Ifemelu moves into an apartment with other students. One of them, Elena, has a dog. Elena asks why Ifemelu won’t pet her dog, and Ifemelu explains that she doesn’t like dogs. Elena wants to know if it’s cultural, and is surprised to learn that it’s just a personal preference. Ifemelu finds it odd that her roommates do not ask if someone has the money to go out before going out for food. Although she tries to socialize with her housemates, Ifemelu reels from the culture shock.

Analysis: Chapters 9–12

The way Ifemelu trusts the images of America on commercials and television highlights the power of media to create myths from incomplete stories. Ifemelu has associated America with wealth and success, and the media she consumed from America—along with Obinze’s “expert” opinion—all supported this illusion. The uncomfortable heat wave and striking poverty that she confronts the minute she leaves the airport reveal the aspects of America that challenge her media-fueled misconceptions. Similarly, Ifemelu believed Aunty Uju was succeeding in America because of the information Aunty Uju hid in her phone calls. Aunty Uju was able to conceal the shame and stress caused by her struggle to succeed in America, thereby perpetuating the myth of America as a country of opportunity. Aunty Uju’s observation about Nigerian news also comments on the power of images to shape one’s understanding of the world. The omission of crime reports in Nigerian news creates a false sense of safety. Ifemelu is beginning to realize that incomplete stories have molded her perception of reality.

Another aspect of life in America that surprises Ifemelu is the assumed connection between black Americans and black non-Americans. Ifemelu finds Jane’s insistence on keeping her children away from black American children confusing because she does not understand the stereotypes associated with black Americans. Furthermore, Ifemelu does not see why black American children in particular would influence Jane’s children. Aunty Uju’s behavior is more apologetic and demure in front of white Americans because she understands the implications of being a black woman under the white gaze in America. Ifemelu, however, finds this behavior mysterious and puzzling because to her, Aunty Uju is Nigerian, not a black American. In light of this confusing conflation, Aunty Uju’s insistence that all black people look alike to white Americans takes on an additional meaning. Not only do white Americans conflate individual people with dark skin, they do not see the difference between black Americans and black non-Americans, even though to the people of both groups, there is a huge difference between them.

These chapters also demonstrate the conditions that immigrants face that make success in America difficult or even impossible. Despite already being a certified doctor in Nigeria, Aunty Uju must prove her medical credentials while also working menial jobs because her advanced degree will not transfer. These menial jobs keep her from studying and getting adequate sleep, which in turn prevent her from getting her medical license. Only through Ifemelu’s immigration to America, which allows Aunty Uju to cut costs on babysitting, is she able to devote enough time to pass. The reality that Aunty Uju needs support from a family member emphasizes that she could not succeed without help. Ifemelu’s scholarship will not cover her full college tuition, and yet as an immigrant on a student visa, she cannot legally earn a salary to cover the rest, plus food and rent; she can only earn enough money by illegally using someone else’s identity. The bureaucracy surrounding immigration means achieving the American Dream involves luck and rule-bending, not just hard work.

Aunty Uju’s interest in Bartholomew, despite his obvious shortcomings, reads as a kind of homesickness for old places and old patterns. His visits give her an opportunity to cook Nigerian food and talk about Nigeria. Furthermore, Bartholomew allows her to recreate a little of what she built with The General. She falls into an old habit of acting demure to impress him, and dreams of having a child with him so Dike can have a sibling. However, Bartholomew lacks both the wealth and power of The General and recent knowledge of Nigeria. His judgmental comment about skirt length emphasizes that he has romanticized Nigerian life to his taste, intentionally ignoring Ifemelu, whose knowledge is current. His bleaching creams and affected accent also reveal his insecurities. Ifemelu worries at seeing Aunty Uju fall into her old pattern because Bartholomew cannot even provide the temporary security that The General did. As Ifemelu points out, Aunty Uju has seriously lowered her standards by dating a man like Bartholomew, and the compromises she makes for the small comforts he provides expose an intense longing for her old life.