Intersectionality of Ifemelu’s Depression

“Intersectionality” sounds like one of those clunky words you hear (and immediately dismiss) in discussions about race — until you figure out you need it. In order to analyze and understand Ifemelu’s decision to cease contact with Obinze, intersectionality is indispensible, because many elements of her personal identity have changed during that time period.

The most important element to Ifemelu’s decision making must be her economic class at that time. She is absolutely broke and cannot afford rent anymore. Her poverty leaves her no choice when “doing massage” for the tennis coach is the only option to earn some money. “He knew she would stay because she had come. She was already here, already tainted” (Adichie 189). Ifemelu’s poverty deprives her of her dignity and forces her into doing the “job” she could never imagine herself doing, which makes her so shameful and guilty. She feels belittled because of her economic class and deprived of pride.

Pride is another aspect to her identity that cannot be ignored. Ifemelu has high pride and if she did not, her life could probably be better. After finishes the job for the tennis coach, she falls into depression and after seeing Ginika, “she wished she had told Ginika about the tennis coach, taken the train to Ginika’s apartment on that day, but now it was too late, her self-loathing had hardened inside her. She would never be ablt to form the sentences to tell her story” (Adichie 195). Ginika is her closest friend and probably only friend at this stage in the U.S., yet Ifemelu refuses to talk to her about her life-changing dilemma in life. More, Ginika even asks her many times what happens and why she acts so strangely, so Ifemelu totally has a chance to let it out if she wants to, but she chooses to remain silence because she hates herself for what she has done. Not even talk about telling the story to her beloved Obinze. If Ifemelu is not so proud and would actively seek help, her situation could be much better.

Ifemelu also has the common loneliness of a new immigrant. When she talks to her aunt, she suddenly becomes irritated that her aunt does not ask about her wellbeing and does not care how she makes the one hundred dollars. “ ‘Won’t you ask me what I did, Aunty? Won’t you ask me what I did before the man paid me a hundred dollars?’” (Adichie 191) Alone in the country, Ifemelu only has her aunt as her only family. More importantly, her aunt used to take care of and play with her as her sister. Having such a person around, yet Ifemelu feels like her aunt does not care about her at all and nobody else does. Then she explodes and sunk into infinite sadness, even thinking about suicide: “she knew there was no point in being here, in being alive, but she had no energy to think concretely of how she could kill herself” (Adichie 192). Evening thinking about killing herself, Ifemelu has lost all her hope in life and sees no reason to be happy again.

The serious depression of Ifemelu that leads to isolation from Obinze cannot be explained by a single term. It must be analyzed intersectionally through her poverty, pride, and loneliness.