How is the theme of family explored in Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi?

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jules-cordry eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Family is one of the central themes of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. (To read more about the themes of Homegoing, check out the eNotes study guide.) The novel follows the stories of two families descended from half-sisters who never meet each other. One family is descended from Esi Asara, who was born in Asanteland in what is now the Republic of Ghana; the other is descended from Effia Otcher, who was born in Fanteland, also in Ghana. Gyasi chronicles the history of each family in alternating chapters, each of which focuses on another generation of either Esi’s or Effia’s descendants. This structure shows the connection as well as the distance between the two families. While Effia marries a British slave trader, Esi is sold into slavery, and this makes all the difference for their descendants. The members of Effia’s side of the family are all born in Africa and eventually choose to move to Alabama, but Esi’s descendants are born into slavery in the United States and are enslaved until the conclusion of the Civil War.

Although the families have very different experiences, they both face personal hardship and tragedy along with racism and, particularly, the terrible legacy of slavery. In the end, the two long-separated families unknowingly reconnect through Esi’s descendant Marcus and Effia’s descendant Marjorie, who meet while attending Stanford. Together they visit Cape Coast Castle, where Effia once lived as the wife of a slave trader and where Esi was imprisoned before being sent to the Americas as a slave, thereby bringing the two families back to the site of the trauma and fateful separation that begins the book. When Marjorie walks into the ocean with Marcus and gives him Effia’s stone necklace, which has been passed down through the generations (unlike Esi’s necklace, which was lost in the slave dungeons), the two families are finally reunited. Gyasi portrays this reunion of families previously divided by traumatic histories as a profoundly healing event. Check out the eNotes study guide to read more about the themes Gyasi explores in Homegoing.

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