Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

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

On Fragility, Impatience, and Identities

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On page 257 of Americanah, the narrator, speaking about Curt, states “There was something in him, lighter than ego but darker than insecurity, that needed constant buffing, polishing, waxing.” Although this line is not directly important to any major plot point, or even gravely relevant to the most important characters, it still resonated with me. Adichie demonstrates here, as she does so frequently and thoroughly throughout the novel, her grand ability to give name to what is otherwise understood or characterized as a sort of ineffable, but certainly recognizable, gut feeling of unease, an immediately identifiable but abstract sensibility, which she makes concrete. By describing Curt in this way, she achieves two distinct things: first, she addresses and highlights the constancy of the fragility of the male ego, which she further illuminates/explains in her TEDxTalk; secondly, she conveys the unspoken, underlying exasperation that Ifemelu develops in her relationship with Curt, with this fragile psyche of his that requires incessant maintenance. The reader, intuiting this sense of exasperation, thus learns more about Ifemelu from this line as well; in her exhaustion, it is clear that Ifemelu harbors little respect for people who have an eager, obvious discomfort with themselves, who actively seek the validation of others. It is likely that this mild impatience stems from Ifemelu’s own struggles and triumphs with her previously conflicted sense of identity, as in when she stops affecting her American accent, and slowly begins the process of lending her identity back to herself.Since Ifemelu personally, though perhaps gradually, has given herself a sense of authority within her world, has validated herself, she is saddened by and possibly resentful or ashamed of those who fail to do similarly. (Especially since, ostensibly, in Curt’s case at least, he has less overt need for validation from others; as a rich white man, the world that he must navigate is made to seem easier, more fluid, than Ifemelu’s – this, too, may inform why Ifemelu does not care for this quality particularly in Curt.)

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One thought on “On Fragility, Impatience, and Identities

  1. Having seen Adichie’s you tube video, I couldn’t help but affirm this.
    I believe she says something of the following,

    “we leave men with fragile egos and then we teach girls to cater towards this..”
    Your analysis is spot on with Curt, and also with Ifemelu. I think it’s really intriguing to compare the fragile ego component of Obinze and Curt as well, and how being raised in different countries with different parents affected such things. One might think that Curt’s immediate access to wealth and riches would provide him with stability, but it is truly ironic that it is Ifemelu – who has had a more rupturing experience – is the one with a stronger sense of self.

    American culture is extremely protective – mothers protecting their children, keeping them from the world’s mess and pain. Yet it is this pain and messiness and instability that provide Ifemelu with the processes that develop her sense of self and change her. And also with Obinze, his struggles in England and rejections from America, shape him into the human he becomes.

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