Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is about a Nigerian woman named Ifemelu who has grown up in Lagos, Nigeria and transitions into life in America. She is in love with a man named Obinze and their future plans are scattered as Ifemelu heads to America and Obinze gets stuck in London due to the post 9/11 events. Before life in America, she has never considered herself to be black and it is not until many events start to play out where Ifemelu begins to understand the role that race is going to play on her experiences in the United States. This novel not only examines how race plays major roles in identity, but also recognizes the many injustices that follow in areas such as relationships. For example, after some time in the United States, Ifemelu runs out of money and is desperate to make ends meet. She takes a job to help a tennis coach “relax” and Ifemelu is filled with guilt. She ignores any contact with Obinze. She eventually gets a job babysitting for a very wealthy family and begins to date the prosperous cousin, Curt, who provides Ifemelu with a job, a green card, and takes her on extravagant vacations. In this interracial relationship, she starts to see many examples of her race taking a toll on their relationship. Many individuals question Curt’s likelihood that he is dating a black woman. His identity thrives off of his wealth and status. Frustrated with the remarks and incidents that occurred, Ifemelu cheats on Curt and the relationship ends. This relationship could be a representation of Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic. Ifemelu represents the slave as she has reached a point in her life where she is struggling to make ends meet and is feeling ashamed for the means in which she can obtain some money. When she meets Curt, she must give up her recognition as an African American and instead start to assimilate into a life of an American African and in this way, she can assist Curt in his pursuit to help her obtain a job and green card. Curt represents the master who helps shape Ifemelu into an American African. Eventually, Ifemelu cheats because she realizes that she has given up her desire for being recognized as an African American. Adichie exemplifies the roles that race, status, and wealth can play in identity. Ifemelu’s move to the United States provides so many instances in which her job and relationships attempt to Americanize her and thus exemplifies so many injustices based on racism. This novel provides a comparison of the roles that race and power play in identities in both Nigeria and America and I believe that Adichie stresses this comparison in order to show how systemic injustices are formed among different cultures and lifestyles.
The Help is a novel by Kathryn Stockett that was published in 2009 and later turned into a film in 2011. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement (1962-1964), The Help follows the story of three women (two black women, and one white woman) who come together to anonymously publish a book called The Help. The book that they write is comprised of stories about experiences of black women working as maids for white families in Jackson.
Due to the nature of the story and the time period that it is set in, it is easy to find examples of injustices, power struggles and questions of identity throughout the novel. Because it is set at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movements, race is a large theme throughout the novel. The author explores many false stereotypes about black people, including that they are dirty, lazy, unintelligent, and carry diseases. The depiction of race in the novel can be directly related to the concept of othering. The white people in Jackson are the “self” whereas the black people are the “other”. White people are contributing to the otherness of black people by believing stereotypes and treating black people as if they are worthless. For example, Minny, who is a black maid for a white woman, was unable to find a job because her former boss, Hilly, was telling everyone in town that she was a thief. In reality, Minny had not stolen anything, and Hilly was just mad at Minny for something else. Hilly completely ruined Minny’s chances of getting a job over a lie, and she did it just because Minny was black.
The Help also tackles the idea of identity in a couple of ways. The first way is through the story of Mae Belle. Mae Belle is white, and she is physically and verbally abused by her mother. Aibileen (who is black) is Mae Belle’s caretaker, and she makes sure to care for Mae Belle in a loving way and tells her often that she is loved and important. There was an incident at school in which Mae Belle drew a picture of herself and made her skin color dark like Aibileen’s. The book also follows the story of Lulabelle who looks white but comes from a black family. Both of these instances involve some sort of identity crisis. Mae Belle has only been shown love by a black person, so that seems to be how she identifies herself. She doesn’t understand why the white people around her have a problem about it. Lulabelle is stuck between two worlds. She isn’t “black enough” to be black, but she also isn’t “white enough” to be white. These situations have caused an identity crisis for both of these characters, which could negatively affect the way that they view themselves (and how others view them) for the rest of their lives.
The work I chose to examine is “A Thousand Splendid Suns’ ‘ by Khaled Hosseini, and focuses on the time period in Afghanistan in which the Afghani war against the Soviets breaks out in the 1960s. One of the main characters of this novel is an Afghani woman, Mariam, and readers get to see her life unfold from being a young girl in a war-free Afghanistan to becoming a woman during the breakout of war. Readers see many instances of injustice of power differences between women and men once the war breaks out, and how these women are not able to do much to free themselves due to lack of resources, advocacy, education, and overall respect in society. Some examples of this injustice between the genders of men and women can be seen when Mariam, who comes from a poorer family who does not truly care for her, is forced to marry a shoemaker, Rasheed, once her mother dies because the family doesn’t want to spend resources on Mariam’s well-being; in this society, it’s permissible to “hand over” women to marriage because this is their ultimate destiny. Once in this marriage, Mariam is treated decently by Rasheed until she experiences numerous miscarriages; one of the overarching purposes of a wife in this type of society is to give husbands a son, and if a wife cannot fulfill this duty then there is no purpose for the husband to spend resources to take care of the wife; it’d be better for him to remarry. One part of their story that stuck out to me is when Mariam makes dinner for Rasheed, and Rasheed notices some pieces of rice are too hard – this has apparently occurred before and Rasheed becomes very upset by this. Rasheed proceeds to gather small pebbles from outdoors and forces Mariam to eat them, consequentially breaking her teeth. This is another example of how men have such power over women as to forcing them to eat rocks and permanently break teeth due to a minor inconvenience of their daily life (in this case, Rasheed’s dinner being ruined). Overall, this work depicts a society in which there is a huge power gap between men and women due to this society experiencing the negative impacts of war, and the notion of women embodying the traits of the “Other” in society is pronounced in this novel.