We Need New Names Essay

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¶ … Darling's struggle with her displacement in the United States towards the end of the novel. How does she deal with her conflicted sense of identity? Why do the following words spoken by Chipo cause her so much distress? "If it's your country, you have to love it to live in it and not leave it. You have to fight for it no matter what, to make it right... You left it, Darling, my dear, you left the house burning and you have the guts to tell me, in that stupid accent that you were not even born with, that doesn't even suit you, that this is your country?" (288). Is she American, Zimbabwean? Both? From early in the novel, it is crystal clear that Darling is spiritually independent and clearly not tied to any national identity. She asserts her determination to move to America and live with Aunt Fostalina, as if it is her destiny, and indeed it is. Yet moving to America does not extricate her Africanness. Darling always retains her core. Her sense of displacement is not so much a loss of identity as it is a growing mistrust of her own idealism. She comes to realize that America is not a promised land. One of Bulawayo's methods...


She continually makes fun of Aunt Fostalina's incessant walking about in order to lose weight and conform to the American aesthetic ideal of skinniness. The irony of speaking about skinniness to a girl who had to steal guavas as a child lingers over the latter half of the novel. On page 233, Darling notes that they "power-walk out of JC Penney like we're trying to lose weight, past the jewelers and the diamonds." Darling is empowered by her meta-awareness, her knowledge that everything she does in America she does to maximize her potential to succeed and not because she feels inferior.
Darling often directly discusses cultural assimilation, but she does so not by sacrificing her identity but by mocking America. For example, she muses on how she wants to "sound American" and she does so by watching television of course (p. 196). Darling's sense of personal empowerment is evident in her noting that she keeps her colloquialisms "under the tongue like talismans, ready to use," (p. 196). She wonders why Aunt Fostalina doesn't think to study American colloquial speech herself so…

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Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names. New York: Llittle, Brown, 2013.

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