Transcendent Kingdom


Yaa Gyasi

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Transcendent Kingdom: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

In Sunday School, Gifty was taught that sin was anything a person says, thinks, or does that goes against God. Because she was good and pious, she didn’t worry about saying and doing, but she worried about whether people had control over their thoughts. She knew she could control one layer, but not the rest, which she now understands is the subconscious.
In comparing her childhood intuition that she only had control over some of herself—her words and actions, but not her thoughts—with her adult understanding of the subconscious, Gifty draws another line of comparison between religion and science. Both understand that there is a difference between what one does consciously (words and actions) and what one thinks. But, for Gifty, who wanted to be able to follow the rules and do the right things, the idea that she could sin in an area she couldn’t fully control was horrifying. Science, by releasing the conscious mind from responsibility for the subconscious mind, releases her of the unnecessarily harsh responsibility for her thoughts she felt from her religious upbringing.
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Gifty thinks of Jesus’s words in Matthew telling his followers to love God with their hearts (the part that feels), minds (the part that thinks), and souls (the part that is). Neuroscientists don’t talk about the soul, equating it with the brain. But as a child, Gifty believed in the soul. She remembers praying for the soul of Buddy the dog before he died. She wonders what child Gifty would make of adult Gifty, although she realizes she’s mostly looking for new names for old feelings, and that she gives the brain the same qualities she used to give to the soul.
On some levels, Gifty understands that her adult approach to science is not so different from her childhood reliance on religion. Both offer to explain some of what makes a person a person. But neither can fully explain what that is. Religion calls it the “soul” but doesn’t fully explain how this is different from or dependent on the heart and the mind. Neuroscience accepts the brain as the controlling force behind the person that is, but can’t fully explain how the brain works.
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Gifty has few memories of the Chin Chin Man, and most come from family stories. After he left, they tried to keep their lives the same for his eventual return. Nana started playing more soccer, earning a spot on the travel team. But once, when it was Gifty’s mother’s turn to chaperone, she had to take Gifty along, too. Gifty made a nuisance of herself on the two-hour bus ride to the game. When they arrived, Nana refused to get off the bus and said he didn’t want to play anymore. 
The memory of the bus ride on which Nana decided to quit soccer is pivotal in several ways. First, it marks the moment when Gifty, Nana, and their mother all tacitly accept that the Chin Chan Man won’t be coming back for them, ever. Second, it explains how Gifty fell into her familial role of caretaker. And third, it shows how Nana’s dedication and drive, when deprived of their purpose (soccer was an important way he connected with his father), can turn inward in dangerous ways. 
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Instead of pointing out how much she’d sacrificed for the trip and how precarious the family’s situation was, Gifty’s mother sighed deeply. She told Nana that he didn’t have to play anymore. She walked with her children to the Greyhound bus station and rode back to Huntsville with them wrapped in her arms. That day was the end of Gifty’s naughtiness. At home, her mother sealed Nana’s soccer gear into a box and hid it in the garage. 
Gifty’s transition from troublemaker to caretaker happens on this one day, at least in her memory. Now that the family understands that they have shrunk by one member, the roles are reassigned. Nana becomes Gifty’s primary caretaker. And in her own way, Gifty tries to become a caretaker in her own right by ending her naughtiness and trying to ease her mother’s challenging life by being a good girl. Importantly, this is also one of the few memories Gifty has where her mother acts in a comforting, maternal way rather than her usual, more strict and direct form of address. The embrace the three share on the bus ride home shows their dependence on each other, but also highlights how isolated they are in the community in which they live. They have each other and no one else to rely on.
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