Last Updated on February 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1334
Gifty describes how her parents started fighting about food when Nana began playing soccer and developed a bigger appetite. They hid all the food in the house. One day, when Gifty and Nana were left alone, they found the stashes of food and had a feast. Her parents discovered their actions, leading to another fight. To protect Gifty, Nana brought her into his bedroom and had her color as a distraction.
In her first year of graduate school (prior to the present time of the narration), Gifty entered into a serious relationship with Raymond, a humanities graduate student. Raymond had parties at which his friends discussed many concepts that Gifty had never heard of, making her feel self-conscious. Present-day Gifty explains that her research involves working with mice who so desperately want an addictive substance—the sugary drink Ensure—that in spite of danger, they continue to push the lever in their cage, which sometimes provides Ensure but other times delivers a painful electric shock.
The narration moves to the time in Gifty’s childhood that the previous chapter took place in. Gifty’s mother and the Chin Chin Man continued to fight. Her father became more and more insistent about how much better Ghana was than the United States. Eventually, he left for Ghana and never came back, even though he kept promising to. Returning to the time period when she was seriously dating Raymond, Gifty relates a time when she brought up her own research at one of his parties, as Raymond had encouraged her to do. She impressed his friends but felt like a fraud in their company, as she did not respect their intellectual attitude of talking about every issue without actually doing anything.
In her elementary school days, Gifty worried over whether it was possible to avoid thinking sinfully. Reflecting on this question from a neuroscientific perspective, adult Gifty asks herself, “Can we control our thoughts?” Humans have a subconscious life that operates in spite of our conscious selves, she believes: an underlying essence that is our soul. The neuroscientists she works with never talk about the soul. Gifty considers the underlying essence she is talking about to be the same thing as the soul she believed in as a child. However, she does not think about it in the same terms now, as an adult scientist.
The narration returns to the era in Gifty’s childhood just after the Chin Chin Man left. At first, they tried to keep the house and their lives the same so that he could easily fit back into the family. Some time after his departure, the three of them traveled for Nana’s away soccer game. The journey and equipment were so expensive that her mother had had to work incredibly hard to make it possible. On the way there, while young Gifty sang and howled and generally made a nuisance of herself, Nana realized that his father was not coming back. He refused to play soccer, and her mother took them home, in spite of the cost. After this experience, young Gifty realized that her role in the family had changed. She tried to be a “good kid” from that point on. Nana never played soccer again.
In the present, Gifty is waiting for Katherine, the former psychiatrist who is now her classmate. She has asked Katherine to meet with her because she needs someone to talk to about her mother. Observing the beautiful weather, Gifty notes the contrast to her college days in Massachusetts, when she was miserable because of the dark and cold. Gifty reflects that despite her pretext for asking Katherine to meet with her, which was to talk about being women in their field, she does not really want attention for being a woman or a Black person. Her goal is for her work to be recognized on a level with white men’s work, without anyone thinking about her race or gender.
As she sits with Katherine, Gifty contemplates the ethics of the situation with her mother. Is it right to simply let her mother lie in bed and fall further apart? She is too afraid to talk about any of this with Katherine. However, Katherine does notice that Gifty is troubled and advises her to take care of herself. Gifty does not know what taking care of herself means. In college, she remembers, she felt very sad. A counselor had told her that it might be because of the toughness of the curriculum. That rigor was what she had wanted, however, so Gifty believed the cause must have been something else.
Gifty continues discussing her college years. In one class, she found herself unable to participate despite having many things to say. Her study group for the class once had a conversation about how they believed religion was foolish. Finally speaking up, Gifty argued back that religion could be a good thing. Her response caused the others to judge her. At the time, she did not know how she felt about Christianity in terms of her own beliefs. Yet she was sure that her mother’s faith was a good thing, and she did not want it to be dismissed. She became able to speak in class again, but her classmates did not take her ideas seriously because of the religious beliefs they assumed she held.
Gifty reflects on her childhood understanding of baptism and salvation. Due to her Pentecostal church’s teaching, she could not be baptized until she was “saved.” Young Gifty believed this meant that she had to experience a near-death incident and be saved from it. After observing a baptism, she started trying to immerse herself in water. She got in trouble with her mother for wetting her hair when she had not planned to wash it—because she is Black, her hair is difficult to work with when wet. Her mother eventually spanked her.
In the present, Gifty sits with the dead body of the mouse who was badly wounded in the earlier fight. It makes her think about the holiness of connection to other beings. When she comes home, her mother is awake and asks for water, which Gifty brings her. Her mother tells Gifty that Gifty needs to do something about her hair.
This section explores the relationship between Gifty’s childhood religious beliefs, her mother’s faith, and her own adult spirituality. As a child, Gifty took religion extremely seriously because she wanted to be “good” after her father left. She had difficulty interpreting what some scriptures and religious instructions meant, but she did her best to follow them. In her college years, she had begun to doubt her own faith, but she respected her mother’s beliefs and the ways that they made her mother a better person. By the time she is in graduate school, in the book’s present, Gifty has reshaped her faith around the beauty of science and the mysteries of nature. She finds holiness in living creatures—“holy is the mouse”—and in her fellow human beings.
The question of how a Black woman fits into the world of academics and science is also a significant focus of this section. The counselor and Gifty’s fellow undergraduate students at her prestigious college assume that she does not belong at the school, especially after her classmates come to believe that she embodies the stereotype they hold of a religious Southern Black woman. They do not believe that she could be intelligent about science. As a graduate student, Gifty does not want her colleagues to pay attention to her race or gender. She simply wants “to be thought of as a scientist, full stop.” In addressing this issue, this section further develops the role of racism in the book, expanding on Gifty’s childhood lesson that she would have to excel at everything she did if she wanted to survive and succeed in a racist environment.
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