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