Americanah | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Americanah | Plot Summary

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Part 1

Ifemelu takes the train to Trenton, New Jersey, to get her hair braided. The conclusion of her fellowship at Princeton University has prompted her to make some dramatic life changes: she closed her blog about American race relations from the perspective of a non-American black person; she broke up with her African American boyfriend, Blaine; and after 13 years in the United States, she is moving back home to Nigeria. As she sits in the stylist's chair, Ifemelu can't help but think about her high school and college boyfriend, Obinze. They haven't communicated in years, but she sends him a quick e-mail to let him know she's coming home.

Obinze lives in Ifemelu's hometown of Lagos. He's married to a beautiful woman and has a young daughter. He makes good money as a property developer, his family lives in a big, comfortable house, and they socialize with the power players of Lagos society. However, all these material things leave Obinze feeling hollow inside. He's caught off guard by Ifemelu's e-mail, which is all he can think about as he and his wife make the rounds at a swanky society party that evening. He writes back as soon as he gets home.

Part 2

Ifemelu is an only child. Her mother is a school principal and religious fanatic, and her father is recently unemployed. Ifemelu is closer to her father's cousin, Aunty Uju, than to either of her parents. Ten years Ifemelu's senior, Aunty Uju recently graduated from medical school and began dating The General, a married military man who serves under the Head of State. He secures a job for Uju at the hospital and sets her up in a beautiful home. He pays for everything and gives her a little money of her own.

Ifemelu and Obinze meet in secondary school. He is the new boy from Nsukka; she is the smart and stubborn one in the group of popular girls. Obinze's friends try to set him up with Ginika, who was voted the prettiest girl in school, but he chooses Ifemelu. From the very beginning, they are inseparable. Obinze is obsessed with America and tries to get Ifemelu to read American novels and listen to American music. Ifemelu loves spending time at Obinze's house with his mother, a professor on sabbatical. After an uncomfortable conversation with Obinze's mother, Ifemelu promises they will wait to have sex. They will let her know when they are ready.

Aunty Uju becomes pregnant with The General's baby, and he arranges for her to deliver in the United States. She returns to Nigeria with their son, Dike. When Dike is a year old, The General is killed in a plane accident. His family immediately lashes out at Aunty Uju and threatens to ruin her life. She and Dike flee to the United States.

Ifemelu and Obinze attend Nsukka University together. He lives at home, and she lives in a hostel. Obinze is jealous of the attention Ifemelu gets from the older boys, especially when she is at home in Lagos during the frequent teachers' strikes.

Obinze and Ifemelu finally have sex. It isn't anything like Ifemelu imagined, and she is ashamed that they didn't use protection and didn't tell Obinze's mother. A week later, she starts getting sharp pains in her side. Worried, she goes to a local doctor for a pregnancy test. She's not pregnant, but the pains continue. Obinze's mother takes Ifemelu to a doctor one night when the pain becomes too much to bear. On the way, Ifemelu confesses that she and Obinze had unprotected sex. Obinze's mother lectures them about the importance of condoms after Ifemelu recovers from her appendix surgery.

The teachers' strikes begin occurring more frequently. Aunty Uju suggests that Ifemelu move to the United States to finish school. Obinze promises to join her there for graduate school. Ifemelu spends her first summer in the United States in Brooklyn, New York, living with Aunty Uju and Dike, who is now in first grade.

Aunty Uju has changed in the years since Ifemelu last saw her. She has had to work several jobs while trying to pass her medical school examinations. As a result, she is tired, ragged-looking, and always angry. She begins dating Bartholomew, a Nigerian accountant who lives in Massachusetts. She doesn't love him, but she wants help raising Dike and wants another child. They marry within the year.

Ifemelu moves to Philadelphia in the fall to go to college. Her friend Ginika, who also went to school there, helps her settle in and teaches her about American customs and slang. Ifemelu is in the country on a student visa, which means she can't legally work. She ends up borrowing the identity of Aunty Uju's friend and applies for dozens of jobs. Months go by without any interest and soon she is unable to afford the rent for the apartment she shares with three American roommates. Desperate, Ifemelu calls a tennis coach who offered her a job helping him "relax" and says she can start right away. Within the hour, she is in his bedroom. They masturbate one another, he hands her $100, and she cries all the way home.

Ifemelu can't bear to tell Obinze what happened. Until then, they had been talking on the phone and writing letters and e-mails to each other as often as possible. Now she suddenly stops communicating with him altogether. She spends her days in a miserable fog, skips class, and leaves her bedroom only in the middle of the night. After a few weeks, one of her roommates brings her the phone. It is Ginika. She, Aunty Uju, and Obinze are all worried about Ifemelu. But Ginika has good news—the woman who interviewed Ifemelu for a nanny position has an opening after all. Ginika thinks Ifemelu has depression, which Ifemelu thinks isn't a real thing. She sobs in Ginika's car and doesn't mention a word about the tennis coach.

Ifemelu works for Kimberly and Don for several years. She's struck by how clueless Kimberly and her sister, Laura, are about Africa and what life is like for black people in the United States. Ifemelu can't stand Laura, but she feels very protective toward Kimberly. Ifemelu ends up dating Kimberly's handsome and wealthy cousin, Curt. Curt adores Ifemelu. He takes her on vacations, introduces her to his mother, and helps her find a job that will sponsor her employment visa after graduation.

Aunty Uju and the career counselor at Ifemelu's school both told her that braids, twists, and other traditionally black hairstyles would not be considered professional by her future employer. Because of this, Ifemelu relaxes her hair, but the result doesn't feel like her at all. The chemical relaxing process is brutal; after a few months, her hair starts falling out. Her friend Wambui encourages her to cut off the relaxed portions of her hair and let it grow naturally. Ifemelu is left with a two-inch-long afro. She hates it at first, but after a few months, she learns to love her hair just the way it is.

Ifemelu and Curt visit Aunty Uju and Dike in Massachusetts. Weeks later, Aunty Uju leaves Bartholomew. She and Dike move to a town called Willow in Massachusetts. Aunty Uju hopes Dike will be treated better at his new school. The staff at the old school was always complaining about his behavior. Aunty Uju is sure it's because he's black.

Ifemelu runs into Kayode at the mall. Kayode was one of Obinze's good friends in secondary school. As they catch up, Ifemelu learns that Obinze is in England. She hasn't talked to him for years, yet she feels betrayed that he hadn't personally told her about this development. Later that day, she e-mails Obinze for the first time since the incident with the tennis coach. He doesn't reply.

Part 3

Obinze makes multiple attempts to get an American visa after graduating from university, but he is denied every time. His mother says it's because of the fear of terrorism. The United States isn't taking any young black men. She arranges a six-month visa for him to go to England as her research assistant for a conference. After that, it's up to him to secure citizenship.

Obinze lives with his cousin, Nicholas, and Nicholas's wife, Ojiugo, and their children, Nna and Nne. He contacts old friends to seek help finding work. Emenike, who went to school with Obinze and Ifemelu, is too busy and important to help. Iloba, who is from Obinze's mother's village, hooks him up with Vincent, who sells Obinze the use of his National Insurance number. In return, Obinze has to give Vincent 35 percent of all his earnings.

Obinze's first job is as a janitor at an office building. He receives Ifemelu's apology e-mail on the day he has to clean feces off a toilet seat. Furious with her for waiting five years to contact him and furious that he is expected to clean another human's purposefully placed bowel movement, he quits. He eventually ends up working for a delivery company. His boss, Roy Snell, is exceedingly kind and always gives him the better-paying jobs. He's often paired with Nigel, a white Brit who evenly splits his tips with Obinze.

Obinze is terrified that the authorities will discover that he's in the country illegally. He enters an arrangement to marry Cleotilde, a Portuguese-Angolan woman. Cleotilde is very nice and very attractive, but Obinze doesn't want to complicate their business arrangement with romance until after they're married. The Angolans who set up the deal keep asking Obinze for more and more money, so he finally breaks down and asks Emenike for a loan. Emenike is glad to oblige and gives him double the amount he asked for. Obinze is embarrassed to take it but is too desperate not to. The next night, he attends a dinner party at Emenike and Georgina's house, where he realizes that Emenike considers himself to be British, not Nigerian.

Moments before his marriage to Cleotilde, Obinze is arrested for overstaying his visa. He is placed in detention until seats become available for a flight home. After an unspecified amount of time, he and seven other Nigerians are deported home. Three years after leaving, he is back in the same place he started.

Part 4

Ifemelu cheats on Curt with her upstairs neighbor. Curt is furious and refuses to speak to her. Ginika and Aunty Uju are dumbstruck that she would let someone like Curt get away. Per Wambui's recommendation, Ifemelu begins an anonymous blog about U.S. race relations from the perspective of a non-American black person. Readership grows quickly. Dissatisfied with her career and her life, Ifemelu quits her job and focuses on the blog full time. She gets sponsors, then advertisers, and then starts running diversity workshops at businesses and colleges. Her message is different depending on who she is talking to. On her blog, she is honest about the racial inequalities in the United States and tells personal stories about how race has affected her friends. At the workshops, where the audience is primarily white, she talks about how far the United States has come in eradicating racism. Business is good, and after a while, Ifemelu is able to buy herself a two-bedroom condo in Baltimore, Maryland.

Ifemelu runs into Blaine at a Blogging While Brown convention in Washington, DC. They actually met once before on a train before Ifemelu started dating Curt. For years, Ifemelu had fantasized about Blaine, a good-looking African American professor at Yale University. She had tried desperately to get in touch with him immediately after they first met, but he had a girlfriend at the time. He's single now. They start dating, and Ifemelu moves into his apartment in New Haven, Connecticut, after a year.

Ifemelu and Blaine are a good match at first. She admires his intellect and his commitment to social causes, and she feels like she's a better person around him. But there are cracks in their relationship. Many of them are caused by Shan, Blaine's self-centered sister who frequently calls out Ifemelu for being African, not African American. Ifemelu also feels ill at ease around Blaine's friends, who all have a deeper understanding of race in the United States than Ifemelu. Ifemelu comes from a country in which the majority of people have dark skin. She never even considered herself to be black until she came to America. Her blackness doesn't define her, but Blaine's defines him. This causes an enormous rift between the two of them, which is exacerbated by Ifemelu's decision not to attend a protest organized by Blaine. They don't speak for over a week, and things are tense when they finally do reconnect.

Barack Obama brings Ifemelu and Blaine closer together. They find common ground in their support of his candidacy. They watch with bated breath as election day grows closer and closer, and they celebrate his victory with their friends. Still, Ifemelu knows she and Blaine aren't meant to be together. She accepts a yearlong fellowship at Princeton University but promises not to leave for New Jersey until after Obama takes office.

In the present, Ifemelu's braids are finally finished. Aunty Uju calls while Ifemelu is on the train platform waiting to return to Princeton. Dike took an entire bottle of Tylenol in an attempted suicide. He is at the hospital in intensive care. Ifemelu goes to him.

Part 5

At home with his wife and daughter in Lagos, Obinze can think of nothing but Ifemelu. She doesn't write back for four days, and when she does, she doesn't say when she's coming back. He tries to find her on Facebook to no avail and then scours Blaine's website for clues. Despite his inclination to wait a few days before writing back, he composes a long e-mail about his mother's death. Ifemelu writes back within the hour. In addition to her heartfelt condolences, she lets him know that she's going through something difficult and won't be coming back to Nigeria as soon as she planned. Obinze keeps writing. He sends e-mail after e-mail about his time in England, which turns out to be incredibly therapeutic. He was in such turmoil when he returned that he never processed what he had been through during those three years and how deportation affected him.

Ifemelu finally writes back and tells him about Dike's suicide attempt. Aunty Uju thinks Ifemelu is depressed, but Ifemelu doesn't really believe in depression. She doesn't know when she'll be in Nigeria, but she gives Obinze the link to her blog. He is distressed that her words don't sound like the Ifemelu he once knew.

Part 6

Ifemelu refuses to leave Dike's side when he gets home from the hospital. She worries that it's her fault that he tried to kill himself; then she thinks it was Aunty Uju's fault because she only told Dike what he wasn't, not what he was. Aunty Uju insists that depression is an illness. Ifemelu isn't convinced—she thinks it's because of Dike's experiences growing up not-African and not-African American in the United States.

Dike turns 17 while Ifemelu is staying with them. She takes him to Miami for his birthday. While there, Dike tells Ifemelu she should go to Nigeria and that he might even visit.

Part 7

Lagos is overwhelming at first. The sights and sounds are familiar, yet strangely different. For the first few weeks, Ifemelu stays with her friend Ranyinudo, who calls Ifemelu "Americanah" every time she complains about something that all Nigerians are used to, like the humidity. Ifemelu gets a job at a women's magazine, finds her own apartment, and settles into Nigerian life once again.

Months pass before she stirs up the courage to contact Obinze. She tells herself it's because she wants to lose weight before she sees him, but she's really just scared. By the time she calls, she has quit her job and started a new blog about Lagos. Dike has just left for America.

Obinze is in front of Ifemelu within 30 minutes of her phone call. They meet at a bookshop, where they talk for hours. The attraction between the two is strong, and Ifemelu can't help wondering about Obinze's wife, who he never mentions. They have lunch the next day, sharing a kiss. As Obinze's schedule allows, they spend part of each day together. Ifemelu grows increasingly frustrated about Obinze's marriage. She's not sure what Obinze wants. She suggests they have sex, to which he responds that their connection has never been about sex. Within minutes, they are in Ifemelu's bed.

Obinze and Ifemelu are together every possible moment. He doesn't spend the night—she doesn't want to get used to waking up next to him—but they are deeply in love. He invites her to spend the weekend in Abuja. He has a few meetings, but then it will just be the two of them. She agrees. Days later, he tells her he should go alone. Things are moving too fast. She calls him a coward and tells him to go to hell.

Seven months pass. Obinze texts and calls, but Ifemelu refuses to answer. He tells his wife he wants a divorce, but she won't hear of it. She knows all about Ifemelu, but she's not going to let him break up their family. Even his best friend tells him it's ridiculous to divorce one woman because you're in love with another. Meanwhile, Ifemelu tries to lessen the intensity of her grief by staying busy with her blog. She calls Blaine and Curt and has stilted but pleasant conversations with both and ends up dating an ex-American immigrant named Fred, who comes off as a show-off but is actually very nice. Ifemelu wishes she could be in love with him.

One Sunday night, Obinze shows up at Ifemelu's door. He moved out of his house earlier that day and wants Ifemelu to give them another chance. She lets him in.

Americanah Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Ifemelu and Obinze begin dating in secondary school.

Rising Action

2 The General dies. Aunty Uju moves to the United States.

3 Ifemelu moves to the United States to finish school.

4 The tennis coach pays Ifemelu $100 to touch her.

5 Obinze pays to marry a British citizen to get citizenship.

6 Obinze is arrested and deported back to Nigeria.

7 Ifemelu cheats on Curt. They break up; she starts a blog.

8 Ifemelu and Blaine have a huge fight.

9 Barack Obama is elected president.

10 Ifemelu texts Obinze that she is moving home to Nigeria.


11 Dike attempts suicide.

Falling Action

12 Ifemelu moves back to Lagos but does not tell Obinze.

13 Ifemelu quits her magazine job and starts a new blog.

14 Ifemelu and Obinze get together and then break up again.


15 Obinze leaves his wife for Ifemelu.

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