A complete story must follow some structure, one event leading to another with continuity and have a theme that binds the story and character together. The organization is crucial to make a comprehensible story. However, the novel “Home Going” has proved it wrong although it has a theme that is binding the overall story seems scattered and unorganized.Themes through Characters and Plots It is not a typical story where the story flows from one event to another around the protagonist as in “Bliss me Ultima.” Bless me, Ultima follows the traditional style of a novel with a protagonist solving questions related to identity and religion but Home Going does not have a smooth plot nor does it have a defined protagonist. However, it ensures the theme of self-discovery and identity like Bliss me Ultima. The paper will discuss the plots, and characters of the novel in the beginning. Secondly, it will discuss similarities in the plot and characters showing the emergence of themes. Lastly, the paper will examine differences in the plot and characters that help in the emergence of the theme of the novels that is self-discovery.
Bliss me Ultima, written by Rudolfo Anaya in 1972, is the story of a boy, Antonio, who lives in New Mexico with his parents and Ultima who lives with his family and has some spiritual knowledge. Antonio becomes aware of his surroundings and wants to understand his identity as his father and mother have different dreams for him. His father wants to travel to California and his mother wants him to become a priest in a church. He becomes aware of death, which sparks his interest in religion and self-identity early in life. Antonio questions many of Christianity and rituals throughout the novel and learns from Ultima whom he deeply respects. Tenorio, the barber, who is the antagonist in the novel, kills Ultima at the end and Antonio understands the two dilemmas in his life. He understands that he is pulled between two contradictory expectations of his mother and father and the spirituality and Catholicism. However, he resolves the problem understanding that he does not need to choose from one or the other but he can try to bring them together. The novel revolves around a seven-year-old boy who tries to form a personal identity without giving in to his parents’ dreams and choosing from one or the other.
In contrast, “Home Going” by Yaa Gyasi does not follow a structured and traditional plot. It starts with a story of a woman called Maame who births two female children and the story covers seven generations of the two girls Effia and Esi. Effia and Esi are half-sisters, Effia marries to James Collins and remains in Ghana but Esi is sold into slavery and send to America. The novel covers the lives of the descendant of the two half-sisters, the current descendant, Marcus, and Marjorie, meet in California, and they go back to Ghana. It is an exploration of the self-discovery and the history of their family. It is a story of the two family members who were separated because of slavery and civil wars in Ghana and in America. Every story of the descendent deals with the identity and self-discovery, which adds up to the bigger theme of the novel.
In Bliss me Ultima, there are few characters and a protagonist, Antonio, around whom the story revolves. It is his journey to resolve the issue to choose from two options. He is thoughtful and questions morals and religion. Apart from Antoine, Gabriel, Antonio’s father fancies and adventurous life, traveling to various places but Maria, Antonio’s mother, is observing Catholic. However, more than parents, Antonio is closed to Ultima, who is an old woman who has spiritual powers. She is calm, understanding and tolerant. Narciso is a drunken man who is friends with Gabriel. Tenorio is a barber in the nearby saloon who is against Ultima and plots against her. He has three daughters and they perform black magic. Cico is Antonio’s friend. He is gentle and quiet. Florence is another friend of Antonio and he does not believe in God but performs catechism in the church because of his friends. The characters in the Bliss me, Ultima help the protagonist form and build upon his ideologies. They help the protagonist grow and provide the reason to question religion and morals of the society. For instance, Antonio learns about spirituality from Ultima and religion from his mother, wandering, and from his father. The various characters raised morality and social values. The characters ignited the questions of being men and killing a person versus using reason to solve the problem. The killing also ignited the religious questions, “did God listen? Would he Hear?” (23). Being surrounded by a friend who is gentle and another who does not believe in God but performs Catechism raised moral as well as religious questions. All of the features of the characters serving the purpose of the story and helping in the development of themes of identity, self-discovery and the transition. In this story, Ultima, Florence, Maria, Gabriel, and the barber with his children play a greater role in Antonio’s transition and development of an identity with conscious and responsibility in his life.
Similarly, the characters in Homegoing not only keep the story flow but also contribute to the self-discovery in two distinct places. The various characters show political as well as social transitions through the generations, each generation facing various identity issues. There are many characters in Homegoing but every chapter has lesser characters who push the story forward. The characters of the novel starting with Maame, Effia, Esi, Quey, Ness, James, Kojo, Abena, H, Akua, Willie, Yaw, Sonny, Majorie, and Marcus build the story and the themes of self-discovery and identity. Effia is a beautiful young woman and a British man proposed her due to her beauty. Although she was willing to marry a man from her tribe and her family wanted her to marry a man from their tribe, they could not say no to the British man. The marriage initiates the identity issue as instead of being a slave send to Europe, a British man took him in as a wife. She is a motherless child but does not know about her identity until she is married and her foster mother is about to die. She is scared to upset her white husband as he might send her back to her village where she is unwanted. Likewise, Esi’s life with her parents shows although she was loved by her parents, she did not have any identity. She struggled to gain Abronoma’s friendship but Abronoma did not accept it. She was fifteen but was unaware of her parent’s life and the existence of her mother. Then she is enslaved. Her character exists in the presence of others and she did not have her identity in absence of her father. Although Esi and Effia are two of the important characters, the novel shows problems with their identities and the problem persists with the descendant. Quey Effia’s son was educated in England but when he returned, people asked him questions regarding whether he was black or British. He could not build the relationship with the villagers or people in England due to his identity. He did not have a close relationship with his father and his father could not allow him to become friends with Cudjo and other friends. Fiifi wanted to marry him to Nana Yaa, a village girl so that he could be a powerful man in the village. He needed to marry to be accepted by the villagers. Ness being punished for refusing to obey or standing against the wills of her masters Although she was a slave, she tried to have her own voice and tried to improve her life better with her husband. She tried to escape slavery where they were subjects to their masters. Similarly, her descendent Kojo and Quey descendent James and others had to face similar identity issues, trying to prove themselves to the people and to be accepted by the society. Their journey does not only tell their story but also their identities. It shows a need to be accepted in the society and to have an identity that is widely accepted without judgment and questions about their African and American history. It was the unsettled identity issue that Marcus wanted to study and learn about his history and Marjorie had kept the pendant with him for generations. The characters show complex identity formation through various historical and political changes from slavery to freedom and from slave traders to Africans who had been exploited and gained from the slavery, for whom the anti-slavery laws were harmful.
Although the plots of the stories is distinct from each other the characters have some similarities in both the novels. The characters of both the novels are searching for identity and constantly face the difficult questions about their identities. In Bliss me, Ultima and Homegoing the protagonists are moving the story forward. They introduce the readers to various moral and ethical issues that people ignore in their daily lives. The characters are critical of their situation and their surrounding focusing on changing it over the course of the novels. In both the novels, the protagonist and other characters draw fine lines between the wrong and right, the desired and undesired. For instance, in Homegoing, the characters from Maame to Marcus everyone distinguishes the right from the wrong. In both the novels, the environment and characters contribute to psychological tension regarding identity and authority. Additionally in both the novels, the characters are strong despite their hardships, they endure, accept and question emphasizing on changing their lives. For example, Antonio chooses a path where he can combine religion and adventure and Ness tries to escape the slavery and stand up for other people despite being a vulnerable slave.
However, the plot and characters are different from each other in both the novels. In Bliss me Ultima, there are few characters and a simple plot to follow. A single protagonist tries to resolve his issues while transitions to and adolescents. Over the course of the novel, the protagonist resolves the identity issues. Antonio’s transition from a child to an adulthood over the course of the novel is a personal struggle of a person who is influenced by a few people in his family and neighborhood. But in Homegoing the characters are mostly confusing as there are many and each descendant has some new characters. In the Home Going, the characters question the norms but most of the time, they are not actively trying to change their situation unlike the characters in Bliss me Ultima. In the Home Going, the characters are passive, not fully engaged with life except for James and Ness who runs from home to change his life and live his life according to his choices but all other characters are passive. In Ultima, the characters are easy to follow but in Home Going, the characters are confusing and forcing the reader to go back and confirm the identity of the characters.
Moreover, the plots are distinct from each other in many ways. The plot of the Bliss me, Ultima is a simple led by a protagonist. In contrast, the plot of Home Going is chaotic and every chapter follows its own plot and stands on its own but the plot of Bliss me continues smoothly from one chapter to another. It is easy to follow and gives the reader a sense of control but Home Going does not have the traditional plot and the plots of every chapter are loosely and forcefully connected.
Regardless of the differences and similarities, both the novels try to solve the identity issues. Bliss me covering a tension of a six-year-old boy which settles within a few years but Home Going covers hundreds of years of the history of African in America and Africans in Africa. The novel highlights slave trades, women oppression, identity formation and social and cultural norms that contribute to the current identities in Africa and the complex racial divisions and identities during and after slavery in the US. Nonetheless, both of the novels develop the complex themes related to self-discovery and identity. The identity question being a developmental process in childhood and adolescents in the Bliss me Ultima but social and political phenomena of division and discrimination in politics as presented in Home Going. However, both the novels somehow resolve the issue of self-discovery. In Bliss me Ultima, Antonio resolves his issues and ready to pave another path for himself and in Home Going the two distantly related Marcus and Marjorie meet and they go back to Ghana, fulfilling the long-awaited wishes of their grand-grandmothers Effia and Esi.