It was Aunty Uju who sewed Ifemelu’s little-girl dresses and, as Ifemelu got older, they would pore over fashion magazines, choosing styles together.

This quotation comes from Chapter 3, when Aunty Uju is first introduced. Aunty Uju plays a crucial role in Ifemelu’s childhood as first a caretaker and then a role model. Aunty Uju essentially teaches Ifemelu the ways of adulthood, how to establish a sense of fashion, how to take care of puberty woes, and how to deal with boys. Ifemelu’s childhood respect for Aunty Uju as a woman and mentor makes her later feelings of pity for her all the more evident. Aunty Uju goes from being Ifemelu’s role model to a cautionary tale.

For the first time, Ifemelu felt older than Aunty Uju, wiser and stronger than Aunty Uju, and she wished that she could wrest Aunty Uju away, shake her into a clear-eyed self, who would not lay her hopes on The General, slaving and shaving for him, always eager to fade his flaws.

Ifemelu has these feelings in Chapter 6, while watching Aunty Uju’s hurt over the General not visiting when he promised he would. Instead of the strong, smart, aspiring doctor she has looked up to, Ifemulu now sees Aunty Uju sacrificing her time and body to a man who treats her like an object. Aunty Uju has placed herself in a situation where she is entirely dependent on the General for not just her livelihood but also her self-worth.

I’m tired. I am so tired. I thought by now things would be better for me and Dike. It’s not as if anybody was helping me and I just could not believe how quickly money went.

Aunty Uju says these words to Ifemelu in Chapter 9 when she admits that she failed the exams she needs to go to medical school. Because she has to work three jobs and care for Dike, she does not have the time and energy to devote to studying for the exam. When Ifemelu arrives in America, she is initially shocked by Aunty Uju’s brusque and impatient treatment. However, this moment reveals that Aunty Uju is merely burnt out from how difficult immigration has been for her.

He looked at her and mumbled that he had been in a hurry, he was already late for work, and she told him that she, too, had work to go to, and she earned more than he did, in case he had forgotten.

This quotation from Chapter 21 describes one of the final arguments Aunty Uju has with Bartholomew before she leaves him. Ever since her relationship with the General, Aunty Uju has relied on men for a sense of self-worth. She put up with Bartholomew’s arrogance and freeloading because she hoped they could build a family and have another child. In this argument over him leaving toothpaste in the sink, Aunty Uju reasserts her dignity and self-worth. She finally can assert that she actually earns more and does more for the family than he does and demands fair treatment.