The Destruction of Fire: A Symbol of Slavery

The motif of fire is very prominent in the first few chapters of Yaa Gyasi’s novel Homegoing. Fire is a destructive force that brings pain with its rapid and aggressive spread. It leaves behind nothing but dust and ash and shows no mercy to anyone. 

Although there are literal mentions of fire –like the one Maame started– fire also acts as a larger symbol for slavery and the slave trade. Like fire, the slave trade started small, and then it uncontrollably spread and destroyed many people, villages, and cultures. Fire especially represents the pain, suffering, and travesties associated with slavery. Maame, a slave before marrying Big Man, escapes her slavery and has Effia, but the fire she starts alludes to her fear and past traumas that came with her slavery. Her trauma is especially seen when Esi’s village is being attacked, and Maame refuses to move and keeps repeating, “Sister, Baaba, fire. Sister, Baaba, fire” (42). As she repeats fragments of sentences in such a staggering way, the readers can see the shock she goes into and the paralyzing fear that correlates with her devastating past. It also becomes clear to Esi that “Maame was not a whole woman. There were large swaths of her spirit missing… love could never return what Maame had lost” (42). Although Maame escapes her captors, slavery took a considerable part of her that isn’t fixable. The fire only left dust within Maame. 

As we read more and more about slavery in America in the upcoming chapters, I believe that the motif of fire will be even more prominent as Gyasi focuses more on the devastating details of slavery. When the book concludes, as the readers, I predict we will be able to conceptualize the ash the fire left behind and what that ash represents in our current American society.

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