The Quest for Identity in Postcolonial Novels in Chimamanda Adichies Americanah

The Quest for Identity in Postcolonial Novels in Chimamanda Adichies Americanah
The Quest for Identity in Postcolonial Novels in Chimamanda Adichies Americanah

The Quest for Identity in Postcolonial Novels in Chimamanda Adichies Americanah



This study was carried out on the quest for Identity in postcolonial novels, using Chimamanda Adechi’s Americanah as the case study. This study employed a textual analysis. The novel Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is the focus of this study. Published in 2013, it narrates the lives of two Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, who live and work abroad, before returning to their home country. The study uses postcolonial theory based on the criticism of Edward Said, Chinua Achebe, Homi Bhabha and Frantz Fanon, among others, to analyses the shift of contemporary African literature from a theme of anti-imperialism to the exposition of contemporary, transnational and multicultural issues. These new narratives reflect contemporary Diasporas, the nuances of globalization and the attempt to suppress of multiculturalism. The subversion and questioning of Western stereotypes of Africa made in Americanah definitely appeals to the general audience. Adichie’s work, as part of African literature, offers Western readers a different perspective on African countries, in particular Nigeria, breaking stereotypes by calling attention to the dangers of a single story.

In Americanah, Adichie uses the power of communication of the traditional literary form to criticise Western standards and stereotypes about Africa. Adichie explores the different cultures of United States, England and Nigeria from an African perspective, identifying the Western culture as the other. Americanah raises issues of race, gender and immigration as well as language and literature. Adichie’s work represents the postcolonial power in a new perspective, in which the individual suppresses stereotypes and gains a sovereign place in contemporary literature in the English language.

                                                   TABLE OF CONTENTS




1.1       Background of the study

1.2       Statement of the problem

1.3       Aims and objective of the Study

1.4       Research questions

1.5       Significance of the Study

1.6       Scope and Limitation of Study

1.6       About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

1.7       Methodology

1.7.1    Research Design

1.7.2    Data Collection Method

1.7.3    Method of Data Analysis

1.8       Brief Biography of the Author



2.1        Introduction

2.2       Language

2.3       Identity

2.4       Language as a Determiner of Identity

2.5       The Rise of the Postcolonial

2.6       Contemporary Nigerian Literature



3.1       Summary of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah

3.2       Studies on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Use of Language

3.3       Theoretical Framework

3.3.1 Theory of Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis

3.3.2 Identity and Difference

3.4       Summary



4.1 Introduction

4.2       Identity

4.2.1    Characters in Igbo Nomenclature

4.2.2    Race

4.2.3    Racism

4.2.4    Immigration

4.2.5    Language

4.2.6    Eurocentrism

4.2.7    Feminism

4.3       Summary of findings



5.1       Conclusion

5.2       Recommendations




1.1       Background of the study

Language is as old as man; it is the most important aspect of any living society. Of all the gifts God has given to human beings, none is as unique as language. The language we speak tells exactly where a particular person comes from.

It is in this realization that Ngonebu (1) states that, “language is one of the most significant features of human kind. There is nothing human beings can do without the function of one form of language or the other. The fact that human being exists and lives together depends purely on the existence of language.” Ngonebu had rightly observed that language is very crucial to human existence. It is very important to note here that if language is removed from any society, such society is no longer alive. If one has language, one has all things because it is the determiner of happiness or sadness of someone.

In a related development, Roland (1) sees language as “the fundamental ethnic characteristics of the individual and the ‘glue’ that binds individuals together into ethnic groups.” To still stress the uniqueness of language, Whorf, (443-464) posits that we dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way – an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language.

This clarify that language enables us to talk with one another. It equally enhances us to make comment about something; it provides us with the mode of interaction as well as a capacity of representation. It must be noted that language can affect a society by influencing or even controlling the world view of its speakers.

There were immense changes in the 20th century, which affected all nations’ social and economic levels. These changes opened up the boundaries of a world that was, until then, a binary one and before that, imperialist. This process induced the fragmentation and spreading of cultures, followed by multiculturalism. In this context, it is important to recognize the decolonization of the East and the Americas as a decisive moment, from a geopolitical perspective, since it represents a drastic change on a worldwide scale. In the first half of the century, over 80% of the globe was composed of colonies and ex-colonies

(Loomba xiii). Hence, the independence of more than half of the world’s population from the dominion of European empires, and the diaspora from these former colonies, demanded an increasing study of colonial times and their consequences in a postcolonial period. Since then, a series of analysis and studies devoted to the new global scenery began to emerge and create what is now called postcolonialism.

Postcolonial theory attempts to revise historical representations of former colonies in order to understand their present situation and possibly develop their own cultural identity. Edward Said’s Orientalism, published in 1978, is considered the literary work which properly inaugurates postcolonial criticism (Barry 186). In his book, Said refers to a specific way of establishing the place that the East occupies in European Western experience, whereby the East appears as adjacent to Europe “and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the other” (Orientalism 1). Orientalism expresses and represents an opposition in cultural and ideological terms in a form of discourse, based on institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, bureaucracies and European colonial styles imposed on colonies (Said Orientalism 2). Undoubtedly, Western literature had to become more comprehensive.

The language and discourse of the European West started to be used by writers outside the Western tradition as they developed fictional discourses as an answer to the centuries of slander spread by classic literature. Although supposedly well intended and well informed, European writers constructed and imposed the ethnic images of the East, which begins in prejudice and, later, helps to perpetuate it. In this sense, the literary production of former colonies possesses the capacity to respond to imperialism by bringing other visions and replacing metaphors of their own history. Moreover, postcolonial cultures appropriate the classic Western literary forms and use them according to their own specifications. It allows them to propose a more dignified version of the narratives that represent their culture, which once had no institutional or intellectual legitimacy and was often ignored by academia.

In her latest novel, Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expands the range of representation of African subjects through the complexity of her main characters and the cultural tensions they must confront at home and abroad. The novel focuses on the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, two Igbo Nigerians who meet in high school, move abroad in search of more opportunities, and come back to their homeland – and to each other – as more experienced individuals with a better understanding of themselves and of the world. The fact that Adichie starts and ends her story in Nigeria works as a powerful symbol of boldness and independence in postcolonial literature. Adichie is both geographically and worldly precise when exploring social relations and identity in the United States and England, Furthermore, she explores the influence and diversity of the English language in former colonies, as opposed to the danger the of disappearance of native languages.

The different events occurring in Americanah change significantly the lives of the protagonists and might as well change the mind of its readers by promoting a wider vision of the world of these characters, as well as through a comprehensive narrative focus and discussions of matters such as politics, culture and religion, among others. From Adichie’s work, arises a new experience in literature of the English language and the renewal of the African literary canon, with the inclusion of contemporary discourses. Novels, such as Americanah, might direct English literary culture to a more inclusive interaction between former empires and new democracies.

1.2       Statement of the problem

Language is a powerful tool for interaction among people with same or different ethnic backgrounds. The importance of language to human beings can never be ignored, it is believed among Africans that it is from one’s speech or language that one is identified. According to Achebe (78) says, a language is a weapon and one uses it, there is no point fighting it.

Language is an integral part of every society including Africa as it is the source of peace as well as trouble in the continent and beyond. The quest for identity comes in different ways. However, many people in the world today have been able to create different identity for themselves such as the type of clothes they put on, the type of people they associate with, the class of cars they drive, etc. Language is the signature of an individual in the society; it is very important to note that every writer or novelist is poised to create a particular impression in the minds of one’s readers; since novels tell more about the novelist perceptions about a particular thing. It is in this realization that this study is out to investigate how Americanah have created about Adichie, and to find out, of what relevance is the use of language as a quest for identity in Americanah to Literature.

1.3       Aims and objective of the Study

The aim of this study is to examine the quest for Identity in postcolonial novels, Chimamanda Adechi’s Americanah. The following are the specific objectives of the study:

  1. To examine the evolution of postcolonial literature and place Americanah in its contemporary context.
  2. To discuss the issues inherent to postcolonial and multicultural societies presented in the novel.
  3. To examine the ways in which the choice of a Nigerian female protagonist deepens the discussion about female empowerment and social equality.

1.4       Research questions

  1. What is the evolution of postcolonial literature and place Americanah in its contemporary context?
  2. What are the issues inherent to postcolonial and multicultural societies presented in the novel?
  3. What are the ways in which the choice of a Nigerian female protagonist deepens the discussion about female empowerment and social equality?

1.5      Significance of the Study

The researcher is very optimistic that the findings of this study will be of paramount importance to students, teachers, and the reading public of the relevance of language in creating quest for identity about the different writers and the societies they depict. It will as well add to more literatures on language and identity that may be explored in future.

If language is spoken by two different persons within the same writing community, then, there are always different ways they use the language to create identity. Therefore, this study is designed to identify how the use of language has created different quest for identities for Adichie, as well, find out their implications to the development of the African literature at large.

1.6      Scope and Limitation of Study

Due to the time frame of this programme and other constraints, the researcher wants to limit this work to the use of language by Adichie to achieve identity in Americanah.

1.6       About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie already has a strong presence in contemporary African literature and her works are well known and praised in Western literary circles. In addition, her words have been sampled by pop music artists and she is celebrated for her speeches in TED conferences, making her ideas also reach non-readers.

Born in Nigeria, Adichie published her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, at age 25. She won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for a first novel and, three years later, her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun, about the Biafran War, won the Orange Prize. The international success and favourable criticism of her books places Adichie among great authors of the Nigerian tradition, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. Undoubtedly, this happens because she offers a valuable vision of the world. She represents a side of history, which is rarely heard, yet is most powerful. Her last novel, Americanah, explicitly raises issues related to the negotiation of identities. The author uses the story of Ifemelu to expose the coexistence of differences and, at the same time, a lack of belief in a consensus between them. Her main characters are part of academic and politicized environments and engage in constant bourgeois intellectual debates about race, ethnicity and culture in Nigeria, the United States and England.

Adichie has experienced a different African reality than the one existing in the Western imagination. Born in 1977 of a middle class family, she spent her early years at the university campus in the city of Nsukka in Nigeria, where her mother worked as an administrator and her father as a teacher. Later, she moved to the United States as a university student. Indeed, Adichie’s life and work represent the diversity of a continent marked by a single story. She recounts that, from an early age, she used to read British and American stories. Consequently, the texts she produced as a child were filled with characters with blond hair, who played in the snow, ate apples, and were happy to see the sun appear. Western literature had created a world in her imagination stronger than her own, a place where most people have dark skin, eat mangoes, and there is no surprise at the sunshine. When Adichie first read African novels, she realized that people of dark complexion and a hair texture, which cannot be turned into ponytails, could also be literary characters. African authors, she says, saved her from the dangers of a single story (Adichie “African ‘Authenticity’” 43-44).

At the age of nineteen, while living as a student in the United States, her American roommate was shocked to realize that Adichie spoke English proficiently and wanted to know where she learnt it. Her roommate was surprised to know that English is Nigeria’s official language. Then she asks Adichie to play some ‘tribal music’, but is disappointed to see Adichie’s Mariah Carey CDs (Adichie The Danger of a Single Story). With these anecdotes, Adichie reveals how a single story also affects the way the world perceives her.

1.7       Methodology

Every research adopts a method which would best fit into its objectives research of this magnitude is expected to be as qualitative as possible. It is on this note that Fayne and Payne (179) argue that qualitative research often draws on some of the stick in-trade of what are normally regarded as quantitative techniques. To justify this, Pawson quoted in M. Haralambos and M. Holborn (804) says that nowadays, it is much accurate to describe the relationship between those who do qualitative research and those who do quantitative research as one of truce; what this portends is that this study drew from the strengths of the two, as methodological plurality makes the finding of a research more objective.

1.7.1    Research Design

A research design is a logical model of proof that allows the researcher to draw inferences concerning causal relations among variables under investigation. It is on this note that Nworgu (67) opines that a research design is a detailed outline of how an investigation will take place. This will determine how research data will be collected and the instrument which will be used to analyze the collected data.

This research hence adopts the use of descriptive research design since the study is proposed to undertake a textual analysis of Adichie’s Americanah on how their language creates identify for them.

This design is considered appropriate to this work because, the research is basically to probe the topic to what extent the language used by Adichie in the novel has been able to create identity for them.

1.7.2   Data Collection Method

The cruciality of data collection in every research is a remarkable step. The collections of pertinent data are very necessary for arriving at the solutions of the problem at hand. The most relevant data collection technique includes survey, primary data, and secondary data. Objective measurement or test, interviews or questionnaires, etc. However, the researcher at the course of this study will principally use the primary source which is the use of the novels under study (Americanah) as well consult other secondary sources such as textbooks, journals, and the electronic media.

1.7.3   Method of Data Analysis

The onus of this study is fundamental to do analysis of the language used in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah to create individual identities. However, as the research design is descriptive, the contrastive analysis method is employed. The description of the individual language as a mark of identity will be described.

1.8       Brief Biography of the Author

On the surface, Americanah is a riveting love story between high school sweethearts Ifemelu and Obinze that starts in Lagos during a time of military dictatorship. With Obinze, Ifemelu was “at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.” The two are separated when

Ifemelu moves to America amidst ongoing university strikes in Nigeria. In America, Ifemelu becomes aware of race, falls in love with her natural hair, explores an interracial relationship and becomes a prominent blogger. Obinze, on the other hand, moves to England where he battles loneliness and struggles to make a living working under the table jobs after overstaying his visa: he lived in London indeed but invisibly, his existence like an erased pencil sketch.” Eventually, the two reunite in Lagos, where Obinze has become a ‘big boy’ and Ifemelu is struggling to carve a new career after being away from home for thirteen (13) years. In the end, Ifemelu and Obinze must make a very difficult decision. But Americanah is more than a love story: it is a social critique and a dissection of the politics of identity.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer. She is Igbo, one of the largest and most influential ethnic groups in Nigeria. Adichie has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors that have succeeded in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature.

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