I’ve never been cheated on but I can imagine it’s not a pleasant experience. The whole concept of cheating is a little ridiculous to me considering I can barely juggle myself, let alone a relationship and an affair. But on top of that, how hard is it to stay faithful to someone?
The reason I bring this up is not to discuss the motivation of cheating but rather the response to cheating. In many relationships containing an unfaithful participant, once the cheating has surfaced, the relationship immediately ends. But, in Ifemelu’s case, she continues to be with Curt despite the emails he was sending back and forth with the mystery woman SparklingPaola123. And that begs the question, does the reaction to cheating depend on the “severity” of the cheating? Is it still considered cheating if there is no physical contact?
[Note: Here, I am 100% relaying my opinion on this subject. You may have your own opinion on this subject and I would be happy to hear it but for now this is my opinion and my opinion only.]
In my opinion, what Curt did was most definitely cheating. Maybe it wasn’t physical cheating, but it was undoubtedly emotional cheating. And I think regardless of what “level” of cheating it was, if I were in Ifemelu’s shoes, I wouldn’t have continued the relationship with Curt. Which leads me to consider why exactly Ifemelu chose to take him back. Obviously the act of Curt’s cheating had an affect on Ifemelu’s confidence, seen when she says, “She felt small and ugly.” (261). This also happens after Ifemelu’s drastic haircut, further cementing her dislike of the change in appearance. But when the change in appearance becomes a boost of confidence for Ifemelu, I think Adichie is also showcasing a transition in Ifemelu and her relationship with Curt.
I think Ifemelu took Curt back because of how he made her feel outside of the cheating. When she was with Curt, Ifemelu saw the brighter side of the American lifestyle and because of this she began to gain confidence when it came to work and school. So, rather than staying with Curt because she legitimately forgave him or because of the wealth he displayed with her, Ifemelu stayed with him because, subconsciously, she was scared of losing the confidence that came with being with him. She was scared of reverting back to the way things were prior to her job with the Turners. And while I in no way justify Curt’s cheating, I do think Ifemelu taking him back was the choice that led to her eventually becoming confident enough to stand on her own without him.
Someone says something to me. Relays information about an upcoming event, gives insight on the latest happenings in their life, warns me about some menial inconvenient in my foreseeable future. And regardless of how intently I’m listening, whether I’m making eye contact or I’m dosing off, I reply the same. With a simple, single-word response.
Of course, the tone of voice and the stress on certain syllables does alter the meaning of the word but other than that, it’s the same word. The Googled definition of the word “great” varies depending on context, but overall it basically means a large amount of something or excellence. Ergo, it doesn’t mean “an empty response to show understanding of information being received, to display mild annoyance or to suggest the listener is paying attention when in reality they’re planning out their blog post for tonight” which is essentially how I and a majority of the American population use it. This meaningless use of the word would never of crossed my mind had it not been for Americanah.
As Ifemelu comes to America and is attempting to adjust to life on her own, she is faced with a whole crop of American “customs” or behaviors that she doesn’t understand and as she lists and explains them, I realize these are things I do on a daily basis. To quote Ifemelu, “People who lived in exclamation points. ‘Great!’ they said often. ‘That’s great!” (156). And there’s the tie in to my almost two full paragraphs on my usage of the word “great”. Continuing from a later quote, “Some of the expressions she heard every day astonished her, jarred her, and she wondered what Obinze’s mother would make of them. You shouldn’t of done that. There is three things. I had a apple. A couple days. I want to lay down.” (165). I think what shocked me the most about these phrases was that for a at least two of them, I had to think about what was so wrong with them. Here we are in America, with this stereotype that people from other countries aren’t as well educated as we are and yet we fill our vocabulary with slang words that don’t make sense and horribly grammatically incorrect phrases.
I think, overall what I realized from seeing Ifemelu’s genuinely surprised and confused reactions to these “quirks” in American society is that these things don’t seem strange to me because I was raised around them. The same can be said for traditions or behaviors in any other country that Western society doesn’t understand. Some countries teach their children division by first grade and some instate the word “excited” too frequently in their vocabulary. Not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving, just like how not everyone celebrates Chinese New Year. It’s too easy to forget that other countries with their own holidays and social norms and cultures and behaviors exist.
That’s it for now.
Note: If you look at the word “great” long enough, it starts to look like it shouldn’t be a real word.
I don’t often watch the news but I am a very paranoid person. How do these two relate? To quote Aunty Uji in Americanah, “If you keep watching television, you will think these things happen all the time. Do you know how much crime happens in Nigeria? Is it because we don’t report it like they do here?” (140). This quote specifically references the paranoid behavior Ifemelu begins to exhibit after coming to America, more specifically after she is exposed to a heavy dose of American news. Upon reading this quote, it got me thinking about how plausible it is that paranoia stems from the news Americans are subject to everyday. Robberies, kidnappings, murders, the works. It’s around us, all the time, practically shouted from the rooftops. It’s almost impossible not to be subject to some of the crime and negativity the news stations rave about.
I think it’s interesting that crime-something that isn’t specific to only America-isn’t as heavily broadcast-ed in other countries as it is here. Ifemelu mentions prior to the talk with Aunty Uju that she was used to seeing militarial broadcasts occupying the Nigerian news station, which gets me thinking. Obviously news reports depend on the area in which they are located, but does the location also affect which news is presented? Like in America it’s all crime stories but in other countries it’s more military focused or stuff like that?
That would make sense, especially if censorship is involved. When I think of censorship in the media, I specifically think of China because I remember learning about Tiananmen Square and realizing that almost no one in present day China knew anything about these series of protests and this massacre that had taken place almost thirty years ago. And then, with that comes the inevitable question of what the American government is hiding from us.
Overall, the whole concept that the American broadcasting system is somewhat responsible for widespread paranoia opens a million others doors regarding censorship and government secrets and I completely understand why Adichie chose to include this in Americanah because it truly exemplifies something that is very prevalent in American society that might not stretch to many other countries. The whole idea is an invitation to really consider the mechanics of mass media in America.
I have very strong opinions about sex. I think it’s ridiculous that sex is so censored in the media and that parents freak out if their kids are within a ten foot radius of anything even remotely sexual. I think kids need to learn about sex-it’s one of the most important things they can learn about-because if they don’t, they could hurt themselves and other people. To quote Obinze’s mother in Americanah, “An act is done by two people, but if there are any consequences, one person carries it alone.” (87).
My parents don’t really like to talk about sex. My dad makes jokes about it (and because he’s a dad, you know they’re bad jokes) and my mom cringes like the topic of sex is a physical monster that’s going to jump out and bite her if she even thinks about it. Because if this, sex was never a topic brushed upon in my household. I had to learn about it through a combination of media, the lesson in eighth grade that could barely be called a sex-ed, and a very close family friend whom I cannot thank enough. But what would have happened if I had never learned about sex, in any way, shape or form? The answer can be found everywhere and there are a variety of answers. To sum them all up: probably bad things.
When Obinze’s mother first pulls Ifemelu aside and begins talking about sex, I was a bit taken aback. And then I started cheering. Not because the boyfriend’s mom wanted to know when they started having sex. I cheered because she’s looking out for her son in every way possible (and parenting is another topic I’m very opinionated on) as well as making sure they’re being smart because judging from Ifemelu’s reaction to someone being that open about sex, there wasn’t a lot of sex education involved in her childhood. And, in the following chapters, we witness that firsthand as Ifemelu and Obinze have sex and don’t use protection, resulting in a pregnancy scare. Fortunately, that provides more quotes on sex from Obinze’s mother, specifically, “You should never ever let the boy be in charge of your own protection. If he does not want to use it, then he does not care enough about you and you should not be there.” (118).
Side note: I love that she is forcing them to take responsibility of their actions and basically tells Obinze that if he does get Ifemelu pregnant, it’s not going to just go away. Also, she focuses on STDs and pregnancy when referring to consequences.
I, personally, have little no experience with relationships ergo I have no room to talk about relationships. Ok, that’s not true. I feel, as someone with so little experience, that I do offer a different perspective when viewing relationships. An outside perspective. And one specific type of relationship that has always fascinated me has been young love.
A lot of older people tend to discredit younger people and simply label them as “moody” or “emotional” rather than taking their opinions and feelings into account like they would another adult. And because of this, adults rarely take young love seriously which I think is ridiculous. If a teenager is able to plan out the rest of their future at that age then they should be taken seriously when it comes to falling in love at that age. Simultaneously, there are obvious examples of young love that prove young people have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to romance (example: Romeo and Juliet). But at the same time, that shouldn’t discredit all romance experienced at a younger age.
This comes up because I recently read the chapter in Americanah where Ifemelu discusses meeting and dating her, presently ex-boyfriend, Obinze. While her age is not specified, it’s safe to assume she was still young when the pair met and fell for one another. And because of that, and how their relationship ended, that begs the question: is all young love doomed to fail?
Obviously I believe young love should be taken seriously but taken seriously doesn’t necessarily mean I believe all young relationships will work out. If the answer to the above question turns out to be yes, then why? Is it because we’re young, so we have no idea how to handle actual relationships that involve feelings? Or is it because we’re constantly pressured and judged by adults who think young love is ridiculous, childish, foolish? It’s safe to say the odds are stacked against the success of young love. With stigma from society also comes responsibilities like school or establishing yourself in the workplace or moving away from home and living your own life without your parents there to guide you. On top of that, add the emotional responsibility that comes with maintaining a successful and healthy relationship, you’ve got quite the heavy load.
I think I’m just curious to see why Obinze and Ifemelu’s relationship ended. Were they doomed to fail from the start? Do their separate hopes and dreams send them down different paths? And then you have the knowledge that they are beginning to reconnect after the relationship has long since ended, so does that mean there might be more to their relationship? Who knows.
“This church is full of 419 men. Why should we pretend that this hall was not built with dirty money?” (62).
With “419 men” basically meaning con artists and frauds, this quote from Americanah focuses on the concept that a religious community actually harbors and is built on a crop of criminals and-to put it in religious terms-sinners. As someone who was raised in the church purely because it was the way my mother was raised, I’ve experienced both an insider and outsider perspective on the workings of the church behind the scenes.
My mother and her entire family were all born and raised Catholic, so when she met my father, one of her conditions regarding their future was that their children be raised Catholic. Ergo, as a child I was subjected to hour long mass every Sunday and traditional rights of passage that would pop up once every three or four years and take up at least one non-Sunday of my life. But, as I grew older and I was exposed to the idea that not everyone followed the same religion I was raised under, I was also subject to an onslaught of stereotypes about the Catholicism and Catholic people. One specific stereotype that connects back to the original quote mentioned is the stereotype that Catholic people are very greedy and money-oriented, which stems from their need to show off to the outside world.
I do believe there are many genuine Catholic people out there. There are people who believe strongly in God and follow the traditions of the Catholic religion in doing so (my extended family to name a few). But at the same time, I believe there also are the people who build their giant churches to flaunt their wealth and scam the church-goers out of their money. But then again, isn’t that something that’s prevalent almost anywhere in society. You look at any area of life and I can guarantee you’ll find someone who’s doing something in that area for the not-so-right reasons. It’s not just specific to religion and it’s not just specific to Catholicism.
But, in Americanah‘s case, there is very obviously an influence of criminals in the community of the church. Following this quote, it’s source, Ifemelu, is chastised for being so outspoken about this statement, further proving that while this is the truth, it isn’t something the nice, smiling suburban moms of the church want being spread around. It would damage the image of the church. So while the church does thrive off of sinners and greed, it’s main focus is it’s appearance, which is exactly why Ifemelu’s mother sort of goes into her crazy religious reinvention where she chops off all of her hair and tries to convert her entire family to this new religion. It’s all about appearance, which is where these kind of stereotypes and their realities stem from. Everyone wants to seem better than they actually are.
I don’t remember when I first starting cringing at the word “fat”. I have no memory of it in the endless blurred images of ridiculous and somewhat dangerous shenanigans that I consider my childhood. I never noticed that people around me were skinnier or that they wore clothes smaller than the ones I wore. It didn’t matter to me. All that mattered were the animated flicks I binged and the pink blanket I dragged with me everywhere. I was also obsessed with being grown up. Apparently being grown up meant words like “fat” become just as bad, if not worse, than the curse words you whisper and giggle about in middle school.
When did society make weight something to be criticized? That’s a question many people consider when they discuss fat-shaming and societal beauty standards. They insert photos of beauty standards from a hundred years ago that feature “average” sized women looking happy and carefree because no one has thrown away who they are as a person because they’re bigger than a size two (did size two’s even exist back then? Note: research when sizes became a thing). And while that’s inspiring and wonderful, there’s also the whole Beauty Standards Across the World thing that keeps circulating where some women from other countries aren’t stick skinny. And that calls into question if the societal stigma of “fat” is actually a worldwide thing?
To quote Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “‘fat’ in America was a bad word, heaving with moral judgement like ‘stupid’ or ‘bastard’, and not a mere description like ‘short’ or ‘tall’.” (6). Viewing the opinion on the word “fat” from the perspective of a character who didn’t grow up in American society and seeing how she originally doesn’t view it as a negative word interests me. Does that mean, in other countries, you can call someone fat and it doesn’t demolish their self esteem? You can call yourself fat without feeling insecure? Or does it just mean that the word “fat” can act as a substitute for how people in America use the word “overweight”, as like a description without the nasty connotation?
It’s a sensitive subject to a lot of people and not something I love to talk about, but it’s appearance and consideration in Americanah made me think.