There are a lot of things that I really like about Americanah‘s protagonist, Ifemelu. She’s strong-willed and independent (for the most part), and she isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in. She expresses herself well through writing and works to stay true to her identity. That being said, her relationship habits are a major character flaw. It’s certainly true that a flawed character is generally more likable than a perfect character, but Ifemelu’s pattern of infidelity and her tendency to purposely antagonize her boyfriends is hard to look past. She indulges her whims without a second thought, and then gets angry when someone is rightfully upset by her actions.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe that people should be free to do whatever they want. But when a character is involved in a healthy and committed relationship, cheating isn’t something that I can support. Ifemelu’s first case of disloyalty is during her relationship with Curt. She has sex once with Rob, a man from her apartment building who she barely knows, and plans on a second meeting, but leaves before anything happens. After telling Curt, he lashes out in anger and she devolves into a period of self-pity punctured with attempts to win him back. She has a hard time accepting that he doesn’t want to interact with her, even though she was the one who cheated.
Later in the novel, after Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria, we see a similar situation. The major difference is that this time, she’s the mistress. Obinze is married and has a child, but they both make the decision to engage in a sexual relationship that ultimately breaks Obinze’s family. When Obinze invites her on the business trip but later apologizes and says he needs to go alone, Ifemelu cuts off all contact with him. I understand that she is upset and disappointed, but behaving in such a petty way is uncalled for. She’s more than happy to maintain their relationship so long as he doesn’t talk about his wife – and the moment he mentions her in passing, she withdraws angrily. Again, like with Curt, she struggles with accepting responsibility and the reality of their situation.
A not-as-obvious example occurs when Ifemelu moves to America. Even though she slowly loses touch with Obinze, she enters into sexual relationships with other men while he still believes that they’re together. Depression deeply affects a person and is likely part of why she treated him in such a way, but after such a long and serious relationship, one would think that she would consider his feelings a little more. She also has a bad habit of saying things that she knows will hurt her partner and saying them anyways, just to see what happens. We see this repeated in every relationship she has. Overall, I truly enjoy Ifemelu as a character, even though her repeated infidelity takes away some of my appreciation for her.