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Retrieving Self-Dignity: To Be A Creative Non-Victim In Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah

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Retrieving Self-Dignity: To be a Creative Non-victim

You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages. (Michelle Obama)

Atwood’s Basic Victim Position Four is “a position not for victims but for those who have never been victims at all, or for ex-victims: those who have been able to move into it from Position Three because the external and/or the internal causes of victimization have been removed.” (35). The novel, Americanah surpasses the Position Four by affirming the hope of retrieval of one’s own identity. The protagonist Ifemelu is able to reach Position Four after gaining the varied experiences of the previous victim positions.

Moreover, as Atwood mentions, “In an oppressed society, of course, you can’t become an ex-victim – insofar as you are connected with your society – until the entire society’s position has been changed.” (35 Atwood), Ifemelu, on deciding to move from America, becomes an ex-victim, who feel the air of truly free environment in Nigeria. She is now an ex-victim of the racial prejudices of America, who has been successfully able to move from Position Three repudiation, since her meaningful return to her own country Nigeria suggests the fact of that she sheds off the internal and external causes of racial victimization which has been threatening her so far. In her quest of reclaiming her moral identity, she spends considerable time making a living in contemplating and compromising situations in the immigrant country and goes back to Nigeria and survive there. She can be claimed as an ex-victim for she no longer connects with the oppressive racial discrimination of America. Ifemelu’s revelation of Position Four can be marked early in the first chapter of the novel when she was about to “braid her hair for the journey home”. (8).

Tuned by the bitter experiences while having to imitate and cope with the living style of the Americans, she begins to observe the tremendous negative changes in her physical, psychological, and intellectual space. Ifemelu gathers the energy to cleanse her influenced mind before it is too late. She fathoms the thought of returning to her homeland Nigeria after thirteen years, since she learns that she has been ignoring all her originality to become a real American. She thinks: “Nigeria became where she was supposed to be, the only place she could sink her roots in without constant urge to tug them out and shake off the soil.” (6). She closes down her famous blog, gives up the speaking fees, leaves the privileged fellowship at Princeton and abandons the good relationship with Blaine for the strong desire to go back to Nigeria hoping to re-join her boyfriend Obinze. As Atwood says “Energy is no longer suppressed”, Ifemelu begins to think exclusively for her and her development in life, refreshed by her return to where she original belong to. Ifemelu feels “pleased to hear this.” (395). When Ranyinudo comments she no longer behaves like an Americanah, she only feels happy and confident that she has got back her own self. Regaining self-confidence, she is more assured to achieve anything in her own nation, where one cannot refer to her as “lost” into America, as the natives say about men going to America for survival and has not think about their own soil to return to. (116). It will be apt to quote what Atwood says about the achieving the ultimate freedom: “One way of coming to terms by making sense of one’s roots is to become a creator”(Atwood 181).

Ifemelu finds a job as a features editor in a Nigerian women’s magazine called Zoe, and set out to visualize her own progress in the future of herself along with the future of the magazine. She has endearing plans with innovation and freshness that are exclusively address to Nigerian women’s welfare: “she already imagined taking over the running of Zoe, turning it into a vibrant, relevant companion for Nigerian women, and – who knew – perhaps one day buying out Aunty Onenu. And she would not welcome new recruits in her home.” 392. Ifemelu gets herself boosted up to face challenges, ready to execute feminist ideals. Her observations about her own society helps her to execute her plans. Her stress on the new recruits suggests that she does not want the Nigerian way of business, “where the boundaries were blurred, where work blended into life, and bosses were called Mummy.” (392).

She wants to maintain work and personal life as totally different spheres, because she doubted such blend might be the start of corruption and lethargies. Creative activities of all kinds is possible for her, for she wishes to replace the idea of lethargic Westernised lifestyle of Nigerians with the more original re-creation of Nigerianness. Her writing becomes the performative act for creating progressive change in the society she lives in. Ifemelu becomes more optimistic soon after she stepped in Lagos. Racial prejudice, which becomes the internal and external cause of her victimization is now removed. She feels somehow she have escaped the source of victimization that has been making her feel so less about herself. She shares the sense of contentment with Curt, who asked about her blog after she left him. She simply says, “she begins to write blogs “just about life. Race doesn’t really work here, I feel like I got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black.” (476).

The physical return to Nigeria, represents her reclaim of spiritual return, to be able to breathe the air of freedom, free of the suppressing racial elements that occupied her thoughts. As Atwood says, Ifemelu does not “even have to concentrate on rejecting the role of Victim, because the role is no longer a temptation” for her. (35). Ifemelu finds herself energized with full of plans to alternate the image of the Western accustomed lifestyle of women and wants to change the stereotyped values that are highlighted only for women. Ifemelu has now found success in Nigeria, and this is a kind of victory over her ongoing restlessness and struggle for identity. She feels comfortable and confident with herself as both an American and a Nigerian now, having found her place in the world with Obinze. As she has the freedom to write about what she wants, and can both observe and humorously critique daily life in Lagos as a semi-outside observer. She focuses on the culture of materialistic romantic relationships as she is finally starting to feel comfortable and confident in Nigeria again. Her suggestions voice the need for change in every aspects of life, to shed imitations, by lifting indigenous values: “stop lifting foreign magazine pieces. Most of your readers can’t go into the market and buy broccoli because we don’t have it in Nigeria, so why does this month’s Zoe have a recipe for cream of broccoli soup?” (392).

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Ifemelu becomes dissatisfied with the magazine as she observes the upper-class Nigerians’ overt sophistication about wealth and pompousness that only comes out of falsity. Ifemelu stops fighting against it and they finally experience this blissful reunion of passion and love. They are both older and more worldly now, but they feel like teenagers once again. Nigerians’ craving for wealth and power makes the country economically weak that it suppresses the poor and praises the rich. She notices that her employer of the magazine runs it for her own publicity out of a selfish competition with another women magazine run by her rival. As she is used to being blunt and incisive with her writing, exposing the injustice behind mundane daily life, but Aunty Onenu just wants pieces that fit her preconceived notion of a women’s’ magazine. Ifemelu finds there a lack of purpose or care for women’s welfare which it should meant to be. Doris gets annoyed with Ifemelu’s activism, telling her to just accept that corruption is everywhere and stop trying to make trouble about it. Ifemelu’s attempt at working for someone else fails in this dramatic and farcical scene, and so she decides to do what might have been predicted all along: start her own blog. Esther’s super-religious worldview ironically coincides with Ifemelu’s friends’ obsession with marriage. She leaves the job with many effective plans to start her own blog about her own country. She begins to imagine the design and content of her own blog which will truly reflect the issues of her country to gain awareness among women:

The blog posts would be in a stark, readable font. An article about health care… A piece about the Nigerpolitan Club. A fashion article about clothes that women could actually afford. Posts about people helping others, but nothing like the Zoe stories that always featured a wealthy person, hugging children at a motherless babies’ home, with bags of rice and tins of powdered milk propped in the background. (417)

Her preference over the title of the blog and picture background are symbolic for they comment the deconstruction of the colonial influence over the country or at least her city: “The Small Redemptions of Lagos, with a dreamy photograph of an abandoned colonial house on its masthead.” (421). Like criticising the modern day racism in America, Ifemelu is also well aware of the persisting “colonial mentality” of her country. She had observed American culture with an outsider’s eye, and now she is doing the same thing with Nigerian culture, since so many years have passed that it feels foreign to her. Adichie turns her critical eye on the materialistic culture of Lagos, and the unhealthy romantic relationships that are based on money and power instead of love or mutual respect. Her criticism is always direct and demanding for change to pull out Nigeria’s prevailing ignorance of its mere inclination for imitating the American as well as European ideals, its previous colonial masters. Self-realization enhances her view about Nigeria to visualise the abandonment of the ancestral values to that of the bogus lifestyle adopted by the Nigerians. She calls European modelled rich houses as “ugly”, which “she had once found houses like that beautiful. But here she was now, disliking it with the haughty confidence of a person who recognized kitsch.” (393). Her confident rejection of colonial attitude reflected in the infrastructures produces the counter-discourse against the prevailing neo-colonist imperialism regulated by the west, that she wishes to foresworn all the imitations and representations of European or western stereotypes that surrounded her country. Her remonstrating stubbornness towards the injustices of the society and her inquisitive curiosity about evaluating things is revealed through her father’s suggestion for Ifemelu to confirm to gender: “You must refrain from your natural proclivity towards provocation, Ifemelu. You have singled yourself out at school where you are known for insubordination and I have told you that it has already sullied your singular academic record. There is no need to create a similar pattern in church.” (52).

Ifemelu does not want to be identified with the migrated black women, who try to acculturate to the U.S. to enjoy advantages. Their submissiveness to racial prejudices and their denial towards their own victimization surprises Ifemelu, as she could not behave or live like them to survive. She takes on a defensive stance to ensure that she is not affected by the materialistic life of Americans. Ifemelu objectifies herself, seeking self-respect and dignity she does not want to lose. By defamiliarising the notion of acculturation, she heads towards developing and establishing pridefuless on valuing the indigenous culture. This is relevant to the writer’s comments: “Adopting local ways of dressing, eating or entertainment was also deemed to signify the loss of the European racial‐cultural attributes, a dilution of the purity of the Western race – and thus attracted considerable opprobrium.” (112 pcsd). Ifemelu’s responses defamiliarise the notion of globalization on the western models of fashionable living. When Ifemelu meets her Nigerian friend Ginika, who has been studying in America, she wonders how her body, which has held the typical African identity vanishes on her years of Americanisation. Ifemelu’s inquisitiveness on conceding to the popularization of western fashion begins first with Ginika’s “fried stockfish” (122) appearance: “There was Ginika… wearing a miniskirt and a tube top tht covered her chest but not her midriff…. Ginika was much thinner, half her old size, and her head looked bigger, balanced on a longer neck that brought to mind a vague, exotic animal.” (122). She mockingly writes a blog about her observations on what she calls “foreign pathology” (128):

When it comes to dressing well, American culture is so self-fulfilled that it has not only disregarded this courtesy of self-presentation, but has turned that disregard into a virtue. “We are too superior/busy/cool/not uptight to bother about how we look to other people, and so we can wear pajamas to school and underwear to the mall. (129).

Ifemelu faces serious obstructions from the native women for her openness in her blog about their counterfeit graciousness towards the poor for the sake of publicity. Her questioning attitude draws more challenges that she takes them as positive signs of development. She apprehends their confined perceptions and opinions about life, and eventually bored by their presumptuousness of their obsessive faith in religion to relate every fortunes and misfortunes to God’s will. As a revolutionary, unconventional woman, she tries to influence and change her female counterparts who live in Position Two trapped attitude for they all subject themselves unconsciously. Her rebellious attitude reminds of Atwood’s point that “anger and the desire for change depend on the assumption that change will be for the better, that is in fact possible to achieve not only individual but social freedom.” 274. Like the other female protagonists of Chimamanda, Ifemelu too has the power of observation and self-criticism that rooted for seeking transformation and progress through ingenuity. Ifemelu does not try to conceal the lacks of her own country; she is well aware of the modes of corruption at the very core of political and social set up. She does not pretend to others by highlighting the rich cultural creeds over the apparent depravity. It is shown that Ifemelu one of the common people who naturally prefer to go after comfort, free-from-trouble living than to be stuck in the puddle of conflict-prone nation like Nigeria. The perturbing economic conditions in Nigeria threatens her decision to live forever in the country: “Soon Ifemelu was tossing in the wetness of her own sweat. A painful throbbing had started behind her eyes and a mosquito was buzzing nearby and she felt suddenly, guiltily grateful that she had a blue American passport in her bag. It shielded her from choicelessness. She could always leave; she did not have to stay.” (390). The self-realisation about America’s hostility towards black immigrants makes her to return, though she was afforded with all kinds of sophistications gaining from the honest upper class white Curt, who loved dating with her. Her statement about the present condition of black immigrants in America is sharp against those who try to defend America as affable and friendly towards black people. Her reply shows her legitimate anger when someone says race was not an issue in present-day America: it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter… But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners… they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive… we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience. (290-91)

Experiences shapes her perception about the suppressing realities of racism. Ifemelu crosses all the three stages of victimization in her life. In the opening chapter of the novel, Ifemelu recognises her too-long-ignorance of “the cement in her soul” that hides the pains of racial discrimination in order to assimilate into the American way of living. (6). Ifemelu was wandering without enough money to pay for her school fees soon after she comes out of Aunty Uju’s home after a brief period of baby-sitting her son Dike. From then on, she tries to find a job with another black woman’s social security card, attended many interviews only to finds series of failures, without knowing the original reason for her inability to get even a small job. During the hard time running out of money, she seems to be drifting spiritually by her suppressing environment, as she encounters insulting comments from her white roommate, who rebuked her for ignoring her dog, by saying, “You better no kill my dog with voodoo.” (152), which offense her African culture. Assaulted by the racial commentary she feels “she was at war with the world, and woke up each day feeling bruised, imagining a horde of faceless people who were all against her. It terrified her, to be unable to visualize tomorrow… To be here, living abroad, not knowing when she could go home again, was to watch love become anxiety.” (152). The devastating economic condition makes her to choose the embarrassing “relaxing” (citation) job for a white tennis coach. There she finds herself being involved in an ugly job, worrying about the desperate need to be a victim of the western white man: “She felt like a small ball, adrift and alone. The world was big, big place and she was so tiny, so insignificant, rattling around emptily.” (154). Depression catches her soul up since she could not tolerate the thought of self-conscious act she was performing for money to live on her own. Self-loathing hardened inside her so deliberately avoids talking to Obinze for the guilt around her as she says, “sometimes she woke up flailing and helpless, and she saw, in front of her, and behind her and all around her, an utter hopelessness.” 156. She avoids talking to Obinze thereafter out of guilt of betraying him. Refreshed by a baby-sitting job in the house of a wealthy white lady, Kimberly she comes of the poor situation. During the times, she wants to mingle with his white friends feeling more and more Americanized with her style of living and way of speaking, internalising the white standards. When she is with Kimberly, she feels comfortable as a good friend, rather than as a black outsider.

There, Ifemelu feels disconcerted and edgy while she happens to be with Kimberly at their party. She could feel the patronising attitude of the white guests who boast about their charities to African poor. She envied their luxury to charity as she “wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be the one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy.” (170). The longing is contradicted with her present disabled situation to change her condition but rather she could only feel the need to be victim by working among those supercilious white people who perceive through the scale of race. As Ifemelu inherently possesses the inquisitiveness in perceiving and comprehending matters, she senses Laura’s hypocrisies of the American elite towards the non-black immigrants.

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Retrieving Self-Dignity: To Be A Creative Non-Victim In Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/retrieving-self-dignity-to-be-a-creative-non-victim-in-chimamanda-adichies-americanah/
“Retrieving Self-Dignity: To Be A Creative Non-Victim In Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/retrieving-self-dignity-to-be-a-creative-non-victim-in-chimamanda-adichies-americanah/
Retrieving Self-Dignity: To Be A Creative Non-Victim In Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/retrieving-self-dignity-to-be-a-creative-non-victim-in-chimamanda-adichies-americanah/> [Accessed 5 Dec. 2022].
Retrieving Self-Dignity: To Be A Creative Non-Victim In Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 21 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/retrieving-self-dignity-to-be-a-creative-non-victim-in-chimamanda-adichies-americanah/
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