Transcendent Kingdom


Yaa Gyasi

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Themes and Colors
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Transcendent Kingdom, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Science and Religion

The narrator and protagonist of Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty, grew up in a Pentecostal church. Following her brother Nana’s untimely death of a heroin overdose, she becomes a scientist who studies the neurological basis of addiction and depression. The religious and scientific communities around Gifty think of themselves as polar opposites but having had one foot in each world allows her to see their true similarities. Both attempt to answer big, difficult questions…

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Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality

Years after her brother Nana’s accidental death of a heroin overdose, 28-year-old Gifty thinks that she’s abandoned her religious upbringing and youthful belief in God for a life of science. But as she cares for her deeply depressed mother, it gradually becomes apparent that she is still stuck in childish patterns. Thus, Transcendent Kingdom traces Gifty’s final steps towards self-acceptance and maturity. The novel suggests that to complete the process of accepting herself…

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Addiction, Depression, and Control

When she was in middle school, Gifty’s teenaged brother, Nana, died of an accidental heroin overdose. Following his death, Gifty’s mother fell into a deep depression. Many years later, Gifty is studying neuroscience, hoping to unravel the science behind addiction and depression. She understands that these are two sides of the same coin: addiction means that the brain doesn’t have enough restraint against reward seeking, and in depression, it has too much. As…

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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy

As a child, Gifty assumed a caretaking role for her drug-addicted older brother, Nana, and then for her deeply depressed mother. As an adult, she can’t relinquish her caretaker role or accept intimacy until she realizes that accepting care from others doesn’t make her weak, which only happens after her experiments on the neuroscience of addiction are successful. In this way, the book shows both the importance of caretaking in intimate relationships and…

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