Throughout American history, there have been many books that have helped people gain insight about the literary movements, periods, and ideals over time. Some periods that stood out are the Realism, Naturalism and Colonial periods. Realism was a literary movement that focused on ordinary characters ordinary, everyday life situations. Realism is the fact that you are true to truth. It was a movement away from romantic illusion, in order to get closer to the social and psychological reality of the time.
It is the belief there can be a correspondence between reality and its representation. Naturalism was a branch of realism. Like realism, it depicted real people in real situations, but naturalists also believed in forces larger than the individual like nature, fate, and heredity. Naturalists believed that these forces shaped individuals and their destiny. Naturalism often included themes of survival, determinism, and violence. When it comes to the colonial period, this period consisted of a country’s history when it was subject to administration by a colonial power.
A book that I believe should be included in the American literary canon is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book tells a story about Ifemelu and Obinze, who are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. This story discusses the hardships from traveling to America from Nigeria as the 9/11 attacks are about to happen and also gives examples of Realism, Naturalism and Colonialism. While many of the novels we read about in this course consist of one of these periods, Americanah discusses all three from a different perspective and how they helped influenced this book.
Adichies Americanah utilizes literary realism where she explores a constellation of thought through the immigration experiences of an African woman named Ifemelu. This experience though particular in perspective is strong enough to bear the weight of universality in a global world. Throughout the novel, you get to see how the story was influenced by realism just by the choice of the author to use Nigerian characters of a middle class, educated background to tell the story of an African immigrants struggle. Clearly, Ifemelu and Obinze did not fit the stereotypical ideals we see when we think about immigrants from Nigeria. The entire group agreed that the United States was portrayed in both a positive and negative light as well, but ultimately it was a realistic representation. An author that I learned about in this class that also utilizes literary realism was Mark Twain. One of his most famous books called, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer which came out way before Americanah. This story effectively assesses realism through a hypocritical portrayal of the antebellum South through institution of religion, satire, and vernacular speech. Twain differentiates the antebellum Southern society from an ideal society to a more realistic society through the satirical use of the institution of religion. I believe that after reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you can see how much of an influence the realism had for Americanah and how it also adds on to the tradition of using realism in a book.
When it comes to Naturalism, Americanah utilizes this literary term by going into detail when it comes to the setting of the story. Naturalism is not only noticed in the setting, but also about the Nigerians and Africans in general that are in the story. Giving Africans a fully-realized humanity that had long been missing in literature and Western ideology was an interesting move in this story. The characters move and breathe as naturally as they would in the real world and that is what Adichie was trying to do. An author that I learned about in this class that also utilizes literary naturalism was Jack London. When Jack London wrote “To Build a Fire” he utilized the idea of naturalism because it reflected the events of daily life. Naturalism displayed how humans had to be cautious at every corner because at any time death could be present, waiting for them to make a mistake and lose their lives. Jack used naturalism, the most realistic literary term; to display how violent and uncaring nature can be and how no matter what you do nature will always be there. I believe that after reading “To Build a Fire”, you can see how much of an influence the naturalism had for Americanah and how it also adds on to the tradition of using naturalism in the book.
Adichies Americanah took place during a post-colonial America after Ifemelu and Obinze moved out of Nigeria. Each is faced with a new cultures definition of what it means to be black, in turn leading them to re-establish themselves when they ultimately both end up once again in Nigeria some years later. Ifemelu, given the opportunity to complete her post-graduate studies in Philadelphia, confronts a perception of all-inclusive commonality and inherent blackness perceived by the white majority to be true, regardless of descent. To deal with the struggles of facing condescending peers and difficulty finding a job, Ifemelu begins blogging about her experiences, creating her own commentary of American culture and its effort to reconcile itself with its own past. The colonialism in this story helps explains what the main characters had to deal with by being a different race and moving from another country. An author that I learned about in this class that experienced the literary term colonialism was Mary Rowlandson. Mary was a colonial American woman who was apprehended during an attack by Native Americans during King Philip’s War. She was held for ransom for 11 weeks and 5 days. After being liberated, she wrote The Sovereignty and Goodness of God to explain her story. Just by looking at both of these story and the similarities of colonialism helps prove that Adichies Americanah was influenced.
Based on the development of American literature as I have studied it in this course, the reason I believe my selected book should become an important piece of the American canon is due to the story of the book. Throughout this course, I have read about the many struggles that some of the authors went through as well as the good times. There were even some stories that we read about that described America the exact same way as it was in Adichies Americanah. One author that discusses this topic is Thomas Paine. When Thomas wrote Common Sense he clearly explains the hardships of England but also explains the benefits of America and how the lifestyle is completely different from where he is from. Although my selected book may not cover every literary term that we learned about, I believe it would still be a good fit for the American canon.