family background, economic situation, accidental encounters and individual personality leads to formation of characters, identities, their behavior, and their relationship. Also Adichie has illustrates beautifully about the loneliness and displacement faced by young Nigerian girls and bad experiences in America which make them juxtapose between happiness of their homeland with the wretchedness of America. And also the strange behavior of the immigrants to obliteration of native tongue, fake identities, sham marriage for easy passport. Also through the characters like, Ifemelu and Aunt Uju, Adichie portray a coming of age modern Nigerian women who are socially and economically independent. Also race and skin colour still matter in love relationship in America.

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