The Butterfly Effect


If a simple butterfly can initiate a powerful tornado, what can stop it from leading a man to his death?  Whether you perceive it as an unrealistic concept or a natural inevitability, the Butterfly Effect Theory still attempts to explain how seemingly insignificant actions can propel a much more serious consequence.  In Part I of Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, the literal figure of the butterfly finds itself featured in pivotal moments in Kweku’s life.  Specifically a ‘bright turquoise and black’ (63) butterfly, the creature first appears to Kweku in Chapter 10 as he sits by the cold body of his mother in his childhood home in Ghana, having missed her final moments of life.  In contrast, this turquoise and blue butterfly makes its second appearance in Chapter 11, as it appears to Kweku in his dream home in Ghana during his own final moments of life. Despite this imagery of mother and son, dead and dying under the seemingly indifferent watch of a butterfly, I contend that this does not mean the butterfly represents evil, Death incarnate, etc.  More than anything, I find the turquoise and black butterfly (a Swordfish to be exact) serves as a metaphor- to both the reader and to Kweku himself- of his mother’s death.

While Kweku spends most of his life repressing his pain, it is clear that the impact of his mother’s death marked a distinct shift in the way Kweku’s pain is internalized.  Before the butterfly has entered Kweku’s childhood home and he is only left alone with an infant Olu and the mother he never said goodbye to, Selasi writes, “His heart broke in one place.  The first break. He didn’t feel it,” (59). This reaction is then immediately paired with the ensuing arrival of the butterfly, “It fluttered around his mother’s foot, a lazy lap, then lifted off, flapping blithely toward the triangular dome and out the little window.  Gone,” This scene establishes the association of the turquoise and black butterfly with his mother’s death, and consequently, the first heart break Kweku experiences.  As evident by the second chapter of this novel, Kweku’s death by stroke was not something that could have been explained in logical, medical terms. He was healthy, and most importantly, trained in identifying a stroke and was capable of preventing it.  But as Olu concludes, he must have been “arrested” by something important (8). Ultimately, Chapter 11 reveals that the reemergence of the butterfly that appeared at the feet of his dead mother causes Kweku to freeze in his garden, preventing him from noticing that his body was betraying him.  And it is the action of this butterfly that propels the intensity of this moment, “he sees the thing, barely, bright turquoise and black.”, Selasi writes, “Just coming to rest on a blossom, bright pink. When it comes to him suddenly: the name, by her face. ‘Bougainvillaea,’ he hears her saying,” (63)  Hear, the reader observes a metaphorical interaction between Kweku’s two greatest heartbreaks unfold. Through compounding the heartbreak of his mother’s death (via the butterfly) with the heartbreak of losing Folasade (via the pink Bougainvillaea), the catalyst for Kweku’s death is explained. We learn that through the emergence of these traumas from deep within Kweku’s most repressed self, his death seems inevitable but nonetheless tragic.  This insight into his greatest pain and the true cause of his death (initiated by a butterfly’s wings, no less) allows the reader to develop a deeper understanding between the relationships Kweku had with his mother and ex-wife. While his attitudes and actions towards these women were highlighted by coldness and betrayal during his lifetime, his death reveals his regret was so salient, that a mere butterfly was capable of shattering the walls he built around his heartbreak.

Blog #4


Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. Penguin Books, 2014. pp. 8, 59, 63

Starring in a Movie for an Audience of One

Never have the words “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” been more true than in the mind of Kweku Sai from Ghana Must Go. Kweku lives his life constantly imagining a cameraman recording his every move. The use of this metaphor appears throughout Kweku’s story, showing how he wishes himself to be viewed. Kweku envisions a “bridge between two worlds,” believing that by returning to his home in Ghana with his American-born son, he would be building that bridge: “He imagined this moment every day in Pennsylvania, how his cameraman would film it, panning up to [his mother’s] face. Cue strings. Tears in mother’s eyes. Wonder, joy, amazement. The awe of the siblings. The jubilation. Cue drums” (Selasi 52-53). Kweku’s cameraman metaphor reveals how his familial relationships are negatively affected because his actions are of a self-centered nature, even when he believes them to be otherwise.

Through the metaphor of Kweku’s inner cameraman, the novel critiques the character’s desire to control his family relationships, and therefore to control his own story with himself as a hero. He has entire scenes envisioned in his mind, complete with “strings” and “drums” (52-3). The cameraman is not just a cameraman, but “his” cameraman. Although many of Kweku’s actions would appear to be out of love, for example his tiptoeing to avoid waking Ama (who is actually very difficult to wake) much of his choices are made because he believes them to be a good story. This self-occupied view affects familial relationships, because his attempts to care for his family are actually based in an idea of living up to an imagined standard. The metaphor shows that he is not reacting to the needs of others, but to what an imagined audience would think of his actions.

The cameraman scene in chapter 9 emphasises the point made by the rest of the chapter: Kweku chooses what he wants to believe about himself, but those ideas are often untrue. His relationships with others are affected by his denial of his true emotions. He thinks he loves Ama for one reason, when in reality he loves her for other reasons. He prefers to be the director of his own story, and therefore denies realities. The cameraman metaphor is presented as if it were real; the novel does not refer to the cameraman as imaginary, but instead purely as “his cameraman” (52). The metaphor is then crushed at the end of the chapter, with the line “This is how he planned it. But this isn’t how it happened” (53). By setting up an elongated scene, then quickly destroying the possibility for scene to actually occur, this small passage shows how Kweku is often disappointed (and disappointing to others) because his cameraman imagery does not line up with reality.

The “cameraman” metaphor shows how people will see what they want to see. Family dynamics are built upon communication, and responding to the thoughts and feelings of others. Through Kweku’s metaphor, it reveals that even when he is helping his family members, it is often to satisfy the need to perform for an audience. This builds a wall (to use another metaphor from the novel) between himself and his family members, not only with the ones who have estranged him, but also between himself and Ama. He defines his behavior by how he would like to be seen, which makes it difficult for the rest of his family to truly get to know him.


Works Cited

Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. Penguin Books, 2014.

Shakespeare, William, and David M. Bevington. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Pearson, 2014.

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