The primary form of inequality explored in Homegoing is racial inequality, but throughout the novel, Gyasi also reveals the ways in which racism intersects with gender. For both men and women, rigid gender stereotypes become a large factor in the way that they are violently oppressed: for women, the patriarchal societies on both the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana) and in America lead to a lack of autonomy and sexual violation; for men, assumptions of strength and anger lead to brutal working conditions and physical degradation.
From the beginning of the book, the men are expected to take on roles that require physical strength and unemotional demeanors. As a result, the types of struggles they face stem from that expectation as they are physically tormented. On the Gold Coast, society is structured in the way that men are expected to be fearsome soldiers and strong fathers. For men like Quey and James, who are the son and grandson of a British official and a Fante woman, it is assumed that they can be both emotionally and physically hardened to the social systems around them, like other men on the Gold Coast. Quey takes part in the slave trade because he worries that if he does not, he will look weak. James has the same fear, although he tries to overcome it by running away from his village, despite the knowledge that his family will judge him harshly for doing so. In America, Sam is forced to work in brutal conditions on a plantation and is treated like he is subhuman and an animal. Because of his anger at his enslavement and his refusal to surrender his culture, he is often whipped until pools of blood form at his feet. When he tries to escape with wife, Ness, he is hanged. The slave system initiates a vicious catch-22: men are expected to be strong to work, but they are also expected to submit to cruel treatment, otherwise they are killed. Two generations later, H is sentenced to prison and sold in the convict-lease system. He watches as other men bid on him like goods. H then works in the coal mines alongside other black prisoners. He is under constant threat of being crushed by the falling rock or killed if he doesn’t work hard enough.
For the female characters in the book, the opposite assumption is made: the oppression of women is not in order to make them feel weak, but based on sexist assumptions of their weakness. Thus, in addition to being brutalized, women are often unable to find autonomy or jobs, instead being controlled by men and often sexually violated. From the very beginning of the novel, men control the fates of Maame and her two daughters: Maame was been raped as a house girl before escaping to her old village. Her first daughter, Effia, is married off by her father to a British officer named James Collins. Maame’s other daughter, Esi, is sold by the same officer and sent to America. Before she leaves, she is subjected to terrible conditions inside the women’s prison of the Cape Coast Castle. She watches as women are starved, abused, and have their babies taken away. She, like many others, is also raped by a soldier. Other characters also endure sexism: on the Gold Coast, women are largely responsible for watching over the children and cooking, and men control their fates. For example, Abena cannot marry because her father is not wealthy, and thus she is treated like an old maid and a mistress. The sexual violation continues into more contemporary time periods. In the early twentieth-century in Harlem, a white man discovers that Robert (whom he had thought was white) and Willie are married. He then forces Robert to kiss and touch her while he watches and masturbates. Even though both of them are being victimized, it is Robert who still relents to this act.
Gyasi reveals patterns in the novel of how stereotypes and bias based on gender can greatly affect characters in conjunction with race. Even by the end of the novel, Marcus describes how easy it is for him to be thought of as an angry, violent black man, and Marjorie sees how her identity as a black girl makes her unable to date a white boy in her class while the school won’t even listen to her arguments. Yet even as they face these issues, Gyasi shows the progress that has been made: both of them are attending Stanford for graduate school, something that would not have been possible even one generation earlier. Although gender stereotypes persist, Gyasi suggests, progress eventually bends toward equality.
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence ThemeTracker
Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Quotes in Homegoing
“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”
This was how they lived there, in the bush: Eat or be eaten. Capture or be captured. Marry for protection. Quey would never go to Cudjo's village. He would not be weak. He was in the business of slavery, and sacrifices had to be made.
“I did it,” Ness says. She has spent the night hidden in the left corner of the room, watching this man she's been told is her husband become the animal he's been told that he is.
An unmarried twenty-five-year-old woman was unheard of, in her village or any other on this continent or the next. But there were only a few men in her village, and none of them wanted to take a chance with Unlucky's daughter.
And if he slammed the book down, then everyone in the room would stare and all they would see would be his skin and his anger, and they’d think they knew something about him, and it would be the same something that had justified putting his great-grandpa H in prison, only it would be different too, less obvious than it once was.