The main themes in Homegoing are family legacy, history, and slavery.
- Family legacy: Effia and Esi's families represent two different versions of African heritage: those who were sold into slavery and those who were spared.
- History: Cape Coast Castle is a real-life slave castle and trading center where slaves were imprisoned. Gyasi also explores several other time periods, including the antebellum South, the Jim Crow era, and the present day.
- Slavery: Effia and Esi's family histories don't intersect again until their descendants visit the Cape Coast Castle and begin healing from the trauma that slavery wrought on them both.
Homegoing is the story of two families with very different histories. The families descend from Esi and Effia, two half-sisters who never met. Esi Asara was captured by African slave traders and sold to a white plantation owner in the United States. Effia was the wife of James Collins, Governor of Cape Coast Castle, the notorious real-life slave trading center where Esi was held captive before being sold. Their descendants had wildly different experiences. Esi's family was consigned to slavery for generations and wasn't granted freedom until after the Civil War. Even then, her descendants were subjected to racism, Jim Crow laws, and oppression. Effia's son, on the other hand, enjoyed all the privileges of being a slave trader's son. He was educated in England and married into Asante royalty, but his son James abandoned the family business and returned to the land to work as a humble and unsuccessful farmer. His family seemed cursed, and they were plagued by fire and bad luck for decades. It took seven generations for fortune to smile on Esi's and Effia's descendants. Both Marcus and Marjorie wound up at Stanford, unaware of the link between their families. Over time, the different family lines came to represent two different African experiences: being sold into slavery and being spared. These family histories haunt the characters in Homegoing.
History is one of the most important themes in Homegoing. Gyasi uses both families to explore the dark history of slavery, delving into the horrors of the African slave trade, the antebellum South, and life during segregation in the United States. Each character in the novel comes to represent a different period of time, and their lives stand in for experiences shared by many Africans and African Americans: working in coal mines, suffering years of bad harvests, and contending with their tragic family histories. Yaw Agyekum, one of Effia's descendants, complicates the theme with a single sentence: "History is Storytelling." He teaches his students that history is told by the victors; to truly understand history, one must look for the voices of the losers and the oppressed. In many ways, this novel is an attempt to fill in that lost history by telling the stories of non-whites and slaves. Gyasi does an admirable job of weaving together these forgotten yet essential stories.
Slavery is central to the plot of the novel. Both families are affected by the evils of slavery, albeit in very different ways. Esi is sold into slavery as a young woman, and her daughter and great-grandson are both born into slavery. Effia marries a slave trader, and her son and grandson benefit from their increased social status—that is, until her grandson decides to leave the family business. If not for the fact that Effia's village cooperated with the slavers, her entire family might very well have been captured and sold into slavery, just like Esi's. Instead, the...
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