Transcendent Kingdom

by

Yaa Gyasi

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Transcendent Kingdom: Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
About a week after their lunch at the Thai place, Gifty runs into Katherine in the sandwich shop. For a long time, Gifty has gone out of her way to avoid recognition and companionship like this. Katherine muses about living on the west coast and the trouble of balancing her career with her husband’s desire for kids. She asks if Gifty wants any, and Gifty says “no.”
Although she wasn’t able to open up to Katherine at their previous lunch, fate seems to hand Gifty another opportunity when she randomly encounters Katherine in the café. Katherine continues to offer intimacy and connection to Gifty, and her openness begins to break down some of Gifty’s barriers.
Themes
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
Gifty finds herself confessing her inadvertent year-long celibacy to Katherine. She is surprised she said anything, since she’s still timid on the subject thanks to her early religious training. She remembers when she lost her virginity just after college. She was so tense that the sex barely worked. But she’d enjoyed it enough to continue her relationship with her boyfriend, at least until she left for grad school.
Despite her tendency to avoid talking about herself and especially her problems, Gifty finds herself opening up to Katherine. She doesn’t start with her real worry (her mother), though, opting for the safer ground of sex. But by confessing her involuntary celibacy, she’s also acknowledging how isolated she has become in the last year of her research.
Themes
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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
Katherine changes the topic, asking Gifty how she got into neuroscience. Thrown off guard, Gifty blurts out that her mother is staying with her and that she’s depressed and resistant to help after a bad experience in psychiatric care. Katherine expresses sympathy, but when she asks how she can help, Gifty thinks, “Only God can help me.”
Katherine seems to sense intuitively that Gifty isn’t talking about what’s truly important, and when she changes the subject Gifty is surprised enough to be truthful. Although Gifty’s mother has been staying with her for weeks, she hasn’t yet told anyone that she knows about it. In this moment, Gifty is still profoundly locked in her isolation. Although Katherine not only offers help but is qualified to give it (she’s a psychiatrist and thus presumably knows enough about depression to offer meaningful assistance to Gifty), Gifty’s reflexive response is denial. Her feeling that only God can help her shows the extent of this isolation while also again calling into question the sharp line she sees dividing her religious childhood from her non-religious adulthood.
Themes
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
After Nana’s death, Gifty’s mother threw herself into planning a Ghanaian-style funeral, complete with mourning clothes for her and Gifty. She cried so much that she passed out from dehydration once, and she scratched herself until she bled. She and Gifty were completely alone. No one showed up to support them: not their church, not the Ghanaian community, not the Chin Chin Man. After three weeks, Pastor John visited. Gifty was so hungry for touch that she loved him when he laid a hand on her head to pray. And he stayed in her and her mother’s life since that day.
Gifty’s mother responded to the trauma of Nana’s death through her faith, focusing as she did on the religious and cultural ceremony of his funeral. But even in this, she inadvertently highlights the distance at which she has existed from her children. The Ghanaian-style funeral is meant to fulfil her needs, not necessarily honor Nana’s wishes. And her mother’s grief is so overwhelming and so large that it leaves no room for Gifty to express or experience her own grief. Her mother’s dramatic reactions, including self-harm and passing out, ensure that she gets the available attention. Gifty’s involuntary appreciation of Pastor John’s prayer shows how starved for love and attention she is after Nana’s death.
Themes
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Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
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Gifty never told her mother that she hated her mourning clothes from Ghana. At the funeral, her mother and the other Ghanaians paced, wept, and sang, questioning God while the Americans watched on, perplexed. Pastor John’s prayers assured everyone that Nana’s death was God’s plan. Gifty was keenly aware of how much Nana would have hated his funeral, especially the way that everyone avoided considering or empathizing with the part of his life that happened after his addiction.
Consciously and subconsciously, as a child Gifty learned to subordinate her feelings and desires to her mother’s. This is why she keeps silent on the subject of her funeral clothes. The distance between the experience of most of the church members and Gifty’s family—if not their actual racist beliefs—are on display at the funeral, when they react with surprise and confusion over the way the Ghanaian immigrants indulge in emotional display. And their hypocrisy and racism are on display in their careful avoidance of the subject of Nana’s addiction and accidental death. This helps to contextualize Gifty’s loss of faith; in an earlier chapter, she dated that loss to Nana’s funeral. But only after reviewing her memories of how the church and community behaved during Nana's illness and addiction does that loss come into full focus.
Themes
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon