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Aunty Uju hurries home from her job every day to wait for The General, spending money on lightening creams for her complexion. Throughout the chapter she spends money on expensive and arduous beauty regimes for The General’s benefit, including shaving her pubic area because he finds the hair “disturbing.”
Meanwhile, the landlord demands two years of rent from Ifemelu’s family. Ifemelu knows that her father would never ask Aunty Uju for financial help, and so she decides to do so herself. However, she learns that Aunty Uju must ask the General for the money. Uju does not receive a salary from the medical position The General invented for her. He prefers for her to ask him for the things she needs. Ifemelu worries for Aunty Uju.
Aunty Uju acknowledges that she was lucky to find The General and declares that Nigeria’s economy relies on kissing up to the right people. The General gifts her the money for the rent.
Ifemelu does not like The General at all when she meets him. He has coarse manners and claims Aunty Uju is different from other women because she wanted books from his trip to London. Aunty Uju becomes pregnant and insists upon having the child. The General is excited, proud of what the child indicates about his fertility, and pays to have Aunty Uju deliver the baby in America. She has a son, whom she names Dike.
The General dies in a plane crash that may have been engineered by the head of state. The General’s wife immediately moves to attack Aunty Uju. Friends help Aunty Uju sneak out under cover of night, and she and Dike flee to America.
Ifemelu and Obinze attend the same university in Nsukka. Because Obinze’s mother moved back to Nsukka, Obinze lives in his family home, and Ifemelu lives in student housing. The university is often closed for faculty strikes because the government refuses to pay lecturers’ salaries. One strike lasts long enough for students to have to go home.
During an intense make out session in Nsukka, Obinze suggests they finally have sex. Ifemelu worries about getting pregnant, but Obinze says that if she does get pregnant, they’ll just start their family. A week later Ifemelu gets a stomachache and panics. She tells Obinze and calls Aunty Uju. Obinze’s mother takes Ifemelu to a doctor, who diagnoses her with appendicitis. Obinze’s mother allows for Ifemelu to recuperate from surgery at their house. She later confronts Ifemelu and Obinze and instructs them to use condoms. She warns Ifemelu that she cannot trust any boy to be in charge of his own protection and tells her to purchase her own condoms. Obinze sulks off.
The university lecturers now strike so often that many students leave to study abroad. Aunty Uju suggests that Ifemelu come study in America and help babysit Dike. Obinze encourages her, and his knowledge about America leads her to defer to his judgment. Ginika helps Ifemelu apply to schools. Ifemelu begins to imagine a future for herself like she’s seen on American television. Ifemelu is accepted to several colleges and gets her visa on the first try. As she prepares to leave, she lets her friends come over and take what they want from her wardrobe, a bittersweet rite of passage for any friend who leaves Nigeria. Right before she leaves, Obinze’s mother tells Ifemelu and Obinze to make a plan to reunite when they can.
Aunty Uju’s relationship with The General demonstrates the way women are willing to demean and infantilize themselves for men in order to maintain their approval. Aunty Uju works as a doctor, and yet she must ask The General for her salary as if she were a child asking for an allowance. She must in turn use some of this “allowance” money for expensive beauty treatments, like lightening creams, in order to please The General, meaning that even the money he grants her must be reinvested into keeping his interest. She also must shave her pubic region because The General is disturbed that adult women naturally grow pubic hair. This part of Aunty Uju’s beauty regime is particularly symbolic because hairlessness is a pre-pubescent trait, and The General requiring Aunty Uju to be hairless can also be read as a requirement to maintain the illusion of childishness. Far from being the mentor Ifemelu’s mother insists he is, The General’s gifts come with the condition of Aunty Uju acting like a teenager with no autonomy. While a mentor offers younger people opportunities to help them grow, The General wants Aunty Uju to actually regress.
Aunty Uju’s story introduces the importance for women to maintain their own autonomy. Aunty Uju must depend on the general entirely for financial security, which means that his death plunges her entire life into chaos. None of the measures that she believes will safeguard her position help her in the end: not the hours she spends remaking herself to his liking, not befriending his driver so that she knows what he thinks about her, not even having his child. Although Aunty Uju has a career as a doctor, because her job exists only through The General, not even her degree and education can protect her. Obinze’s mother echoes this warning about the importance of independence when she tells Ifemelu she must be the one to buy condoms. While her warning against dependence on men refers to sex, this warning can metaphorically apply to protection in general. She wants Ifemelu to know that she should not expect men to have her best interests at heart in any given situation.
Although thus far Ifemelu has shown herself to be stubborn and independent, her immigration happens largely at the behest of other people, especially Obinze, revealing hidden insecurity in herself and their relationship. In Chapter 5, the class differences that allow her schoolmates to dream of the West cause Ifemelu to feel out of place and even jealous. Her decision to go to America at Obinze’s behest therefore takes on a dimension of acquiescence, not entirely unlike the way Aunty Uju subverts herself for The General. Significantly, Ifemelu allows Ginika to handle the application process and help her apply to the same universities she attended. Ginika is the kind of girl other people thought Obinze would like, and so attending the same schools as Ginika would allow Ifemelu to access the kind of American mystique that Ginika has developed. Despite Ifemelu’s strong personality, the value placed on Ginika’s attributes—her American mother, biracial looks, and now American citizenship—has led her to change the course of her life.
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