In Americanah, identity plays a conflicting role in the lives of many characters. Upon arrival in America, many characters must change their identity in order to conform to society and make a living. It is much deeper than just this though. Through this book I have come to realize how much our identity is constructed by how others view us. We often conform to what others expect and want of us, but that leaves a blurred line between conforming and actually becoming. The identity transitions the characters in Americanah undergo are all linked to developing power in some form or another. These characters change certain aspects about themselves in order to meet approval of the dominant force, whether it be a culture, a race, a social class , or even a loved one. Over time it becomes more and more difficult to separate our past selves with our new identities.
While living in America Aunty Uju is beaten down by the struggles she faces in America. She changes the pronunciation of “oo-joo” to “you-joo” in her name, which is a representation of the bigger identity change she undergoes while in America. She becomes only a shade of who she used to be, passionless, disconsolate, and willing to settle for a man that treats her terribly. Even as a child, Dike experiences racism while living in America. One incident involved a camp counselor telling him he doesn’t need sunscreen. Aunty Uju does her best to raise Dike in a way in which he will fit in with the other kids and have a successful life. He struggles to fit into American society and becomes conflicted with his identity, even writing in an essay that he doesn’t know what he is.
Just like Dike, Ifemelu is conflicted with her identity when arriving in America. Since she is the minority arriving in a place where she no longer looks or acts like the majority population, Ifemelu is instantly characterized by her external surroundings and becomes a “Black Woman”. She will later write in a blog post about titled “To My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby” (273). Her racialized experience influences other aspects of her identity. Just to find a job and support herself, Ifemelu must work under another woman’s name and use her social security number, a literal metaphor for the drastic ways in which she must change herself just to make a living. Ifemelu struggles to find work, even getting turned down by a fast food restaurant. The hardships she faces in America have detrimental effects on her self worth. She has to sell her body just to pay her rent, pushing her into a bout of depression in which she isolates herself from everyone. She becomes out of touch with her Nigerian heritage and traditions during her identity changes in America, which eventually drives her to want to return to her homeland.