Last Updated on February 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1402
As an adult, Gifty wants to know Nana’s experience from the inside. By taking notes during Nana’s battle with addiction, young Gifty tried but failed to find the way into her brother’s mind. Nana began stealing from their mother and sometimes went missing for days at a time. During this period, the Chin Chin Man called them regularly, but the conversations were not helpful. Nana came home and broke things, and Gifty and her mother hid from him. Gifty felt it was almost better when he was high, because he wasn’t violent. Adult Gifty tries to remember the day of Nana’s death, but she cannot, because she stopped writing in her diary that day and did not return to it for a long time. She and her mother had established the unspoken routine of not searching for Nana until the third day he had been missing. They believed that their routine would protect them and Nana. His death was an utter shock to them.
In the present, at the sandwich shop, Gifty runs into Katherine. The question of having children comes up in their conversation, leading Gifty to think about her sex life. Feeling good in a sexual way and being a good person felt incompatible to Gifty for a long time. Katherine asks Gifty why she decided to become a neuroscientist. Blurting out what she wanted to tell Katherine before, Gifty admits that her mother is depressed and will not leave Gifty’s bed. Katherine asks how she can help, and Gifty wants to reply that only God can help her.
The narration returns to the past. After Nana’s death, Gifty’s mother cried so hard that she fainted from dehydration. When Gifty called Pastor John for help, he came right away. He became a permanent part of their life from that point on. Soon after, Gifty’s mother threw a huge funeral for Nana, with singing and dancing that fit Ghanaian tradition. In heaven, Pastor John’s sermon said, Nana would be better off. Gifty could not believe this claim, and it proved a fatal blow to her faith.
The Chin Chin Man held a funeral for Nana in Ghana. It was well-attended, and Gifty’s mother was gratified. Gifty got in trouble with her mother because she asked the Chin Chin Man what he had told people about how Nana died. She and her mother were still navigating their relationship under their new circumstances, with just the two of them. After chiding Gifty, her mother took a sleeping pill. The pills often caused her to say mean things to Gifty, which Gifty understood as part of her mother’s grief. In one pill-induced daze, Gifty’s mother asked where she was. She refused to accept Gifty’s answer when Gifty told her they were at home.
Dealing with her mother’s depression has always been beyond her, Gifty says. When her mother stopped getting out of bed, young Gifty decided that she was going to care for her herself and did everything she could to make her mother get out of bed. In the present, Gifty reads the Bible to her mother, reflecting on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and how it fascinated her as a child.
During her college days, Gifty became fascinated with neuroscience as a way of understanding humanity. Still trying to find the reasons behind human behavior in the present, Gifty thinks about the point where science fails. Science and religion, she believes, are both valuable lenses for looking at the world, but they both break down at a certain point in their attempts to explain things. Gifty recalls her many college conversations with her friend Anne. Anne was trying to free her from religion, even as Gifty was developing her current attitude of spiritual wonder compatible with science.
Young Gifty tried each day to wake her mother up. One day she found her mother in the bathtub with an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side. She called Pastor John, who called an ambulance. Returning to consciousness, Gifty’s mother apologized and said that she should have let the Chin Chin Man take Nana back to Ghana.
Gifty stayed at Pastor John’s house while her mother was being treated. After coming home from treatment, her mother apologized and asked for Gifty’s prayers. The way she was acting told Gifty that she would never get her mother back. Gifty was sent to Ghana. When she arrived and first met her aunt, her aunt told her that her mother had always thought she was better than her family back in Africa but that what had happened showed that she was not. While in Ghana, Gifty was unable to picture her mother’s face. She could only see her back as it was turned to her while her mother was in bed.
In Ghana, young Gifty attended church with her aunt, a very different experience from their church in Alabama. The intensity of the service made Gifty think of it as “spiritual warfare,” but she did not participate. All she wanted was to go home. One day, she asked to see her father. In anger, Gifty confronted her father about what happened with Nana and her mother, and why he had not yet come to see her. After an awkward conversation in which her father entirely refused to address what Gifty had said, her aunt told her that the Chin Chin Man was ashamed. Gifty asked her mother when she could come home but knew the answer of “soon” was meaningless.
Adult Gifty explains the psychiatric term “anhedonia,” a feeling of nothingness in which one cannot experience pleasure. This concept, she thinks, explains what Nana and her mother experienced that led to their drug use and depression, respectively. As a lower-middle-class Black immigrant raised by a single parent, Nana had many risk factors for drug use. That social profile, however, does nothing to describe who he really was. The people she talks to about her work always want to know the cause of drug use. They deny that addiction is a disease because they want to believe that they will be free of it if they are “good people.” Gifty still falls victim to these kinds of thoughts at times, but she knows that her brother was more than a case study of an addict—he was a good person.
This section unfolds at greater length some of the events that Gifty has briefly mentioned earlier in the book: her mother’s first bout of depression, finding her mother in the bathtub, and being sent to Ghana. The reader now travels through those events with young Gifty, as opposed to only in adult Gifty’s mind. This change in the narrative technique helps the reader understand Gifty’s emotions and thought processes as she went through the events that shaped who she is today. It also provides a basis for comparing her mother’s first depression and Gifty’s experience during that time with what is happening in the book’s present. When Gifty tells the reader how she felt as a child and how she feels today, she uses the phrase “out of my depth” to describe both. As an adult, she feels no more equipped to deal with this situation than she was the first time.
The sense of abandonment by her community that young Gifty experiences in previous sections becomes even worse here. Almost everyone Gifty turns to, in her attempts to deal with Nana’s death and her mother’s depression, fails her. Due to the depression, her mother is unable to be there for her as Gifty deals with Nana’s death. When she is sent to Ghana, her aunt primarily speaks to her about how badly her mother has raised her. Her father does not come to see her at all. When she visits him and tries to hold him accountable, he refuses even to acknowledge what she is saying. Pastor John is the only person who is there for her and her mother, and he continues to do so in the book’s present. His role in her life may also partly explain why Gifty is still attached to some aspects of religion even though she no longer has faith.
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