We Need New Names

We Need New Names Summary and Analysis of Blak Power, For Real, and How They Left


Blak Power

The children are in Budapest again stealing guavas. They meet a guard who speaks to them with very elevated English that they make fun of. At one point, Bastard spits on the ground which angers the guard greatly. The guard yells at them and insults their fathers, but the children will not budge and taunt him about not having a car, walkie-talkie, or handcuffs. The guard finally tries to hit Bastard with his baton, but Bastard is able to get out of the way. As they yell back and forth, a red car drives up and the guard runs over to open the gate. Stina, who knows a lot about cars, says that the car was a Lamborghini Reventon and Darling says that she will have that kind of car when she goes to live with Aunt Fostalina in the United States.

On another street, the children find a tree with guavas in front of a nice house. While they are up in the tree, they suddenly see a swarm of people approach the house in a pack, yelling things like "Strike fear in the heart of the white man!" (113). The people don't see them in the tree, so they are able to witness the entire scene below while keeping very quiet. The people pound the door of the house with machetes until a white man, white woman, and tiny dog emerge. The gang laughs raucously at the little dog and then snatch it from the white woman and start to throw it around. Finally, one man kicks the dog far over a wall. The white man yells to the crowd, "What do you want?" (118) and one man from the crowd comes forward with a piece of paper. They are trying to kick him off the property to reclaim it for Africans; they call him a "colonist" (120) even though he protests that he himself was born in Africa, as was his father. The white man tears up the paper and then stomps and pummels it into the ground. The crowd enters the house and the sounds of things being smashed can be heard outside. The children in the tree fight about whether they should leave or wait for the people to all leave first. They stay, and eventually the people come out. They grab the white people and take them with them; as they pass, the white woman looks up in the tree and sees them.

When the mob is gone, the children come down from the tree and enter the house. The children are shocked by how cold it is inside, and looking around they see broken furniture and electronics everywhere. The children find a black mask and many pictures on the wall; they look at the pictures as if in a museum, analyzing the people and moments in each. Seeing a picture of the queen, they talk about crowns and gold, fighting over these foreign concepts. They go into the bedroom and and get in the big, soft bed. Sbho suggests that they "do the adult thing" (129), so the boys get on top of the girls and lay there. Suddenly, they hear the phone ring. They pick up the phone and pass it around until it gets to Darling, who talks to the person on the other end. She tells the person about the gang that came and took the white people; the person on the other end turns out to be the white couple's adult child. Another voice, a white man's voice, comes on the phone and speaks to Darling in her own language, which she finds funny but also disappointing because she was proud of speaking well in English. When the phone call ends, they go into the kitchen and gorge themselves on food from the stocked fridge. They attempt to eat with forks "like proper white people" (132), but soon decide this is too difficult and go back to eating with their hands. When Godknows needs to use the toilet, they find a bathroom at the end of the hallway. The room is clean and white except for "the words Blak Power written in brown feces on the large bathroom mirror" (132).

For Real

Darling and her friends are playing when they hear singing approaching Heavenway, the cemetery. It is Bornfree's funeral. Darling narrates about how she used to fear cemeteries and death but doesn't anymore, and about how there have been many funerals lately for "the Change people, like Bornfree" (135). Rather than cry, these mourners chant and raise their fists in anger. Darling says that after the election there was much talk of how things would change, but time passed without change and then men came for people like Bornfree. Along with the pack of mourners in black, Bornfree's mother wears red and writhes like she is in pain, and two people from the BBC take photos and video. There are angry speeches and prayers at the funeral and then the coffin is lowered into the grave. Bornfree's mother shouts while the coffin is lowered and must be restrained; she is released once the coffin is buried and the group begins to sing, but she runs off screaming partway through the song.

The children talk about what happens after death and then they start to play a game where they are Bornfree and the men who killed him. They play for a long time, tiring themselves out, and when they finally finish they see that the men from the BBC have been watching them. One man asks, "What kind of game were you just playing?" (146) and Bastard says "Can't you see this is for real?" (146).

How They Left

The narration again switches from Darling's distinctive voice to a more poetic, omniscient point of view. The two-page chapter describes "the children of the land... leaving in droves" (147). That is to say, many people realize that change is not coming to Zimbabwe and that they must flee elsewhere to rebuild their lives. The next chapter will show that Darling is one of these people who flees Zimbabwe, facing difficulties finding acceptance, as this chapter foreshadows.


Seeing major political moments in Zimbabwe's history through the eyes of children opens up big questions. Darling and her friends watch from a guava tree as the house of a white couple living in Budapest is taken by force and ransacked. The children, who have lived their whole lives in Zimbabwe and interact almost exclusively with other black people, must question what it means to be African: "'What exactly is an African?' Godknows asks" (121). This quote alludes to the important question of how much of one's status as an African has to do with racial descent and its intersection with Zimbabwe's colonial history.

Language is another major issue in We Need New Names. Though the book is written in English, it is clear that Darling would be thinking and the children would be talking and playing in their native language. However, Darling is clearly the best among her friends at English, as she is the one to talk to the white man on the phone in English and is able to observe her friends misusing English at times. In one somewhat humorous moment, Darling sees that Bastard has misspelled his own name while carving it into a tree. This moment speaks symbolically to the influence of the West (through the use of English) and the way that this influence interacts with African identity (causing one to spell his own name wrong).

The themes of childhood and adulthood are strong throughout the book, as tragedy causes children to age prematurely and adults to struggle in their roles as caregivers. A major way in which this comes across is through young girls taking on the mannerisms of women, as if practicing their gender role for later in life. For example, Darling narrates, "'Is it painful?' Sbho says. She is looking at me with her head tilted-like, the way a mother is supposed to do when you tell her about anything serious" (96). However, in this section of the book, we also see young boys at times playing the role of a motherly nurturer, such as when Stina says, "They'll just pass and we'll go" (114) as the children sit in the guava tree and Darling adds, "sounding like he is somebody's sweet mother" (114). In this case, Stina is actually comforting Sbho, who often plays the role of the calming mother-figure in the group.

Bornfree's funeral is another very vivid moment in the novel. Again, politics is shown through the lens of Darling and her friends as they hint at the government's response to the movement for change supported by people like Bornfree who have been so adversely affected by the political situation of the last few years. Bornfree's mother is an important character in this section; she wears red instead of the customary black in protest of her son's untimely death and runs away from the cemetery in an act of desperation, as if she is trying to escape reality.

After the funeral, another impactful moment occurs. The children stay in the area of the cemetery after the funeral and act out Bornfree's killing, exhausting themselves through running and screaming, playing the roles of the government, various vehicles, and Bornfree himself. However, when a man from the BBC asks them what kind of game they were playing, Bastard responds, "Can't you see this is for real?" (146). This moment demonstrates that the children understand on some level that they must use play to understand the harsh and confusing world around them.