Close Reading of Americanah: Pgs. 257-264

Hair has been a reoccurring symbol throughout this novel. There is a battle between black women over whether girls should wear their hair relaxed or if they should wear it natural. This is very prevalent in Americanah as well because it not only develops Ifemelu as a character being a black women, but it also shows the internal struggle that fills the novel: whether she should conform to American society or whether she should stay true to her culture. Using hair as a symbol, relaxed hair could represent Ifemelu conforming to American society, and relaxed hair could represent Ifemelu staying true to her Nigerian culture.

On page 257, Ifemelu describes relaxing her hair as “being in a prison”. One could turn this to Ifemelu feeling imprisoned by American society. She could feel as though she has a certain picture to fill now living in America and that requires her to relax her hair, along with other things that jeopardize her Nigerian culture. Those other things could include limiting her accent and adapting her speech to those around her, also her clothes and style could change to fit in with other Americans. This can all start to get very tiring, trying to keep up an image that’s not true to herself. This is shown within pages 257 and 264 in Americanah.

Ifemelu friend Wambui suggests that Ifemelu stops relaxing her hair because it’s not healthy for it, she suggests that she goes natural. She even goes on to point out the Ifemelu didn’t go running with Curt, Ifemelu boyfriend, because she was worried that she would “sweat out [the] straightness,” (pg 257). This shows that Ifemelu is even missing out on her life around her to keep her hair looking great. One could even dive deeper and say that conforming to American society isn’t allowing Ifemelu to make memories with those around her and live her life, it’s controlling her. Ifemelu eventually let her hair go natural, and she hated it. Wambui tries to comfort Ifemelu’s insecurity with her hair saying she’s beautiful, but now she is so distanced from feeling comfortable being natural that she disregards what she says. Again, we could dive deeper into this and say that American society has corrupted Ifemelu and her comfort level and doesn’t allow her to feel comfortable being natural, or feel comfortable being herself.

Ifemelu eventually finds comfort in a website of all things. The website is HappilyKinkyNapppy.com, where black women inspired other black women to leave their hair natural. This ends up being the thing that allows Ifemelu to become comfortable with her natural hair saying that she “looked in the mirror, sank her fingers into her hair, dense and spongy and glorious, and could not imagine it any other way. That simply, she fell in love with her hair,” pg 264. One could expand on this and say that the website and the natural hair supporters could represent Nigerians advising Ifemelu to come back to her culture. And it’s interesting that this is what pulled Ifemelu out of her rut. Sometimes it seems as though we as humans need those closest to us. Even when we are in the darkest of times and we are blinded by that darkness, like Ifemelu was with Wambui towards the beginning of this section, those close to us can help us get out of those dark times by showing they understand and care. I think that’s what Adichie is trying to get out of this section. I think she is trying to show that we should be held accountable for trying to help stop these situations that make those around you feel uncomfortable and eventually lead them to changing who they are. We’ve got to help those close to us, and even not close to us, to stay true to themselves, even if they are pressured to do otherwise.  

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