Marjorie is in Ghana visiting her grandmother Akua when a boy asks her in English if she wants to see the Cape Coast Castle. She explains in Twi that she’s from Ghana, but he’s confused because she had just arrived from America.
Marjorie’s initial interaction with this young Ghanaian boy highlights the main conflict in her chapter: that she doesn’t feel fully Ghanaian or American.
Marjorie arrives at Akua’s house. Akua had moved to a bungalow on the beach to be near the water. She speaks to her grandmother in Twi, which is the opposite of what she does at home with her parents, who speak Twi while she answers in English. They had done this since the day they had received a note from a teacher asking if Marjorie knew English because she rarely volunteered to answer questions.
Marjorie’s teacher’s note demonstrates a kind of cultural elitism and stereotype. The teacher assumes that because Marjorie is from another country and speaks another language at home that she does not know English.
Marjorie and Akua go to the beach together, and Akua notes that Marjorie is wearing Effia’s stone necklace. Akua explains that their family began here, in Cape Coast. She has come to live by the water to hear the spirits trapped within it. The spirits, she explains, had not known where they came from, and so they did not know how to get to dry land. Marjorie walks out into the water with her grandmother.
Akua explains a concept that Marcus elaborates on in the next chapter: that the water itself is a representation of oppression, as many people had drowned throwing themselves off of the slave ships. Akua’s actions then serve as a kind of repentance, as she tries to listen to the spirits of those who had lost their lives.
Marjorie returns to Alabama, just about to enter high school. There are more black students there than she is used to seeing, but she quickly realizes that they are not the same kind of black. One of her classmates, Tisha, asks her why she speaks the way she does, imitating her almost with a British accent. Tisha says Marjorie sounds like a white girl.
Marjorie’s dynamics with the other girls in her class reflect the legacy of colonialism, as the other girls make fun of her accent for sounding almost British because of the influence of the British in Ghana for generations.
Marjorie realizes that in America, “white” could be the way someone spoke; “black” could be the music someone listened to. In Ghana, one could only be the color of one’s skin. Marjorie’s mother, Esther, tells her not to mind them.
The difference between Marjorie and the other girls also demonstrates how in America, one’s identity is largely defined by the culture they grow up in and take part of because (as with Robert) someone can straddle different cultural worlds.
Marjorie befriends Mrs. Pinkston, one of two black teachers in the school. Mrs. Pinkston tells her to find the books that she loves, that she feels deep within her. Marjorie tries to search for those books. One day in the library, a boy named Graham compliments her choice of Middlemarch before introducing himself. His father is in the military and his family had just moved to Alabama from Germany.
Mrs. Pinkston serves as an important relationship for Marjorie because she helps Marjorie start to define her identity on her own terms, not based on what other people think she should fit into because of her heritage.
Graham and Marjorie quickly become friends, reading in the library while everyone else eats lunch. Sometimes Graham leaves a note with his own writing, but Marjorie is too shy to show him hers.
Marjorie finds Graham’s friendship valuable, but as it develops it reveals that even in a much more contemporary time period, there is still a stigma surrounding interracial couples.
Marjorie goes home and asks Yaw when he knew he liked Esther. Esther asks if she likes someone, or if someone has asked her to prom. Marjorie says no, embarrassed. Esther tells her that if a boy likes her, she has to tell him that she likes him too, otherwise he will never do anything about it.
Esther’s advice stems from more equal gender dynamics. Unlike many of her female forbearers, Marjorie is allowed a little more agency in expressing her interest in Graham.
Mrs. Pinkston is putting on a black cultural event for the school, and asks Marjorie if she would read a poem about what being African American means to her. Marjorie says, however, that she’s not African American. She thinks how at home, they had a different word: akata, people who were too long gone from the mother continent to continue calling it home. But Mrs. Pinkston explains that in America, it doesn’t matter where a person comes from to white people; black is black.
Mrs. Pinkston’s argument has merit in that in many ways, white people still get to define the identities of black people. However, Marjorie’s story illustrates another dimension: how many of her black classmates also see that her Ghanaian heritage makes her different, and that she feels that they in turn do not share the same culture that she has.
That night, Marjorie goes to see a movie with Graham. After the movie, they drive to a clearing in the woods. Graham has a bottle of whiskey and lights a cigarette, playing with his lighter. She asks him to put it away: ever since she heard Akua’s story, she has been terrified of fire.
Marjorie’s fear of fire shows that she has inherited its association with destruction, and reinforces its symbolism of her family’s early involvement in the slave trade.
Graham asks Marjorie if she liked the movie, but she had only been focused on him. She wonders if she’s in love. Graham asks if he can see some of her writing. She says that she’s writing a poem for Mrs. Pinkston’s assembly. He says he’d love to read it.
Graham’s desire to see Marjorie’s writing serves as a way of marking that he likes her and respects her for her intelligence, breaking with old gender stereotypes.
Marjorie is working on her poem when Yaw gets a call from Ghana, saying that Akua is very frail. Marjorie speaks to her on the phone, asking if she’s sick. Akua tells her that she’ll see her this summer. Marjorie goes back to her room and sees that all she has written on her paper is “Water. Water. Water. Water.”
While Marcus is afraid of water, for Marjorie water represents something very different. She has made the same journey as her American counterparts (from Ghana to the American South), but under very different circumstances. This difference ultimately inspires her poem, about a lost sister and the difference in heritage that that sister might have.
Marjorie and Graham go on another date to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Graham says America wouldn’t have a space program without the Germans. Marjorie asks if he misses Germany. He says he’s used to moving, and then asks if she would move back to Ghana. She says that she doesn’t think so: she doesn’t feel like she belongs there anymore. She says she feels her grandmother, Akua, is the only one who really understands her. When she looks up, Graham kisses her.
The development of Graham and Marjorie’s romantic relationship documents some of the progress that society has made in that they date at all, whereas only two generations before (with Robert and Willie, for example), it seemed almost impossible for interracial couples to exist.
For weeks, Marjorie waits for news about Akua. At school, she is quiet. She eats lunch one day in the cafeteria, and Graham comes over to sit with her. He asks if she’s okay, since he hasn’t seen her since they kissed. A brunette girl then approaches Graham and Marjorie. She whispers to him that he shouldn’t sit with Marjorie. He replies that he’s fine where he is. Marjorie tells him he can go, but she really wants him to stay. Instead, he gets up, and she sees how easy it is for him to leave and slip in with the other students.
The interaction with the brunette girl exposes a remnant of the racism in the society, not only from the girl who believes that Graham shouldn’t be sitting with Marjorie, but also in Graham himself. Even though he sticks up for Marjorie at first, he takes the easy way out by returning to his other white classmates instead of remaining with her.
The theme for prom is The Great Gatsby. That night, Marjorie watches a movie with her parents. The phone rings, and Graham tells her that he’s sorry he can’t take her. His father hadn’t thought it would be proper, and the school hadn’t thought it was appropriate. Graham had tried to explain to the principal that she was “not like other black girls,” which had made her feel worse. She tells him she has to go and hangs up.
Again, just like with Robert, the society’s implicit racism rears its ugly head when Graham implies that Marjorie is better than other black girls because she is Ghanaian, which also plays into a colonialist narrative. It is also notable that both because of her race and her gender, it appears that Marjorie is unable to fight for her own right to go with Graham.
At the school assembly, Marjorie gets very nervous. Mrs. Pinkston introduces her, and she reads a poem that refers to her family’s history at the Castle, to slavery, and to a lost sister. When she looks up, Yaw is standing at the door, but she cannot see the tears running down his face.
Marjorie’s poem reveals how she feels connected to her family’s history and how it has come to shape her understanding of herself in America. Yaw’s tears also confirm that even though he acknowledges his family’s past, they have still not found a way to make peace with that history.
Akua dies in her sleep before summer. Marjorie takes the rest of the year off; her grades are so good it doesn’t make much of a difference. Marjorie watches the funeral service, and when her grandmother has been buried, she throws herself onto her grave and cries, “Me Mam-yee, me Maame.”
Marjorie’s final cries highlight how valuable her family, particularly her grandmother, is to her. Maame means mother in Twi, and provides Marjorie’s actions with a dual meaning, as she is also crying out to the first mother in the entire novel, Maame—the true matriarch of the entire family.