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The Role and Treatment of Women in 'Homegoing'

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In the abnormally structured text Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, there are different forms of unequal treatment explored. The primary form of derogatory treatment exposed in the novel is racial inequality, however, we see throughout every single chapter a situation where this racial inequality mixes with gender. During the story, there are common gender stereotypes exposed that even exist today in some cultures. These stereotypes are seen quite clearly in the shaping and development of every single character on both sides of the lineage. Even though the two lineages of Effia and Esi take place on completely different continents, there is still a form of duality that can be seen when it comes to gender inequality, especially on the female side. Throughout the novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, there are many different ways exposed that females face the effects of oppression, gender inequality, and unfair treatment throughout generations and centuries, and even into the future.

Throughout the book, there are constantly gender stereotypes present that lead to different treatments. From the start, men are expected to take on roles that are based upon physical strength, authority, and unemotional reactions. This results in them being in positions of power over women. Women are faced with the stereotypes of oppression, ownership, and treating them as property and weak. This treatment is the basis for many centuries of treatment, never to change until the end of the book.

In the very first storyline of the daughter Effia, there are huge examples exposed of gender inequality. Effia is faced with the consequences of her culture, being born a beautiful Fante woman. She was harassed physically and mentally by her father’s first wife, Baaba, leading to the first example of the gender inequality she faces. Her father had many wives, the first example of polygamy commonly seen in the first half of the book. This exposure to female inequality is present throughout both daughters’ lives, not just one. Also in Effia’s chapter, there is the first exposure of the oppression that females take because of their gender, being forced into marriage by her culture and family. Her mother is a constant manipulating force in her life, to the point of getting her daughter to marry James Collins instead of the chief of their tribe, Abeeku Badu. Effia’s chapter is a gateway to the concept of female inequality, and it certainly is a strong theme throughout her life.

Besides even Effia, we see many examples of polygamy, the concept of having multiple wives per man. This idea leads to the treatment of women as more as objects or possessions and riches than valued human beings. This is seen when Effia quotes, “I heard the Englishmen call them wenches, not wives. Wife was a word reserved for white women across the Atlantic. Wench was something else entirely, a word the soldiers used to keep their hands clean.” We see this in cultural leaders, especially in Ghana where your claim to fame was how rich you were based on the number of wives you had. This idea is derogatory to women and immediately puts down their place on the scale of humanity. There were countless examples of the white men in authority taking sexual advantage of the females trapped in the dungeon underneath the white castle. Even while James had a wife and children back in England and a wife in the castle, him and his friends in authority would rape and often impregnate the females trapped, leading to them being forced to carry the burden of a child that would indefinitely be born into horrible situations. This horrible situation is observed when Anna ends up killing herself being pregnant with H in fear of her life after his birth. Obviously, the concept of polygamy puts a tarnish on the idea of a “faithful marriage”, which is often seen as a religious belief. There was no consideration towards a faithful marriage in the novel because of the time era and the cultural impact on the men. The men did not see marriage as it is seen today, they saw it as way to earn gifts, authority, and social gain.

Besides the awful treatment when it came to marriage and the human value of women in the beginning of the book, there is a lot of examples of no power and respect towards women. When Effia first meets James and is introduced to the castle, Effia asks James, “What’s below?” and James responds with, “cargo”. Even though Effia can hear and smell the horrible situation that these trapped female slaves are in, she has no power or authority to do anything about. When she confronts her other female friends who are wives to other men in power there, they fall silent, eventually informing her that you do what your husband says. This is another example of the extreme lack of power the women possess in this time era, being followed by the concept of them being considered property to the men in power.

Another huge theme of female oppression in the novel is the combination of slavery and gender inequality. Females were often take in as slaves to be forced to be housewives or mothers to many children with many different wives. Often in custody of slave plantations, they were raped, forced to carry the pregnancy of the plantations owner’s children. In Ness’s situation, she was unable to become a housewife because of her whip scars, being forced to work in the fields at such a young age, a form of physical abuse. Another character, Abena, described as beautiful, faced oppression because of her social position. She was born to James, who was nicknamed “Unlucky” because of his luck when it came to yields in farming. Abena faced the consequences of his very unwealthy father, and could not marry because of it. Because of this, she is treated like a maid and a mistress. She is sexually active outside of marriage, due to the affair relationship with Ohene Nyarko because it is all she could do at her social position. This social oppression continues on with examples like the marriage of Robert and Willie where Robert is forced to sexually violate his wife. The author shows how the treatment of women can be seen coinciding with race and gender. A final example of this is in the last few chapters, where Marjorie is treated as an outcast for being a black girl who likes a white boy.

While one may think that these forms of treatment to these women may be situational and only present in the current time, the author does an excellent job of showing the effects of this treatment throughout generations. Although one side of the lineage may have experienced harsher treatment than the other, both had long-lasting consequences to female oppression in the end. In the last chapter, Marcus is able to look back on his family history and see the traces of oppression throughout it. Throughout his research, he notes that all of the oppression and inequality roots back to gender and race issues, talking about how unfair it was that in his lineage there were black people facing many years of harsh punishment for the same actions white people were freely getting away with.

Because of the time span that Homegoing covers consisting of many generations and centuries, there is an advantage in that the book is very effective in showing the long-lasting legacy of female oppression and racism in not just America, but worldwide. Every single chapter consists of this everlasting theme of inequality based on your gender or skin color. This leads to the differences from the very start, assumptions being made on stereotypes, not actual facts or skills and possibilities. Starting from Effie and Esi, through to Abena and Akua facing polygamy, ownership, and treatment being see as property versus human, all the way to Marjorie in the late 20th century facing oppression issues because of her gender and skin color, we see constant effects of how the role and treatment of women has changed over hundreds of years. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is an excellent source to show how that even though female oppression to the scale that it once was, and racism in itself, may have ended years ago, still exists today, and something needs to be done about it.

Works Cited

  1. “Homegoing Part 1: Effia Summary & Analysis.” LitCharts,
  2. LitCharts. “Gender Stereotypes, Sexism, and Violence Theme Analysis.” LitCharts,
  3. LitCharts. “Racism, Slavery, and Systemic Oppression Theme Analysis.” LitCharts,
  4. W, Kate, et al. “Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi.” The Writes of Woman, 5 Jan. 2017, 

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The Role And Treatment Of Women In ‘Homegoing’. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from
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The Role And Treatment Of Women In ‘Homegoing’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 May 2022].
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