Transcendent Kingdom

by

Yaa Gyasi

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Transcendent Kingdom: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Before her mother arrived, Gifty went to the campus bookstore and bought a Bible to keep on her mother’s nightstand. After a while, she starts flipping through it when she’s in her mother’s room, quizzing herself on all the verses she memorized as a child. In college, she wished she could clear her memory banks of them so that she could memorize more useful information, like proteins and nucleic acids. And there are other things she wishes she could forget, or that she never knew. Reading the Bible, adult Gifty finds herself drawn to the words in a way child Gifty, intent on memorization, hadn’t been.
If science and religion are irrevocably opposed to each other, Gifty is on Team Science now, so she feels that buying the Bible should be shameful. Yet, no one pays much attention to her purchase. And then, at home, she begins to revisit the sacred text of her childhood. Now, as an adult and as a person who has walked away from the Christianity of her upbringing, Gifty finds a fresh appreciation for the words of the Bible. This suggests that the enmity between faith and science isn’t, perhaps, as great as it first seemed. And it points to Gifty’s deeply spiritualized sense of the world, despite her exit from organized Christianity.
Themes
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Once, she wrote a journal entry about the first verse of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.” She took these words seriously and felt like an apostle writing a new book of the Bible. Later, when P.T. explained that the “Word” or “Logos” in the gospel meant something more like “plea” or “question,” Gifty felt stupid and betrayed. But she liked the ambiguity, too.
It's fitting that Gifty is drawn to the first verse of the gospel of John, since words—both sacred and scientific—are so important to her sense of herself and the world around her. As a child, she initially interpreted this verse narrowly, which allowed herself to imagine her own words of prayer to God as sacred. When she learned that logos had more interpretations, she was initially flummoxed, especially since she was a literalistic and rules-oriented child. Yet, like her mother’s suggestion that a life well lived could be a form of prayer, Gifty eventually embraced the ambiguity in the word. The idea of the logos as a plea or question is much more in line with Gifty’s adult personality, which can see the ambiguity and ambivalence in the world around her.
Themes
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In her junior year of college, Gifty heard a sermon about literalistic interpretation of the Bible by a female reverend. As a child, Gifty took the Bible to be “the infallible word of God” and she read it literally. In contrast, the reverend’s interpretation is non-literal but “humane” and “thoughtful.” Gifty felt her life would have been different if she’d grown up in this woman’s church rather than her own, which shunned intellectualism as a trap and sidestepped hard questions. That’s why P.T. had shut down Nana’s question about the villagers.
Recalling P.T.’s sermon leads Gifty to another memory of a time when she heard a sermon that expressed a different approach to Christianity than the one she’d been raised with. As a child, the only way that she understood the Bible to be true was to take it as literal. But this led to inhumane interpretations, such as P.T.’s assurance that anyone who hadn’t been “saved,” even if they hadn’t had an opportunity to learn about Christianity, would be sent to hell. However, Gifty’s appropriation of Biblical language and stories to tell her family’s history, as well as her mother’s mangled cliches, all point to the ways in which words can be used and interpreted in multiple ways.
Themes
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Pastor John’s sermons against the “ways of the world” were about drugs and sex but also about the kind of learning that makes a person question their beliefs. And his literalism shifted when his own daughter got pregnant at 17: God became less punitive and more forgiving, and the church was encouraged to be less judgmental, more open. Gifty understands that the Bible doesn’t change, but how people read it does.
The changes in Pastor John’s approach to teenage sexual sin after his own daughter became pregnant illustrated to Gifty, even as a child, that “literal” readings of the Bible are somewhat subject to interpretation and circumstance. Context is important. As Gifty ruminates on her religious upbringing, especially in contrast to the sermon she heard in college, it becomes clearer that she didn’t just grow up as a Christian, but as a certain type of Christian. And this suggests that if there are Christians who can balance faith with intellectual pursuits, then there are scientists who can have faith. Gifty’s experiences in Integrated Science already showed that some scientists could be just as bigoted and closed-minded about religion as Gifty’s church was close-minded and bigoted about science. The important difference is the context of belief in which people operate.
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After P.T.’s sermon, Gifty became more fascinated with the idea of the Logos and with words generally. She realized how her mother’s personality changed based on the language she used. In Fante with her friends, she was a girlish gossip; in Twi with her children, she was a mother, sometimes stern and sometimes warm; in English, she was “meek.” Gifty thinks that she couldn’t “translate who she really was into this new language” of English in America.
P.T.’s sermon became an important juncture in Gifty’s life, since it sensitized her to the importance of words and language. Paying attention to the personality her mother expresses in different languages, Gifty is forced to reckon with the multiplicity of life: her mother isn’t just one person, but she has many sides to her that can only be expressed in certain circumstances. It seems, then, that Gifty’s hope for a singular, unified self is naive.
Themes
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