Culture Shock in the Novels "Americanah" and "No Longer at Ease"

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Throughout the two novels, both the main characters of each book, Obi Okonkwo and Ifemelu, face a common phenomenon that numerous African immigrants face when they leave their home and find themselves outside of Africa; culture shock. Culture shock doesn’t only affect Africans however, it is defined by, many psychology books, as the condition that comes with uncertainty and feeling of confusion when one is put in an unfamiliar place and witnesses different types of lifestyles. Both characters seem to experience and deal with culture shock in different ways.

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Culture shock occurs through many steps and the first one is described as the point at which the stranger is enthralled by the culture around them and immediately tries to immerse themselves in it with no hesitation. According to Medium, it called the honeymoon phase. In the text Americanah, Ifemelu goes through an unconventional and harsh experience that leads her to entering this phase and recalls an instant very early on at the beginning of her college journey in America. In Chapter 14, the reader is exposed to the character Cristina Tomas. Through Ifemelu, the author describes Cristina as having a “rinsed-out look, her washy blue eyes, faded hair, and pallid skin”, the stereotype of a white person in layman’s terms. Ifemelu meets Cristina Tomas at the front desk of her American university when Ifemelu first arrives and she is the first person who makes Ifemelu truly feel like an outsider in America. Tomas talks to her slowly, immediately including Ifemelu as a part of a stereotype because of the fact that Ifemelu is an international student. Ifemelu, feeling very undermined because of her strong foreign accent, immediately starts working on her American accent and even goes ahead to straighten her naturally kinky African hair. The author shows us Ifemelu’s journey with accepting herself and her hybrid-ness throughout the rest of the book. She starts to embrace her African hair and discards her American accent for good. She has somewhat of a cultural synergy where she reaches a point where she realizes that she can never be fully American nor Nigerian. Evidently, this is the inspiration to the title of the novel.

Meanwhile, in the novel No Longer At Ease, Obi Okonkwo seems to also have a peculiar sort of culture shock as it was to his own Nigerian home and this is implied in many instances throughout the book. Achebe reveals that Obi was funded by his village of Umofia and given a scholarship to go study abroad in the United Kingdom. However, with taking this scholarship, at the end of his studies, he has to come back and pay his village back the debt of his scholarship. When he does do so, he is shocked by the difference in the Lagos that he dreamt and wrote poems about for so long and the different city that he was seeing now. It seems as though ironically, his fantasy phase with Lagos culture shock happened in England and when he landed home, he He finds himself not recognizing the place that he once dreamed about in England. He is soon immersed in the world of bribery that exists in Nigeria in Chapter 2. A man in his village offer to reward him if he “pulls strings” with his daughter’s scholarship as he is given a position on the Umofia Scholarship Board as he returns. A girl even offers her body to him, saying she will do whatever he wants, as long as she gets a scholarship. However, unlike Ifemelu who tries to conform, Obi sticks to his rigid character and takes none of those bribes. He believes he came back to Nigeria to change the system and end corruption, even mentioning the fact that can only happen when the old men in power are overtaken by the educated youth. Obi’s rigid attitude towards corruption is contrary and paradoxical to Nigeria in this way. However, this is only just foreshadowing to the rest of the book and the struggle that would come with maintaining his integrity. Achebe is an avid activist against corruption like Obi Okonkwo and he uses the culture shock that the character goes through to kickstart his demise into not being at ease, a battle against corruption that he inevitably loses, eventually looking like a hypocrite .

The authors work to create these experiences for their main characters as a way to raise awareness and share true African struggles. Obi and Efemelu’s experiences are not any different from any person in their situation and their outcomes aren’t either. Ultimately, as China Achebe tries to tell a story to raise awareness to Nigerian youth and deglamorize their thoughts when it comes to change, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The African youth faces a huge existential crisis in the form of the identity crisis. Due to globalization, young Africans have been pulled at two different ends.

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