Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Ifemelu’s path to securing her identity is aided by her choices from the beginning of her journey until the very end. Her relationships and encounters with people as well as the places she visits guides her in her growth and maturity. Ifemelu’s experiences and observations of these experiences allow her to discover her true self and her purpose, eventually leading to her decision to return to Nigeria.
As her new life shifts to America, Ifemelu struggles with her identity as an American-African, and is seen as an outsider. This is immediately seen in her taking on an American accent and straightening her hair as she takes the advice from Aunty Uju, “If you have braids, they will think you are unprofessional.” Despite her originally showing assertive traits and strength in character, her systemic conformity in trying to belong shows the opposite. Ifemelu was not able to remain true to herself and adjusted her hair just to not stand out. Thus, she seemingly gives in to a new identity as an American, letting down her own in the process.
Following on with the idea of conformity is the issue of Ifemelu’s blog, which is supposed to be honest reflections of her evaluations and experiences. It ends up causing her to feel responsible to maintain blog persona and to continue pleasing her followers. Ifemelu finds herself writing in order to simply impress by searching for fresh material, “sometimes making fragile links to race. Sometimes not believing herself. The more she wrote, the less sure she became”. Due to this being a personal reflection of her, her obligation to please her followers shows further conformity in her actions. The deterioration of Ifemelu’s blog, which marks Ifemelu’s experiences and observations, is indicative of her stumbling identity but consequently her self-discovery too.
Ifemelu’s relationships are a further source of identity in her journey. It is with Curt, her first boyfriend in America and a white man where “she had first looked in the mirror and, with a rush of accomplishment, seen someone else”. Ifemelu finds pride in Curt’s affection, and it merely acts to rebuild her deflated self-worth from her struggles to find work. Ifemelu then plays the role of an intellectual, social-activist girlfriend with her second boyfriend, Blaine, an African-American. Despite this being an improvement, she never feels profound enough for his standards. Ifemelu finds herself lost an unaccepted in his clinical nature. It is, in fact, Obinze, with whom she grew up with, that allows her to feel the most comfortable in their similarities. This impacts her identity as there is a strong connection which is strengthened by their shared culture, background and values. Ifemelu never feels truly complete without Obinze and, as a result, is a key factor in her reasoning to return to Nigeria.
Ultimately, just as Ifemelu becomes more accustomed to the rituals and manners of being an American citizen, she realises how deep she has fallen into fitting into the western while forgetting about her own. As mentioned earlier, Ifemelu desires a relationship where she can be challenged, but accepted in her similarities with her partner. Although she has temporary interest and entertainment in her American relationships, Ifemelu is drawn back toward Obinze in Nigeria.
Additionally, besides Ifemelu’s interest in the experience and observation of the American culture, she tends to seek a society where she will not have her place in the community questioned by others and herself constantly – alienating herself from the general public. Out of her discomfort, Ifemelu chooses settle back into the routines and roles that she fully understands by moving back to Nigeria. To conclude, her analysis of her position and discontent of the present results in her final decision to return home and embrace her true roots and her identity.