Homegoing Summary

Homegoing is a novel by Yaa Gyasi, which depicts the histories of two families, beginning with half-sisters Esi and Effia, who never met.

  • Effia marries a slave trader, and her son takes over the family business. Successive generations live out their lives in Africa, ending with Marjorie, who is raised in the United States.
  • Esi is brought to the United States as a slave. Her descendants are born into slavery until the end of the Civil War. Future descendants struggle to overcome the legacy of slavery.
  • In the modern day, Effia's descendant Marjorie and Esi's descendant Marcus begin dating, symbolically uniting the two families.

Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on April 13, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2093

Homegoing traces the history of two families: one that works in the slave trade and one that rises up out of slavery. Effia Otcher gave birth to one line, while Esi Asara gave birth to another. Effia and Esi were half-sisters who never met. The novel is broken into two...

(The entire section contains 2093 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Homegoing study guide. You'll get access to all of the Homegoing content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Quotes
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Homegoing traces the history of two families: one that works in the slave trade and one that rises up out of slavery. Effia Otcher gave birth to one line, while Esi Asara gave birth to another. Effia and Esi were half-sisters who never met. The novel is broken into two parts of seven chapters each, alternating chapters between Effia's descendants and Esi's. Effia was born in Fanteland, the only daughter of Cobbe and Maame, his Asante slave, who escaped and returned to her village. Effia was given to Cobbe's first wife, Baaba, to nurse. Villagers claimed that Effia was born of fire because Baaba's milk dried up, making it impossible for her to feed Effia. As a child, Effia accidentally dropped her infant brother, Fiifi. Fiifi was uninjured, but Baaba still hit Effia with a hot stirring spoon. From then on, Baaba was abusive to Effia, who grew up and earned the name Effia the Beauty despite her scars. Effia wanted to marry Abeeku Badu, the young chief of their village. He was an ambitious man, however, and made a deal with Governor James Collins of the Cape Coast Castle to supply the notorious slave trading center with slaves. Collins fell in love with Effia and asked for her hand in marriage even though she was all but promised to Abeeku. Abeeku let her go, and Effia moved to the Cape Coast Castle with James. She had one son, Quey.

Esi was born in Asanteland, the daughter of Maame and Big Man, a great warrior who had proven himself in battle. Esi was called "ripe mango" because she was a little spoiled but sweet. She had an easy childhood. Her father even procured a slave girl, Little Dove, instead of allowing Esi to help with the housework like a commoner. Little Dove couldn't carry pots on her head, however, and when she spilled water, Big Man beat her so as not to appear weak. One night, Esi was awoken by the cries of a watchman warning the village that their enemies were upon them. Esi fled into the woods, where she climbed a tree to hide from the attackers. One of the warriors threw rocks at her until she lost her grip and fell. Everyone who survived the attack was chained and taken to the Cape Coast Castle to be sold into slavery. Esi was imprisoned in one of the female dungeons, where women were stacked and chained on top of each other. Soldiers repeatedly raped her. James Collins shipped her to the Americas to work on a plantation. Esi was called Frownie because her heart was so hard. She had a daughter, Ness, who was taken away from her when the child was just ten.

Effia's son, Quey, was raised at Cape Coast Castle. His childhood friend, Cudjo, was a young warrior who would later become the chief of his village. During a wrestling match, Cudjo and Quey nearly kissed. Quey's father sent him to study in England before the boys could act on their feelings. Before James died, he managed to secure Quey the rank of junior officer at Cape Coast Castle. Once Quey returned from England, the new governor of the castle sent Quey to his mother's village to live in a company outpost. Ostensibly, Quey was there to oversee operations and to remind Abeeku of his trade obligations. He tried and failed to convince Abeeku to stop trading with their competitors. Quey received a letter from Cudjo, and when Quey didn't respond, Cudjo visited him weeks later. For a while, Quey considered Cudjo's invitation to visit his village. Then Quey's uncle Fiifi kidnapped a member of Asante royalty, Nana Yaa, and Quey decided to marry her and forget about Cudjo. Their son, James Richard Collins, resisted involvement in the family business. At his grandfather's funeral, James met Akosua, a fierce young woman who refused to shake his hand, because he was a slaver. If he wanted to earn her trust, she said, he would have to leave his family and come back to her. James's father had long since arranged for him to marry Amma, the daughter of Chief Abeeku's successor. It was not a good match. On their wedding night, James pretended to be ill to get out of consummating the marriage. Three months later, they still had not slept together. Finally, James worked up the courage to return to Akosua. On the way, he was attacked and left for dead. He allowed his family to believe him dead so that he could be with Akosua.

James and Akosua had one child, Abena. Villagers nicknamed James "Unlucky" because his farm was a failure. Abena had her first sexual encounter with a friend, Ohene Nyarko, who would be her lover when she grew older. One day, Abena begged Ohene to take her to Kumasi, a big city. There, Abena was approached by a white missionary. Back in the village, Ohene and Abena continued their affair. He promised to marry her after the next good harvest. It ended up being a bad harvest year, however, and villagers quickly blamed this on Abena. She was allowed to stay on the condition that the harvest improve within seven years. If it didn't, she would be exiled. A couple years later, Ohene traveled to a neighboring village to trade for cocoa seeds, which were said to grow even where other crops failed. To procure the seeds, he had to agree to marry the trader's daughter. Abena would have to wait. Frustrated and pregnant, Abena left Ohene and traveled alone to a church in Kumasi, where she died in childbirth. Her daughter, Akua, was raised in the missionary school and became a white missionary's favorite student. At fifteen years old, Akua married Asamoah and moved to his village of Edweso. There, she witnessed a white man being burned at the stake. That's when the nightmares started. A firewoman began haunting her dreams. While sleepwalking one night, she set their hut on fire. Her husband managed to save her and their son Yaw, but their other children died in the flames.

Yaw was badly burned in the fire. His face was scarred, and the villagers took him away from Akua for his own protection. As a young man, Yaw was sent to England to study. He returned to Africa to become a schoolteacher. He taught his students that "history is storytelling," meaning that history is written by the victor; you have to look for the voices of the losers to get a complete picture of the past. In the summer, he hired a maid, Esther. It took them five years to declare their love for each other. One day, Yaw and Esther went to visit Akua in Edweso. Akua, who had earned the name Crazy Woman, told Yaw about the fire. He had never heard her side of the story before. This was a healing moment for mother and son. Akua and Yaw remained in touch even after Yaw moved his family to Alabama. Yaw and Esther had one daughter, Marjorie. Marjorie frequently visited her grandmother in Ghana, where Akua moved to escape the story of Crazy Woman. Akua was then called Old Lady. Marjorie started wearing the necklace passed down from Effia through the generations. She excelled in high school but was bullied by the African American students for being too studious and "white." For a while, she dated Graham, a white boy who had recently moved to Alabama from Germany, but he stopped hanging out with her at the suggestion of a white girl. Marjorie became depressed and later refused to attend prom. Her grandmother died at the end of the school year, and her family traveled to Ghana to attend the funeral.

Esi's descendants had it worse. Her daughter Ness was born into slavery, the child of rape. As a girl, Ness lived on a plantation where her master whipped Esi for every word Ness spoke in her ancestral language, Twi. Ness was taken from her mother at age ten and sold to another slave owner. She later went to work on a plantation she thought of as Hell. In Hell, she married a fellow slave named Sam. Sam and Ness were often whipped for Sam's fits of anger. After the birth of their son Kojo, Sam and Ness started planning an escape. They enlisted the help of Aku, a woman who had guided others out of the South before. Slave catchers followed them into the woods. Aku escaped with Kojo, but Ness and Sam were captured. As punishment, Ness's master whipped her so badly that her entire body was scarred. Sam was beheaded. Ness was later sold to Thomas Allan Stockham, a kinder man. She met TimTam on Stockham's plantation. One night, TimTam's daughter Pinky fell ill, and Ness took care of her. Afterward, the two became inseparable. TimTam had feelings for Ness, but she rebuffed him. Her son Kojo, meanwhile, was raised by Ma Aku in Baltimore. Soon after he married, a new law was passed allowing slave catchers to arrest runaway slaves even in free states. Kojo's wife, Anna, was kidnapped by white men, and she and her unborn child were sold into slavery.

Kojo's son, H Black, was born on a plantation. When the Civil War ended, H walked from Georgia to Alabama to start a new life. He was later arrested for allegedly looking at a white woman. He was sentenced on trumped up charges and hired out as labor to a coal mine that relied on black prisoners for cheap labor. H worked so hard that one year was shaved off his sentence. Once freed, he moved to Pratt City, a town full of ex-cons. With the help of his friend Joecy, he found work at a coal mine. After several months, H finally joined the union, though he was skeptical of their tactics. The union decided to strike in protest of the low wages and poor working conditions. Six months later, the owners finally caved and agreed to a fifty-cent pay raise. Around that time, H's ex-girlfriend Ethe arrived at his house. He returned from work to find her cooking dinner for him. H and Ethe had two children, Willie and Hazel. H suffered from black lung for most of his life and often coughed up black mucus. His daughter Willie was a beautiful singer and performed at his union meetings, where she met her first love, Robert Clifton. Robert was a light-skinned dreamer who wanted to move to Harlem. She followed him, and they had a son, Carson "Sonny" Clifton. Robert left her after a humiliating scene where they had sex in front of two white men. Alone, Willie struggled to take care of her son. After joining a new church, she met Eli, a poet. She bore him a daughter, Josephine. He often disappeared for weeks or months at a time, and gradually Willie learned to live without him.

Sonny was raised in Harlem and went on to work at the NAACP. He was often arrested for his work as a political activist, and Willie had to bail him out. He was then assigned to the housing unit. This experience proved emotionally draining. He tried and failed to help a teenager who asked him, "You can't do a single thing, can you?" Sonny became disillusioned with activism and turned to drugs for solace. While using, he had three children by three different women. He couldn't support them, and his drug use intensified. Needing money, he turned to his mother, who offered to help him get clean. Sonny stayed with her and started taking methadone to fight his addiction. His son Marcus went on to attend Stanford, where he pursued a graduate degree in sociology. While at Stanford, he attended parties with his friend Diante, who was completely obsessed with finding a girl he met at a museum once. When they finally found this girl, she happened to be talking to Marjorie. Marjorie and Marcus hit it off immediately and began dating. Marcus got a grant to research his family's history in Pratt City, and he took Marjorie along on the trip. She invited him to Ghana. While there, they visited the Cape Coast Castle. In one of the female dungeons, Marcus started to feel sick. He ran out of the castle and toward the sea. Marjorie then walked into the ocean, and he followed her despite his fear of water. She gave him the stone necklace Effia once wore, uniting the two families.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Homegoing Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Themes