Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Reading and Novels
Throughout Americanah , novels say as much about the people who read them as the subjects they cover, and characters’ taste in novels offers glimpses into their personalities. Ifemelu intentionally reads a book that Blaine dismisses as trivial after their breakup because she assumes this means she will like it. Obinze laments his inability to love Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, hoping that understanding it would bring him closer to his mother. Furthermore, characters assign depth to people who love books. Carrying a novel makes Ifemelu instantly interesting to Obinze. However, when The General brags that Aunty Uju requests books as a present, his misogynistic assumption that this is a rare female trait reveals he does not expect intelligence from women. Similarly, Obinze’s request for a book while in holding shocks the police out of the incorrect assumption that illegal immigrants would not be interested in an intellectual pastime. In this way, reading becomes shorthand for having a vibrant and curious inner life, and the assumptions of The General and the immigration officials reveal their bigoted understandings of who is capable of cultivating this kind of inner life.
Over the course of the novel, characters lie and deceive as a survival mechanism. Ifemelu and Obinze must pretend to be other people in order to make the money they need to survive in a new country. Ifemelu has a habit of exaggerating how long she’s lived in America so that people take her comments seriously, meaning that she must lie in order for her voice to be heard. The necessity of these lies demonstrates that in the corrupt, complicated world of immigration, dishonesty may not be ideal but it is a means of survival. However, Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria involves her embracing truth. She refuses to live duplicitously in her relationship with Obinze, and won’t allow him to explain away their dates as not truly being an affair. This change emphasizes the hopeful tone of the ending, one in which Ifemelu embraces her Nigerian self and is able to survive honestly.