Looking to the Past to Move Forward

Grief is mind-shattering—the pain of it is unimaginable, and the only people who can understand it are those who are in the midst of grief with you. Grief is overwhelming, and the initial shock and rawness of pain often leaves its victim stupefied. Both these aspects of grief—its rawness and its ability to turn the world upside-down—can be seen in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. Yet, despite its disorientating nature, grief in Ghana Must Go allows for a broken family to reunite, and forces them to glue the fragments of their shattered worlds back together, as it forces the family to relate to one another. Not a single member of the family, or in general those who experience grief, are initially capable of being articulate or objective in their attempts to comprehend their loss. The inarticulate and incomprehensive mentality of grief often moves in circular and repetitive, fleeting thoughts—similar to the fragmented sentences of Ghana Must Go. It is thus through Selasi’s use of short, fragmented sentences, and her circular progression throughout the narrative, where the nature of grief is expressed, and it becomes evident that it is, in fact, their grief which enables this family to once again come together.

The family in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go is all but destroyed, where one crack caused a splintering, which resulted in a full break in their familial bond. The text reads like individual streams of consciousness of its various characters, and the often used brief, list-like sentences are demonstrative of the characters’ confusion and attempts to grapple with their grief. One such example is within Olu’s constant repetition of how and why his father dies. He constantly reimagines it, “dead in a garden of cardiac arrest, basic coronary thrombosis, easy peasy, act fast, Kweku Sai, prodigal prodigy, a phenom, a failure” (Selasi 114). For Olu, time stopped the second he found that his father had died. He begins to move backwards in time, rethinking over past times with his father, using the facts in a list-like format, trying to comprehend the finality of the death he was absent for. For Selasi, using this repetition of how the death occurred and who it was who died, communicates the shear bewilderment of death that comes in grief.

Olu is not the only one who demonstrates this short, fragmented stream of repetitive consciousness, Taiwo, his sister, does as well. On reflection Taiwo thinks back to how her mother told stories of her father after he left them. She thinks “…short stories of snow, until they both fell asleep. Until the man was erased—from their stories and so their childhoods (which only existed as stories…) Not dead. Never dead. They never wished the man dead or pretended he was dead” (Selasi 38-39). Again it is in this repetition of the word “dead” and the short, broken explanations are Taiwo’s own attempts at making the intangibility of death somewhat tangible. It is through these brief, listed thoughts that Selasi is able to convey the pain of grief and the utter confusion it brings.

The family’s learning of Kweku’s sudden, unexpected passing forces them back into a world that they had long forgotten. Moreover, even as each family member has gone in their own direction, it is the grief and its chaos that enables them to reconnect. Selasi’s ability to convey the confusion of grief through a circular progression of thoughts and memories, through short, fragmented sentences is both reflective of grief, and demonstrative of a broken family attempting to reconnect. It is through their memories that they can do this, though. Thus, in the unfamiliarity of grief, which looks to the past to move forward, the family is able to relate solely in grief, ultimately allowing them to renew a bond that had been all but lost.


Blog Post 3


Works Cited

Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.


3 thoughts on “Looking to the Past to Move Forward

  1. Your analysis of Selasi’s narrative and writing style are accurate and insightful. I also believe that Selasi’s nonlinear narration and quick, short sentences represent the thoughts and feelings of the fragmented and grief-stricken Sai family. Additionally, your observation of how “the text reads like individual streams of consciousness” is correct. The events of the novel are indeed mostly delivered through the characters’ streams of consciousness, such when Sadie comprehends with the death of Kweku in a barrage of emotions and questions over whether she should feel pain and loss (pg. 148 – 9). The abrupt, nonstop streams of interior monologues thus parallel the concise, fast paced sentences of the novel, creating another layer to the disoriented and sorrowful atmosphere of the Sai family.

  2. Connecting Selasi’s sentence structure with grief is very interesting and important. I support your argument that the short sentences represent a type of stream of consciousness. As we discussed in class, the short sentence structure reflects the way in which memories come to us. Therefore, the way Selasi phrases her sentences also helps determine the complex time line in Ghana Must Go. The short sentences work to help the reader understand the past and its relationship with the present. This idea of the past and present also relates to the cycle of grief. When grieving, the past is constantly compared to the present time. I would argue that Selasi’s sentence structure goes beyond establishing grief, but also works to slow the pace of the novel and encourage the reader to connect with each character and allow time to acknowledge the complexity of each chapter. Specifically, the section we talked about in class on page 48-49 illustrates this short sentence structure as a form of connecting and understanding. This passage helps the reader grasp why Kweku left his family. It allows the reader to connect with Kweku on a deeper level that recognizes the pressure Kweku experiences.

  3. I think it’s interesting how you connected the repetitiveness of the novel to grief expressed by the different characters, and how time plays a role in that as well. To me, it would seem as though time also helps in the process of grief, being that almost every time there is a death, a character always looks back into their past memories of the person—like Olu and Taiwo did. Perhaps focusing on the past allows them to process the present better.

Comments are closed.