Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

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

Speaking English, Not American

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At the beginning of chapter 14, Ifemelu is walking into university for the first time and meets Cristina Tomas. Tomas speaks as though Ifemelu can hardly understand English, which is stylized with a period following every word. Originally, Ifemelu thinks this woman must have some sort of speech impediment, but later finds out that she is instead altering her speech for her sake. This discovery causes Ifemelu to feel as though she needed to change her accent, and from that moment on, she began practicing an American accent.

This blatant prejudice was not only offensive, it was harmful to her self image as well. Having to alter any aspect of your existence to please someone else or make them more comfortable should be completely out of the question. Ifemelu’s Nigerian accent is integral to her as a person, and is an overt representation of her roots, of which she should not be expected to alter just because she is now in America. In high school, she was the leader of her school’s debate society and had been speaking English all her life, and just because she had an accent that wasn’t of a nation that had English as the official language it was assumed that she had difficulty with it.

I imagine that Adichie has experienced this before as well, in spite of her status as the scholar she is. Perhaps she drew this scene directly from her own experiences, or had one similar; regardless, I found it powerful that the introverted Ifemelu shrank away “like a dried leaf” during this encounter. I feel as though this is where Adichie and Ifemelu differ, though, because of what I’ve seen from her TEDtalks, she is pretty good at talking in front of a lot of people. Instead of the public speaking that Adichie does, Ifemelu reaches her audiences through blogging, and while I haven’t had the opportunity yet, I look forward to seeing the continued blogging of Ifemelu online.


One thought on “Speaking English, Not American

  1. That’s a great observation. It’s also possible that Ifemelu enjoys blogging so much, both because she’s introverted and because no one can hear (and judge) her accent.

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