Gifty considers a recent study showing that schizophrenics in India and Ghana hear friendlier voices than in America. She remembers her aunt pointing out the “crazy person” in the market and how no one seemed to fear him. And she remembers her mother’s experiences with the ghost that haunted her cousins’ apartment when she first came to America.
Even neuroscientific questions are subject to culture, as these experiments demonstrating the different expressions of mental illness in different cultures demonstrate. While mental illness may be universal, Gifty understands that the experience of its symptoms is often painfully contingent on one’s circumstances. Her connection of the crazy person with her mother’s depression and her mother’s ghost story initially suggests that Gifty sees the ghost as an indication of mental illness.
The ghost only came out when Gifty’s mother was alone. Her cousin had complained about the high phone bills, so she had stopped calling the Chin Chin Man so much. She was fond of the ghost, who would brush the back of her hand and make her feel less lonely.
Yet the ghost doesn’t really seem to indicate any inherent instability in Gifty’s mother, just her loneliness. Her experience as a young and recent immigrant was incredibly isolating, and the ghost helped her to get through that time.
Remembering the ghost story gives Gifty an idea, and she starts to rub her mother’s back or squeeze her hand when she goes into her room. One day, her mother comments that this affection shows that she’s becoming “soft like an American,” but since mockery is her way of showing affection, Gifty is excited rather than insulted. Her mother turns towards her and tells Gifty that she works too much. Gifty replies that she learned from her mother and asks if she would like to come to the lab. Her mother says “maybe,” then lies back down. Gifty knows it might be days or weeks before she will reach her mother again.
In remembering the ghost, Gifty also realizes that she can do more to connect with her mother. This includes touching her, which Gifty hasn’t yet tried (she’s been so focused on food, cleaning, and trying to talk). When she adjusts her approach to meet her mother’s needs rather than her own expectations, Gifty has better luck, and these caresses do evoke a response and create an opening for Gifty to connect with her mother.