One day Nigel asks Obinze what to say to a girl he likes, and is disappointed when Obinze tells him just to be honest with her about his feelings.

Analysis: Chapters 23–26

Even when approaching a sham marriage for a green card, Obinze attempts to cultivate honesty in the relationship. He double checks Cleotilde’s consent to the marriage and makes his intentions clear to her, assuring no misunderstanding. When he realizes the Angolans hold power over both of them, he organizes a meeting with Cleotilde alone so that they can speak together as themselves without being pressured to behave in a specific way. Even his desire to not act on his attraction to her until after the marriage speaks to Obinze’s love of honesty. He needs Cleotilde to marry him so that he can stay in London, which makes their relationship a business relationship. Once they are free from that business obligation, they can get to know each other as people, without that obligation between them. Obinze’s ability to cultivate honesty in an inherently dishonest situation shows how much he values truth, but also hints at an inability to survive the difficult bureaucracy of immigration that forces people into dishonest and dangerous situations.

The sad case of Nicholas and Ojiugo offers a model of immigration in which parents sacrifice their own dreams for the next generation. The extreme contrast between their rebellious youth and their dutiful and tame immigrant adulthood reveals how much immigration has forced them to change in order to survive. Ojiugo’s excuse for Nicholas—that living in fear has exhausted him—shows the dire consequences of illegal immigration for the immigrant. We can infer that Nicholas had to work to be invisible, and as a result had to hide and conform to expectations. Their main way of relating as husband and wife now is through conversations about their children’s progress, implying that their marriage has ceased to be about them connecting as individuals. Ojiugo explicitly says that all her hopes are on her children now, which means she sees no more possibilities for herself. The pressures and demands of immigration have drained Nicholas and Ojiugo of their sense of selves, leaving their children to live their dreams for them.

Obinze deletes Ifemelu’s email because of the shame he feels at not succeeding in his immigrant life. Because he views Ifemelu as a successful immigrant, he does not want to admit that his life in London is illegal and demeaning. Instead of finding success or “the future,” Obinze cannot even let himself be noticed by other people. In his jealous viewing of the passersby, he envies them their visibility—the fact that others are allowed to see and acknowledge their existence without causing them danger. The turd on the toilet seat highlights Obinze’s invisibility as well. Obinze notices that whoever left the turd did so to send a message to the company, but he, not a high-level member of the company, receives the message. The disgruntled employee did not account for Obinze’s existence in his display of anger. Like Ifemelu, Obinze must pretend to be someone else in order to work, and this vulnerability subjects him to exploitation from Vincent with no legal recourse. Just as Ifemelu’s shame led her to cut off contact, Obinze’s shame now causes him to delete her email.

Similar to Ifemelu’s discovery of the importance placed on race, Obinze quickly realizes that white British people treat him differently or make strange assumptions about him on the basis of his being black and foreign. Some of the discrimination is overt, such as the crude knee pun his first coworkers make. Other forms are subtler, such as the drivers at the warehouse who refuse to split their tips with him. Even Roy’s friendliness is charged with stereotypes. For example, he invokes the myth of African witchcraft to explain Obinze’s fidelity. The assumption that Obinze has some special ability with women draws from stereotypes of black men of any origin as being hyper-sexualized. Ojiugo also notes this discrimination in the way her children are two of the few black children in prestigious activities. The Jamaican woman’s extra tip also implies camaraderie amongst black immigrants and suggests that she may assume Obinze’s white coworkers don’t share tips with him.