Quey lies awake in the village where his mother, Effia, grew up. He pictures the prisoners being brought into the cellars by the tens and twenties. He wishes he were still in his office in the Castle, logging numbers so that he could ignore the fact that those numbers represented people.
Even more than Effia, Quey becomes directly involved in the slave trade because he takes up his father’s business, and he thus inherits the curse that is carried on to later generations.
Quey had been sent to the village because the British had enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Abeeku and wanted to set up an outpost there to ensure their good relationship continued, as they had begun trading with other companies. The new governor of the Castle thought that Quey would be a good choice to send because he knew the language and customs, even though Quey had never stepped foot in Effia’s village.
In this passage, Quey begins to express some of his discomfort with his own identity, which had occurred primarily as a result of colonization and his mixed-race heritage. While his mother is Fante, he doesn’t feel that he truly fits into the village or the culture from which his mother originated.
In the morning, Quey goes to see his uncle Fiifi, who welcomes him into his hut for a meal. Quey tells him that the company wants to buy more slaves from the village, but they have to stop trading with other companies. Quey had given this speech before and had been ignored many times.
Quey’s interactions with Fiifi confirm just how far, metaphorically, he is from the village and its customs, because he is going to the village to broker on behalf of the British, and not going to the British on behalf of the Fantes.
Fiifi is silent, listening to two birds in the distance. He says that what you cannot hear is the third bird, the female bird, who listens to the two birds until they have finished speaking, and then speaks up and chooses a mate. The village, he tells Quey, must act like the female bird, waiting for the companies to pay more and more until the price is right. Quey sighs, and comments that there had been no birds like this in London.
Fiifi’s story reads much like the story that Tansi tells in the previous chapter about Anansi—using myths and nature to model behavior or to explain how certain things have come to be. Quey’s response again emphasizes how little he relates to that lineage of storytelling and those customs.
Quey had been a lonely child. When Quey was born, James had built a hut close to the Castle so that he and Effia could live more comfortably. Trade had been prosperous in those days, but Quey never saw the dungeons.
The location of Quey and Effia’s hut becomes a physical representation of his identity: between the Castle and the village, but not quite inside either one of them.
Effia is a patient and loving mother, in an attempt to be as little like Baaba as possible. She never hits Quey, even when others taunt her that she is spoiling him. She teaches him Fante and English. She also tells him the story of her mother Maame and the black stone Maame had given her.
Effia takes it upon herself to try and be a better mother so that her son will have more loving relationships, pinning her hopes on the idea that her Quey might have a better life than she did.
Quey laments that their family is so small, unlike the other families. Effia worries that he has no friends and doesn’t play with the other village children, but James Collins says that he needs to learn to make friends on his own. Nonetheless, a few weeks later, the chief of a prominent Fante village comes to visit with his son, Cudjo Sackee, in tow.
Quey’s loneliness is born of his status as a biracial child, and James and Effia’s reactions seem to imply that they have a difficult time knowing exactly how to socialize their child as well.
While their fathers conduct business, Quey and Cudjo walk off to a different side of the Castle. Cudjo asks if Quey is white, touching his hair. Quey says that he is not white. Cudjo says that if Quey isn’t white, what is he? Quey doesn’t know how to respond, and he nearly starts to cry. Seeing that Quey is upset, Cudjo asks Quey to show him the cannons.
Quey and Cudjo quickly become friends. Two weeks later, Quey visits Cudjo’s village—the first village he spends a lot of time in. He is amazed at how children are allowed to roam free and conduct their own business. Cudjo picks up two snails to race. Quey’s snail immediately takes off, while Cudjo’s only travels in circles. When they lose sight of Quey’s snail, Cudjo turns to shake Quey’s hand in defeat.
Quey’s amazement, even as a child, reveals how far he already is from the life of a typical child living in a village, and how far he is from the life his own mother had in her village. As Cudjo makes him feel increasingly at home, perhaps this feeling of belonging helps prompt his eventual return to the Fante village.
Cudjo says that they should name the snails. He suggests that they call his snail Richard because he is a bad snail, like the way the British are bad. Quey agrees, forgetting for a second that his father, James Collins, is British, and for the first time feeling like he really belongs.
Even though Quey has had a good upbringing from his mother, he still feels resentful of his father because of the way in which his father makes him feel like an outsider.
The boys grow older. Quey grows in height while Cudjo grows in muscle. Cudjo becomes known for his wrestling prowess, but Quey never challenges him. He only watches Cudjo’s movements, imagining Cudjo’s strong arms around him.
As Quey and Cudjo’s friendship develops, it is heavily implied that Quey has romantic feelings for Cudjo, but that these feelings have to be cut off because of the society’s expectations of masculinity.
Cudjo tries to get Quey to wrestle, but Quey tells him to get “Richard” to wrestle him. The boys had started to name everything Richard, blaming “Richard” for getting into trouble or praising him for helping them win a race. Quey says that Richard would have no trouble beating Cudjo because of Cudjo’s soft arms. Cudjo puts Quey in a headlock, warning that there is nothing soft about him. When Cudjo lets Quey go, Quey says he knows Cudjo would never hurt him. Cudjo gets very close to him, asking Quey to challenge him. Quey feels Cudjo’s breath on his lips.
The flirtation here also implies that Cudjo may return Quey’s feelings, although it is never fully revealed if this is the case. At the same time, it is easier for Cudjo to sidestep any accusations of being gay because he has these other markers of stereotypical masculinity (like wrestling prowess and strength) to defend him from any ridicule, while Quey does not.
The next week, Cudjo fights a match against a British soldier who had said that Cudjo would never be able to beat a white man. Many other soldiers gather to watch, and Cudjo brings his father and brothers. Quey watches as well. A minute after the match begins, Cudjo has the soldier pinned. More challengers come forward, and Cudjo beats them all.
The challenge against Cudjo is born out of racist feelings of superiority, and it is interesting to see how this stereotype changes over time: in later chapters in America, African men like Sam quickly are pigeonholed by stereotypes of being described like animals, and so they are treated as such. These simply serve as different tactics of subjugation by white men.
The solders leave; Cudjo’s father and brothers go back to the village, while Cudjo plans to spend the night at Cape Coast Castle with Quey. Quey then says he’ll wrestle Cudjo, tackling him to the ground. Within seconds, Cudjo is on top of Quey, pinning him down. Slowly, Quey relaxes his body and feels Cudjo do the same. They stare at each other, slowing their breath, until Quey feels the impulse to draw his face towards Cudjo’s.
Quey and Cudjo are very close to escaping the strict expectations of what masculinity means, but ultimately they are unable to, and Quey’s shame forces him to spend the rest of his life attempting not to appear weak in response.
James Collins interrupts them, telling them to get up. Quey doesn’t know how long his father has been watching, but hears the measured threat and fear in his voice. James tells Cudjo to go home. The next month, just before Quey’s fourteenth birthday, Quey boards a ship to England for school.
For even potentially being gay, Quey is separated not only from his best friend but also from his society as a whole, teaching him a harsh lesson about the expectations placed on him as a man.
Back at the meeting with Fiifi, Quey remembers that Cudjo had recently asked to see him, hearing that Quey had returned from London. He wonders aloud if he should have stayed there, even though he had seen the way black people lived in white countries. Fiifi tells Quey not to be weak. Quey thanks his uncle for the meal and leaves.
Quey connects his outsider status both to being attracted to Cudjo and also to being biracial. Because he found it easier to live in London, he also starts to associate his living there with weakness, which Fiifi points out here as well.
Quey goes to oversee the boys transporting slaves. On this day, there are only five slaves, including a young girl who had messed herself. He thinks of his father, who had received so many slaves; James Collins had died shortly after Quey left for London. He wonders how James felt about what he did, if he was mixed with the same shame and loathing Quey felt.
The societal expectations that Quey feels about being gay then affect his feelings about taking part in the slave trade: he comes to expect that self-loathing is a normal part of life, and that one is expected to overcome that kind of weakness.
Quey sees Abeeku Badu in the village, already drunk. Abeeku tells Quey that he should tell Effia to visit. Quey doubts she would visit, as she still feels that there is evil in the village, even though Baaba had died many years prior. He also knows she would never want to see Abeeku, because she had genuinely cared for James Collins. And even though Quey hated James, there was a part of him that still wanted to please him.
Even though Effia had been a good mother to Quey and in many ways given him a better life than she had, the same is not true of James Collins and Quey. James had made Quey feel like an outsider and feel pressured to participate in an immoral institution.
Weeks go by, and Quey does not answer Cudjo’s request to see him. Instead, he dives into work. Trade has continued to increase, and the methods of gathering slaves have become so reckless that sometimes Fiifi asks for help from another Fante village. As he prepares for one of those missions, Quey realizes the other village is Cudjo’s village, because he sees Cudjo preparing for battle alongside Fiifi.
As many characters come to realize later, the British involvement in the slave trade and colonization has made a bad system worse. Because slaves have become valuable in Europe and America, villages like Fiifi’s not only capture prisoners during wars with each other, but now they capture slaves whenever they can simply to make a profit.
Cudjo greets Quey, asking why he hasn’t returned his message. Quey says he didn’t have time. Cudjo looks broader and taller, but essentially the same. Cudjo comments on the fact that Quey hasn’t married, telling him that he married last spring—as a chief must be married. Cudjo also notes that Quey speaks English like a British man. He tells Quey that he is always welcome in his village before running off to start the mission.
As Quey and Cudjo catch up, Cudjo’s questions once again reinforce the expectations that had been placed on them—particularly on Cudjo as a village chief, as the novel points out the pattern or the expectation of the most powerful men in the village to have many wives and children.
Quey wonders why Cudjo would comment on the fact that he is unmarried, and how he could be welcome in Cudjo’s village. He asks himself how it would all work: would he live in the chief’s compound? In his own hut, like a wife? Or on the edge of the village, alone?
Quey’s curiosity about how he and Cudjo could possibly live together still elucidates the norms of the society, as Quey still tries to imagine what life would be like within the framework of wives having their own huts.
Four weeks later, Quey is summoned to the slave cellar. Fiifi has returned with a large gash, and Fiifi’s men are clearly shaken. Quey asks what happened. In the corner of the cellar he sees two large men bleeding, as well as a young girl with an Asante marking. He realizes that she is Nana Yaa, the daughter of the Asante king, and Fiifi has stolen her.
Fiifi’s plan and capture of the Asante king’s daughter is centered on the idea that Quey should return to the village and should regain his sense of belonging there, marrying Nana Yaa for her royalty and to protect the village from the Asantes.
Quey tells Fiifi that the Asantes will not forgive what he has done. Fiifi says that the Asantes have been angry with them for years, since they found out that the Fantes traded a few Asantes many years prior.
The conflict between the Fantes and the Asantes gets at the heart of the tragedy of the book: one Gold Coast tribe betraying another, to the benefit only of the British.
A house girl approaches Fiifi with food, but he says that she must serve his “son” first. Quey wonders why he says that—Quey is not his son. Fiifi reminds him that mothers and sisters are the most important: if a person is a chief, his sister’s son is his successor because his sister is born of his mother, but his wife is not.
Although Fiifi notes that mothers and sisters are the most important family members, the society is still patriarchal and male-centric. Even if the family line is traced through women, it is only the men who remain in power, emphasizing women’s importance primarily through their ability to have children.
Fiifi goes on to say, however, that Effia is not the daughter of his mother. Furthermore, because Baaba had hated her, Fiifi had hated Effia too, particularly when she left to live with the British. He confesses that this hate fueled him, because he wanted to be better and richer than the British. He began to hate Effia and James Collins, but also himself for the person he had become.
Fiifi’s story demonstrates how personal involvement and hatred allowed colonization to thrive. In wanting to be better than the British, Fiifi and the other Fantes were still forced to be complicit in their system of slavery, to the detriment of other villages on the Gold Coast.
Fiifi concludes by saying that everything he has built in the village will soon come to nothing, because he has sons but no sisters. He wants to leave what he has to Quey, to make up for the way that Baaba treated Effia. Fiifi tells Quey that tomorrow night he will marry Nana Yaa, so that the Asante king cannot kill him or anyone in the village. Fiifi says he will ensure that Quey becomes a powerful man.
Fiifi sees Quey as a means for his own line and lineage to progress, both in leaving him what he has built in the village and also in providing him with a politically protective marriage.
Quey resolves not to be weak. He would not go to Cudjo’s village. He would marry for protection. He is involved in the business of slavery, and he knows that in that business, sacrifices have to be made.