Transcendent Kingdom


Yaa Gyasi

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Transcendent Kingdom makes teaching easy.

Transcendent Kingdom: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Gifty walks into her apartment, which smells like oil, pepper, rice, and plantains: her mother is making food. Her mother wants to know how Gifty eats without eggs, milk, or flour in the house, and Gifty confesses that she doesn’t cook much. If she’d spent more time in the kitchen as a child, her mother says, she would have learned. Gifty watches her drop plantains into the hot oil, unbothered by it splashing. She asks if her mother remembers putting hot oil on Nana’s foot. Her mother turns to face Gifty, holding the strainer like a weapon. She says, “I never, never did that,” and Gifty realizes that mentioning it was a mistake. But she knows it happened.
Gifty has been trying to draw her mother out since her arrival, and now it appears that something has shifted. Importantly, her mother rises from bed to make food, which Gifty has been trying to use to forge a connection between the two of them since her mother came to stay with her. Even so, this activity highlights the difference between the two women: Gifty doesn’t generally cook for herself and doesn’t stock her kitchen the way her mother would. Watching her mother make fried plantains reminds Gifty of a childhood moment when her mother treated one of Nana’s small childhood injuries with a Ghanaian folk remedy of hot oil. Her mother’s angry denial strains the fragile connection between the two.
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
Shortly after the Chin Chin Man left, her mother hosted a party for the Ghana Association of Alabama. Although Gifty and Nana were afraid that they’d be pitied by the others, they found themselves enjoying the party and began to have a food fight. When Gifty hid behind the couch for an ambush, she knocked a piece of the couch loose. Nana soon stepped on it, puncturing his foot with a long nail.
In Gifty’s memory of the Ghana Association party, food again symbolizes intimacy. She and Nana had worried that the party would merely serve to highlight the difficulties of their life, including their father’s abandonment and their mother’s challenging personality. Yet the food—in the form of a childhood food fight—allows Nana and Gifty to connect with the other children and feel some joy, at least until Nana is accidentally injured.
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
The adults gathered around to discuss the injury, worrying about tetanus, and trying to outdo each other as they discuss Ghanaian folk remedies. Gifty’s mother took Nana to the kitchen, dipped a spoon in hot oil, and used it to clean and close the wound, while Nana screamed in pain. Gifty can’t imagine that her mother doesn’t remember, but she drops the subject while her mother serves their dinner. Gifty has seconds, because the food is delicious and because she’s so relieved by signs of life from her mother. But when she leaves for the lab the next morning, her mother is still in bed.
In the wake of this accident, everyone has advice to offer Gifty’s mother. But, perhaps to demonstrate her independence, she forestalls the advice by treating Nana’s foot with hot oil then and there. This remedy, while apparently successful (Nana didn’t get any infections or come down with tetanus), was also cruel and painful. It is thus emblematic of the way Gifty views her mother’s parenting: effective, but unsentimental to the point of pain for her children. Gifty drops the delicate subject during dinner, but her mother refuses to get out of bed in the morning. There are two possible interpretations to this. In one, her mother is upset that Gifty brought up the hot oil incident and is punishing her with silence. In the other, she is suffering through the symptoms of a major depression and her sleepiness isn’t a comment on Gifty or her actions. But Gifty can’t tell which is the truth, and as a consequence, readers are also left guessing her mother’s motives—or lack thereof. 
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon