Americanah | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Americanah | Symbols

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Passports

One of the favorite topics of conversation at Ifemelu's and Obinze's secondary school is passports: who has one, where it's taken them, and where they want to go in the future. In their group of friends, the passports have a distinct hierarchy. American passports are the best, followed by British passports. The passport a person has (or doesn't have) is a symbol of their family's wealth and status. Kayode, the most popular and one of the wealthiest boys in school, has a British passport, but he would trade it immediately for an American passport. Yinka, whose family is also very wealthy, has a British passport.

Ahmed doesn't have a passport, but when he was younger he was able to travel because of his mother's credentials. Osahon has his own. This means that Ahmed's family probably isn't as well off as Osahon's because they don't travel as much internationally. They are lower on the social hierarchy than Kayode and Yinka but above Obinze, who "very nearly" had an American passport because he traveled there with his parents when he was eight months old.

Emenike and Ifemelu don't have passports, and neither do their parents. Ifemelu's family isn't wealthy at all—they don't have a telephone, much less passports. She's able to attend private secondary school because of her high test scores and her father's determination "that she would go to 'a school that builds both character and career.'" While Ifemelu is pretty sure she'll never have a passport, Emenike is the opposite. It is well known among their group of friends that he lies about his family's wealth (or lack thereof) to cover his shame of being poor. For him, a passport symbolizes the hope that his imaginary life will become a reality.

Barack Obama

Ifemelu and Blaine's relationship takes place against the backdrop of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Although Ifemelu is a Hillary Clinton supporter at first, she becomes a Barack Obama devotee after reading Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father. Blaine supports Obama from the very beginning.

As the first African American presidential nominee in America's history, Obama's candidacy was a symbol of hope for millions of people. It was also a personal symbol of hope for Blaine and Ifemelu. At several points in their relationship, their mutual love for Obama is the only thing keeping them together. When he performs well, their relationship flourishes; when he or his allies falter, their relationship does too. It seems that as long as Obama remains a contender in the race, Ifemelu and Blaine's relationship will continue.

The characters seem to understand this. Ifemelu even promises Blaine that she will not leave for her fellowship at Princeton, which is most likely slated to start at the beginning of the next semester before Obama takes office in mid-January. Their relationship survives after the move to Princeton in part because of Obama's successful campaign. Whereas before Ifemelu and Blaine were separated by their cultures, they are now united by their shared hope for the country's future. They don't break up until shortly before Ifemelu intends to return home to Lagos, where Barack Obama will no longer be her president.

Peacock

Ifemelu's new apartment in Lagos is situated next to an abandoned residential compound. A peacock and two peahens live there. Peacocks are known for their striking plume of blue and green feathers and their bright blue bodies. Most of the time, the peacock's feathers trail behind its body like a long train. When a peacock wants to impress a peahen, his feathers unfurl in a fanlike display. When Obinze first visits Ifemelu's apartment, Ifemelu tells him she's disappointed that she hasn't seen the male do the mating dance.

The peacock's unwillingness to do his mating dance in front of Ifemelu is symbolic of Obinze's own reluctance to do his own version of a mating dance for Ifemelu, namely ending his relationship with Kosi so that he and Ifemelu can be together. In her mind, his calls and texts after their breakup are halfhearted at best, and she is hurt by "the limpness of his efforts," which are equivalent to the peacock's tail dragging behind him. Like the peahens, Ifemelu does not engage with Obinze's attempts to reach out.

In the book's final chapter, Ifemelu finally sees the peacock's dance, "its feathers fanned out in a giant halo." Not long after, Obinze shows up at Ifemelu's door. He has just left Kosi and begun the first steps of the mating dance for which Ifemelu has been waiting for so long.

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