Yaa Gyasi

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Homegoing Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi was born in Mampong, Ghana in 1989 to a professor and a nurse. When she was two years old, her family moved from Ghana to Ohio while her father completed his Ph.D. The family moved around to Illinois and Tennessee before settling in Alabama when Gyasi was ten years old. She was inspired to be a writer at age 17 after she read Tony Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and she earned a B.A. in English at Stanford. After graduating, she worked at a startup in San Francisco, but did not enjoy the work and went on to earn an M.F.A. at the Iowa Writers Workshop. After graduating, she published Homegoing, her debut novel, at age 26. She currently lives in New York City.
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Historical Context of Homegoing

Homegoing takes place over several centuries and touches on many landmark events in both Ghana and America. In Ghana, it begins in the mid-1700s, during a time in which Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) was made up of several Akan nation-states that together made an empire. Two of these states that the book includes are the Fante and the Asante nations. The book then documents the region’s trade with the British, who were the primary traders with the Gold Coast by the late nineteenth century. The British subsequently took advantage of an already existing system of taking war prisoners as slaves by the nations and bought those slaves for use in the trans-Atlantic slave trade (also known as the triangular trade). During this time, the Fantes and the Asantes maintained varying alliances with the British and with each other. In 1874, after the slave trade had largely been abolished, the British made Ghana a British Crown Colony, prompting wars between the British and the Asantes. In 1896, as is described in the book, the British overthrew the Asante king, Prempeh I, and when the Asantes rebelled against British rule in 1900, the British demanded they turn over the Golden Stool—the soul of the Asante nation and a symbol of its sovereignty. The end of the conflict resulted in the Asantes being annexed into the British Empire, but in practice they maintained their independence until Ghana as a whole gained independence in 1957. In America, the novel touches on the slavery system that resulted from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which transported the slaves from Ghana to Britain and the United States for forced labor, primarily in the American South. This trade was outlawed in 1808, but slavery remained intact in the United States until the Civil War. The brutality of the working and living conditions for slaves caused many to attempt to escape. However, in 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring law enforcement and citizens in free states to capture and return runaway slaves. Even after slavery was abolished, the convict lease system began during the Reconstruction era (1863-1877), which allowed private contractors to essentially purchase convicts from state or local governments, resulting in the unjust arrest of many African-American men and women. The book also touches on the Great Migration, in which 1.6 million African-Americans moved from southern rural areas to northern industrial cities between 1916 and 1930, with another 5 million moving between 1940 and 1970. This caused a new flourishing of culture in those large cities, including in 1920s New York City, which became the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance. The novel also gestures to more contemporary topics like the War on Drugs, in which there were (and still are) major racial disparities in arrests or imprisonment for drug possession in the United States.

Other Books Related to Homegoing

Gyasi was inspired by Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and connections to that work appear in its modern tracing of a family’s history. Homegoing is also somewhat of a fictional counterpart to the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates in its exploration of the lingering effects of slavery and institutionalized racism. Other books that grapple with the American black experience during the various historical periods that Gyasi touches on in Homegoing include Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women, which examines colonization and slavery in 1700s Jamaica; Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which takes place in 1850 in the American South and follows one character’s escape from slavery; and the works of James Baldwin (including Sonny’s Blues), many of which take place in early twentieth-century Harlem. Homegoing has also been compared to Gabriel García Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude for its sprawling documentation of a culture and a place through the lens of a family’s history. In terms of modern African novels written in English that touch on some of Gyasi’s themes, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (which explores colonization’s effect on the Nigerian Igbo people) stands out as a major predecessor, as well as the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—particularly Americanah, which tells the story of a young Nigerian woman who comes to the United States to attend college.
Key Facts about Homegoing
  • Full Title: Homegoing
  • When Written: 2012-2015
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 2016
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Setting: Ghana, Alabama, Harlem, Los Angeles, 1700s-2000s
  • Climax: Marjorie and Marcus return to Ghana together
  • Point of View: Third person; each chapter focuses on a different member of Esi and Effia’s family

Extra Credit for Homegoing

Planting a tree. In preparation for writing Homegoing, Gyasi created the family tree first, then connected each member of the tree to a historical event as an outline for the novel.

An inspiring homegoing. The idea for Homegoing was inspired by Gyasi’s own trip to the Cape Coast Castle during her sophomore year of college, where she was fascinated with the idea that people could live in luxury on the top levels while others lived in misery in the dungeons below.