Inherited History in Americanah

After reading David Scott’s “The Temporality of Generations: Dialogue, Tradition, Criticism,” I have begun to think about Adichie’s Americanah in relationship to colonial history—the past experience of the characters’ elder generations. Scott’s essay is invested in thinking about the politics of generational dialogue and interaction—how ideas are transmitted inter-generationally. In his framing of the term, a “generation” refers to a group of people who are about the same age and who share “formative historical experience (of wars…or revolutions)” that cause them to respond in a certain way (164). He explains that each generation inherits a different world from that in which their parents grew up—a world changed by the previous generation. This means that the younger generation will respond to social events differently because they are situated in a different position and perspective. The question Scott then raises is one of collective memory: “how the past is collectively remembered and forgotten” (165).

Scott’s theoretical questions pertain directly to the project of Americanah, which I see as being connected to exploring what it means to be an African woman in a global, modern world. In the novel, Ifemelu reacts differently than her mother and her aunt to the economic problems of her family and of Nigeria. She also recognizes that younger generations of different social experience will react differently to certain social issues. For example, Laura tells Ifemelu, “I knew a woman from Africa who was just like this doctor…She was wonderful, and she didn’t get along with the African American woman in our class at all. She didn’t have all those issues” (207). Ifemelu responds, “Maybe when the African American’s father was not allowed to vote because he was black, the Ugandan’s father was running for parliament or studying at Oxford” (207). While the lived experience of the women in the class were similar, their generational history was different. One’s grandfather participated in social privileges that were denied to the other. The African American descendant inherited the collective memories of anger, dissatisfaction, and the struggle for justice that the African woman did not inherit. Thus, the African and African American women in this scene inherited alternate histories that give them different perspectives, though the problem Ifemelu raises is the very fact that these different inherited histories are not recognized by the white social public. The African and African American women are grouped together in the lowest rung of the class ladder: the category of blackness.

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