47 pages 1 hour read

Dinaw Mengestu

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2007

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Character Analysis

Sepha Stephanos

Sepha is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Seventeen years ago, following the discovery of Sepha’s revolutionary flyers, his father was killed, and his mother sent him away from Ethiopia to protect him from the same fate. Sepha arrives in America through no choice of his own, a fate that determines his outlook in the ensuing years, and he floats through life without agency or a sense of purpose.

Sepha’s lack of autonomy is, in part, the result of this past. He remains emotionally scarred from the death of his father and his sudden, unplanned immigration, though he never acknowledges this overtly. Because these traumatic events were the result of Sepha’s actions and his involvement with revolutionary change, he comes to associate action with traumatic failure, and therefore he avoids a sense of agency or action in his new life. His sense of guilt over this course of events also makes him feel undeserving of success, further distancing him from any sense of agency that would result in his advancement or happiness.

Sepha’s lack of agency is also the result of his otherness. He struggles throughout the novel with his sense of identity. He no longer identifies as African, as demonstrated by his increasing disconnect from his family and his trivialization of Africa’s politics through games with his friends.