He talked about himself with such gusto, as though determined to tell her everything there was to know, and all at once.

This initial description of Curt comes from Chapter 18, when he first appears at Kimberly’s party. Although this behavior can be read as egotistical, he has a charm and charisma that nevertheless initially makes him likable. In many ways, these early descriptions of Curt mirror Ifemelu’s imagined idea of America. He is wealthy and can provide opportunity, but he’s also convinced of his own superiority and that he is infinitely interesting. Furthermore, Curt moves quickly, like America’s fast pace. Just as he speaks quickly, he will push his relationship with Ifemelu forward quickly.

He told her, too, that she had known he was smitten—how could she not know?—but pretended not to because she didn’t want a white man.

This quotation comes from Chapter 18, describing how Curt would later describe their relationship to other people. Curt’s lie, that Ifemelu didn’t want a white man, changes their story so that he becomes an underdog. His imagined scenario either implies that either Ifemelu harbors prejudice against white men, which would make him discriminated against, or that Ifemelu believes Black men are better than white men, which would mean Curt was able to prove her wrong. In either case, that Curt tells the story this way, especially given his wealth and privilege, reveals a disturbing insecurity.

There was something in him, lighter than ego but darker than insecurity, that needed constant buffing, polishing, waxing.

This quotation comes from Chapter 20, as Ifemelu begins to have doubts about her relationship with Curt. Curt constantly asks her to affirm that she likes being with him and furthermore constantly comes up with more and more ideas of things for them to do together, as if being together as just people would be boring. For all his wealth, privilege, and popularity, Curt nevertheless does not have faith in himself to have value outside of his money and charm. He has an emptiness inside that he needs Ifemelu to soothe away with praise.