Transcendent Kingdom

by

Yaa Gyasi

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Transcendent Kingdom: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gifty has been saved and baptized in the spirit, but not in water. Nana was baptized as a baby in Ghana, where the attitude towards belief was “more is more,” up to and including indigenous practices like the witch doctor. But in Alabama, the Pentecostals didn’t believe in infant baptism, thinking it needed to be a person’s own choice. Gifty spent her childhood waiting for a near-death experience to be “saved,” since she took the church’s words literally. She tried to invite Jesus into her heart, but she worried when she couldn’t tell if he’d accepted her invitation or not. Gifty longed to be baptized since it was a clear sign of salvation, and she tried to surreptitiously baptize herself in the bathtub a few times. 
Gifty’s religious tradition emphasizes personal choice and responsibility, so she wasn’t baptized as a child. This created anxiety for her, since she didn’t have a definitive sign that she'd been saved. As a child, Gifty longed for certainty in her religion. As an adult, although she still hopes to find answers with her scientific research, she knows that certainty isn’t guaranteed. And usually the certainties of scientific advance happen in very small and incremental steps. It’s also in line with Gifty’s self-sufficient character that she attempted to take matters into her own hands and self-baptize several times, just to have the sense that she’d followed the correct steps.
Themes
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
In the present, when Gifty’s wounded mouse dies, she blesses it. She realizes that she needs the mice more than they need her, because they are the key to her understanding. She believes that if her collaboration with them isn’t holy, it’s sacrosanct, although she knows that both the scientists and Christians in her life would be scandalized by her views.
The mouse’s death forces Gifty to reflect on the incremental nature of scientific revelation, and to accept that her success in her experiments isn’t guaranteed. Since she wants science—and her life—to reward her proper steps with a sure answer, this is a challenge for Gifty to accept. This is another one of the ways that Gifty understands science and religion to be more similar than different: both require their followers to have faith in the larger process, even when roadblocks like a failed experiment, a dead experimental subject, or personal traumas arise.
Themes
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Quotes
At home, Gifty tries to draw her mother out of her depression with music and by cleaning, believing that the harsh but familiar smell of bleach will make her feel more comfortable. One day, as Gifty dusts the windowsill, her mother asks her for some water. This makes Gifty almost impossibly happy. When her mother is done drinking, she lays back down and refuses more water. But she does chide Gifty for her dreadlocks, which she doesn’t like. Gifty stifles laughter at this sign of her mother’s life beneath her depression.
Gifty’s attempts to connect with her mother are rewarded randomly; in this way, Gifty herself is like her mice, who never know if they’ll receive a dose of Ensure or a painful shock. This is the key to her excessive reaction to her mother’s simple request. It’s also notable that Gifty is trying to draw her mother out by being good, and by doing tasks in the way she believes her mother wants or will approve of. Readers will come to learn that cleaning and cooking weren’t sufficient to heal her mother in the first depression, yet Gifty hasn’t yet figured out a new approach. Like her mice, she’s stuck in a reactive rut. Moreover, her mother doesn’t respond to the cleaning so much as expressing her disapproval over Gifty’s choice of hairstyle; the intimacy Gifty stubbornly wants to feel with her mother continues to elude her.
Themes
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon