Thematic Reading of Americanah

I recently read the book, Americanah with a theme of violence and belongingness, which helped me make a thematic reading of Adichie’s book with the lens of postcolonial Nigeria. How it helps frame the identity must be the question from an anthropological lens, or to be precise, what forms of relationality are produced due to the postcolonial effects. Such a thematic reading would ask you to question every character’s action that can be counted as the production of post-coloniality and the introduction to the free-market economy. But, again,  what does it has to do with identity? Well, one must understand the mutuality of the body and the effects it has through external forces. Our identities are formed with the relations between the actions of the Other and our reaction to the Other. It brings the question, do we have no self-identity? Do we even identify ourselves with our own will? The question of “Will” could be a perplexing argument from an anthropological aspect.


In contrast, my approach would be more Cartesian if I consider such a question a useful one for human science. I would instead ask not the mere essence of the identity we form but the “natural” extension with the essence of the identity that generates the haecceity with an interpretive horizon, which makes the identity of a character.  In the book Visible identities, Race, Gender and the Self, Linda Martin explains how such a process of essentialism and the extension make our daily identity in society. The same thing has happened with the character of Ifemelu and Obinze. However, the temporality of these identities is different for both characters. If we generally read the book, we tend to lose the nuance that such a character shows in the daily identity discourse, which is neither permanent nor temporary. 


Ifemelu is one of the most interesting characters for me because I related with the character, not just from the time of her teenage but also when she grew up and had the longing to revive her true identity and belongingness, which I feel I do when I think about India and Indian political economy, not from a nationalist perspective, but I feel I belong there, my ideas belong in that society. One cannot elucidate her reaction as a cheap argument of culture shock or cultural dysphoria because not just she has spent more than ten years in the States but seems to be-hold the agency or a will to claim her belongingness wherever she goes. However, it is not a mere case about the current agency factor but how it is formulated with personal experience. As Gadamer says, “That “world” is the “life-world,” which is the “antithesis of all objectivism,” that is, the world of bare existents and refers rather to “the whole in which we live as historical creatures” (1991, 247). Thus, the life-world is simply the lived or experienced world, an intrinsically meaningful world whose meanings can change as they are interpreted within the lives of historically situated persons. Hence, the continuous change is why one’s identity changes with space and time. The case of Ifemelu and Obnize were the same. Still, one of the most exciting factors for me was how those identities such as Black or African in America have racial and Oriental factors.


In contrast, the identities in Nigeria of both characters were confined on a linguistic, ethnic and class basis. There comes the enaction of neo-liberalism into the postcolonial world, and it brings the issue of how violence works in the formation of identity. A character such as Aunt Uju, who embraced various identities in the Lagos and then in the U.S.; which was not as complex as in Lagos, but certainly, it was an outcome of violent actions combining racism, sexism and classicism in both social spheres. There are much more factors from an anthropological lens that can be enumerated or talked about, such as the relationality of race with the skin colour, which could be different in cases such as the Caribbean Islands, where one’s race is defined not by your skin colour but by the texture of your hair, how pastoral power acts in postcolonial spaces to maintain the gender binary et al. This is not a book review but a line of thought that came to my mind when I read the novel. It can be contested with other theoretical frameworks such as constructivism, ID (Freudian), performativity (Butler), as a social construct and purely performative; however, my approach is to bridge our bodiliness and social construct, and that is what I suppose humanities and social sciences are trying to seek with the classical debate of essentialism to voluntarism, naturalism to constructivism,  or nominalism to realism. Such ideas are perplexing and might ignite the reactions from the conformist and the vanguard of social and cultural identity(s), but the questions must be put forth than the reactions of those who tend to confirm for the Others.