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Hair As A Motif In Americanah

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Ifemelu’s hair is one of the most important motifs in the book Americanah as a remark on her adaptation to American social norms. Her hair links all of her interactions presented in the book together. And it also has a hair-identity connection that is closely related. Throughout the text, she goes through various hair cuts and styles. At one point in the novel she has afro styled hair, and then she changes to braids. Braids and twists are incredibly popular in Nigeria but not used quite as often in the United States, where the norms of social beauty emphasize straight-styled hair.

Hair is used most of the time in the novel to reflect on Ifemelu’s transition as well as the rebellion against American society’s standards. And for Ifemelu, hair is basically representing her struggles and the difficulties for finding her identity as a Nigerian immigrant in America. Throughout Ifemelu’s life, she has been using her hair in a natural afro or braided. However, after a long time in America, she agrees to straighten her hair and follow the american social standards in order for Americans to take her seriously. This becomes clear to Ifemelu when Aunty Uju tells her “If you have braids, they will think that you are unprofessional” (Adichie, 146). Therefore, she relaxes her hair by using chemicals and a flat iron. When she is relaxing her hair at the hair salon in Trenton, she smells her hair being burned and with that Ifemelu feels that a part of her is also burning. After all of the process to relax Ifemelu’s hair, the hairdresser says “But look at how pretty it is. Wow, girl, you’ve got the whith-girl swing!” (Adichie, 251), meaning that when Ifemelu’s hair did not meet the american social standards it was not pretty, but now that it is straightened it is finally lovely. “Her hair was hanging down rather than standing up, straight and sleek” (Adichie, 251), this has a mournful feeling after Ifemelu changed her hair. Ifemelu was also not liking the new hair so much, she wanted her original hair back. She said that she was not recognizing herself at that moment after the transformation (Adichie, 251). After this big alteration in her hair, Ifemelu still made a few more changes.

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At one point in the novel Ifemelu cut her hair, symbolizing freedom. Previously she straightened her hair, which symbolized the loss of her identity and confidence. However, with her cutting it, would represent her recovering that identity and confidence she once lost. After cutting her hair, Ifemelu did not like it and she even said, “I look so ugly I’m scared of myself” (Adichie, 258). She was so insecure that she didn’t even go to work, and also when she was talking to Curt through email, she started to trigger and wonder if Curt will accept her new hair.

In Americanah, Adichie talks a lot about hair and the meaning behind every hair style for Ifemelu. In this novel hair represents many different things, but the main ones are identity, freedom and confidence. The author also talks about race and racism through hair. Adichie talks a lot about the american social standards and how everyone should follow it or else society will not respect or take the person seriously, as shown when Aunty Uju tells Ifemelu that if she does not straighten her hair she will look unprofessional and will probably not get a job (Adichie, 146).

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Hair As A Motif In Americanah. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
“Hair As A Motif In Americanah.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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Hair As A Motif In Americanah [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from:
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