Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: Analysis and Plot

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: Analysis and Plot

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In the novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, the permanence of trauma along familial lineages is a central theme. From the very first chapter to the final pages, the book constantly confronts us with unforgivingly violent and disturbing images of the lives of the descendants of Effia and Esi. The episodes of violence and oppression the characters face throughout the book are not merely coincidental, however. They are inherent parts of the lives of these characters, so ingrained into the history of trauma and oppression passed down through the generations that they are nearly inseparable. And yet, towards the end of the book, we get a little glimmer of hope that maybe that damage is not permanent. The end of Homegoing serves as a hopeful and uplifting escape from the horror and suffering present throughout the book, despite an overtone of continued violence and loss.

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The ending scene of this book is an incredible moment, not only in its symbolism but also in its sharp contrast to the bleak tone used to describe the rest of the characters in the book. As Marcus runs from the slave castle into the ocean to join Marjorie, overcoming his fear of water and rejoicing in the pure freedom of such a simple act, we can’t help but feel a little excited at the thought of him freeing himself from centuries of oppression in the same water that carried his ancestors away from home long ago. It seems as if he is finally purging his family line of the trauma that it had been forced to endure for so many years. Additionally, it makes perfect sense; He is a smart man who seems to have a lot of choice over his future. Racism, while still present, is very watered down and not as dangerous as it was for his ancestors. However, we never really see what happens after this scene. We never find out if this experience was truly transformative, or merely a dip in the ocean. We never see if Marcus goes on to lead a more fulfilling, fearless life, or if he simply repeats the lives played out by his ancestors.

This uncertainty hints at a deeper meaning to the ending, one that more clearly unifies the arc of the book. The main connecting element between characters and storylines was how just how inescapable the lineage of oppression from past generations is, especially for African-Americans. This lineage forced characters into bondage, broke families apart, and destroyed lives. And yet, at the end, Marcus escapes almost too easily, tossing off this burden his family has been carrying for generations and finally, for the first time, choosing for himself his life’s course. This overdramatic ending cannot possibly be the end to all of the struggles of Marcus’s family’s past, and Gyasi wants us to realize this. The beautiful display of freedom and independence is overshadowed by several hundred pages of evidence that tell us that Marcus cannot escape, no matter how hard he tries. Just because he is swimming in the ocean doesn’t mean that racism is over, or that black people are treated equally, or even that Marcus can cast off the burden of history within his lifetime. Rather, what it means is that things are beginning to change. Marcus is beginning to regain the choice over his life’s course that his forefathers could not; He is a smart, well educated, and confident man attending a prestigious university with plenty of prospects for his future. Marcus represents a first step towards a brighter future, and he is equipped with the tools and independence needed to make that happen. 

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