Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Shame in Americanah.


Dear friends,

Americanah has got me scribbling thoughts in and out of margins, finding grins across my lips as I mark phrases and words that make me think. However, I think my strongest emotional response came from the thick passage after Ifemelu’s exploitation. So, friends, let’s talk about this passage and let’s talk about shame because –

a) it’s debilitating


b) it matters.

One of the things that continues to strike me in this novel over and over again is the accuracy and vulnerability with which Adichie describes particular experiences. On page 192, she divulges the experience of Ifemelu’s shame, saying,

“Sometimes she woke up flailing and helpless, and she saw, in front of her and behind her and all around her an utter hopelessness. She knew there was no point in being here, in being alive, but she had no energy to think concretely of how she could kill herself… her days were stilled by silence and snow” (Adichi 192).

These words are so shattering and it aches me how thickly Ifemelu was affected; she refuses to talk or move and stays in bed for weeks, refusing to even contact Obinze back. I think this goes to show how intricate a thing sexuality is and how it affects EVERYTHING. Not in a necessarily erotic way, but in the fact that such a violating experience can infiltrate someone’s being and shut them down from functioning. That’s what shame does – it tells us we are worthless and that there is nothing in our being alive; that we have nothing to offer.

This experience is repeated in similar fashion for Ifemelu when she cuts off her hair, calling sick into work for three days in a row – refusing to leave her bed.

Curious for y’all’s thoughts on how shame and it’s affects infiltrate this book in other ways, and also how Adichi brings in themes of Hope and Redemption, threading them through the needle of word through which she sews this book.

Much love and Until –

// madeline


4 thoughts on “Shame in Americanah.

  1. I felt very similarly when I read the passage, it made me hurt with her. I think that the shame she felt is exacerbated by the end of the novel because we see the perfect romance of Obinze and Ifemelu–so in seeing the seemingly perfect relationship thwarted and postponed because of the shame that this awful sexual assault caused, makes the event seem even more unnatural. And therefore I feel the “takeaway” is that having a culture that allows sexual assaults to happen and this shame to be created becomes unnatural as well. Hope that was slightly coherent!
    Great post topic!

  2. I agree with both of you. Having to cut your hair because of all of the toxins and dies burns your hair off, that is necessary with a certain hairstyle is so frightening, especially since she thought she thought it necessary to land a job here in America. I was so scared for my country at that point because of how much emphasis is put on image..

  3. I feel ya! I was so heartbroken.. and I think a lot of us can relate to the feeling of being powerless. And then shameful for not taking more action. There are so many times when I as a woman, have wanted to speak up or say something contradicting, but instead just cowered. Being violated is on a much grander scale. And Emma I agree that, because we as the audience, were aware of their Romeo and Juliet romance, her drastic fall out with Obinze was all the more heart wrenching. Shame can take people to such a dark place. So if someone’s down or feeling ashamed, reach out and give some nonjudgmental support<3

  4. I feel the same way towards what you said about Adichie writing with such vulnerability and raw honesty. There were more than a couple of times while I was reading this book where what she said really struck me to the point where I had to take a couple of minutes and think about the emotions her writing brought forth.

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