We Need New Names

We Need New Names Summary and Analysis of This Film Contains Some Disturbing Images, Hitting Crossroads, How They Lived, My America, and Writing on the Wall


This Film Contains Some Disturbing Images

Darling grows up further and makes two close female friends: Marina and Kristal. Marina is from Nigeria and Kristal is from America, but Darling comments that "she can't even write a sentence correctly in English to show that she is indeed American" (201). After school, the girls often rush home to watch porn together. They have been watching in alphabetical order, and today they watch a film in which a robber breaks into a house and has sex with an older woman. When they get to "the real action" (203), they always mute the film and make the noises themselves. The film ends and the girls discuss how men sit on a toilet; upstairs, the phone is ringing, and Kristal tells Darling to stop ignoring it.

When Darling sees the caller ID, she realizes it's someone from home and she starts to worry. Recently, people have been calling with bad news about police and deaths, and if not, then they always call to ask for money. When she picks up the phone, it's Mother. Her mother scolds her for not calling more frequently and laughs at her for "trying to sound white" (206). Mother asks if Darling gave Aunt Fostalina her message, which was to ask for money to buy a satellite dish, and Darling lies and says yes. Mother then puts Darling's friends on the phone which makes her feel dizzy. They ask her questions about America, talking over one another. Godknows tells her that he's going to live in Dubai and then Bastard gets control of the phone, telling her "you know you are lucky, Darling" (210), and finally Chipo wears Darling out by asking questions about what she sees and telling her about the things she sees, including her daughter. Darling starts to sing a song that they used to sing when it was windy outside and Stina gets on the phone and tells her that Chipo was just singing the same song when going outside to get her daughter, who is also named Darling. A package comes and Darling tells Stina to wait, knowing she will not go back to the phone.

After she gets the package, she goes back downstairs to find her friends have skipped ahead in the alphabetical listing and are watching "she-male" (213) porn now. This video makes them feel uncomfortable, so Kristal brings up a link that one of her friends sent to her. They go to the site and are immediately shocked by a loud scream; a girl is lying on the floor as a gang of women holds her down. One woman in the gang has a dirty rag and a knife, and she uses the rag to clean the knife. At this point, Marina runs upstairs and Kristal and Darling just cover their ears and listen to the screaming. When the video ends, Kristal and Darling do not look at each other or say anything.

Hitting Crossroads

Kristal is not old enough to have a driver's license, but she decides to drive Marina and Darling to Crossroads Mall anyway. Darling is very nervous at first, but Kristal drives competently enough so that they all relax and start to have fun. Darling tells the reader that the reason they are out of school is that someone brought a gun to school that morning so they sent all the students home. They drive through town listening to Rihanna and then suddenly they hear a police siren. The girls are terrified and Kristal pulls over to the side and parks, but the police car speeds past in pursuit of something else. Once they have realized what has happened, the girls laugh and laugh and then get back on the road. Darling is so excited that she starts to sing a song from her childhood at the top of her lungs, thinking of her old school and her old friends before they all went to Paradise. Her friends tell her to stop, insulting her by saying that she isn't singing English, and Darling retorts that Kristal can't speak English. Kristal goes quiet and Marina high-fives Darling, but then Kristal replies that "its called Ebonics and it be a language system, but it be our own" (224). Kristal accuses the other girls of "trynna sound like stupid white folk" (224) and then Marina and Darling turn against each other when Darling and Kristal start to talk about the way Nigerians speak and send scams over email.

The girls get to the mall and Darling spots a Lamborghini Reventon and again starts to yell, forgetting where she is. Marina pulls her away, telling her that the car costs millions of dollars, which shocks Darling because she had thought when she was younger that she could own that car when she went to America. In the book store in the mall, Darling gets lost in thought and her friends go on without her. They go upstairs to the electronics store and Darling finds a DVD where Morgan Freeman is playing Nelson Mandela, which makes her feel proud. The girls go over to a jewelry store next and debate the merits of expensive watches and rings. Finally, at JC Penney they take heaps of clothing with them into the dressing rooms and play a game where they dress up for different occasions. After a while, another woman comes in to try some clothes on and the girls decide to leave the mall, leaving a mess of clothes behind. They race back to the car, staring openly at a woman wearing a hijab in the parking lot. As they stare, Kristal brings up the kid who brought a gun to school, but then she doesn't say anything further and they wave at the woman until she drives away.

When Darling gets home, she must immediately get back in the car with Aunt Fostalina to go to Shadybrook nursing home, where Tshaka Zulu lives. Sometimes the man gets very agitated and Aunt Fostalina has to go calm him down. When Tshaka Zulu gets agitated, he stops speaking in English and will claim that he has a spear in his room, though Darling knows that all he has is a drawing of a spear. Darling says that Tshaka Zulu isn't really crazy, but instead needs someone to talk to. Tshaka Zulu's room is full of old things, especially memorabilia about Zimbabwe and pictures of his family. Tshaka Zulu likes to talk about his family and was the one to give names to all of his children and grandchildren, even once he moved away and had to give them over the phone.

How They Lived

This chapter is the third that enters a more omniscient narration, this time using "we" (239) rather than "they" (147). The phrase "we smiled" (239) is repeated many times with reference to people asking about their lives in Africa. Most of the chapter is about acclimating to America and especially to the food. Cultural differences like not beating children are discussed, as well as how hard it is to get a visa to America and how being made to speak English is so limiting. The chapter clearly departs from Darling's life, talking about people who came over on student visas and then worked instead and hid in fear when conversations started about "what to do with illegals" (244). People would refer to each other by country rather than by name because they were too hard to pronounce but they would bond across cultures over pictures of worried family members. The immigrants worked terrible, dangerous, low-paying jobs, sending money home and never going to the hospital because they could not. They traveled around the U.S. and took pictures and sent them home and brought more young family members over. They were greedy for news of home when these people would come, and would also be shocked when they called home and new young people answered the phone. Then they themselves had children, American children, and gave them American names; they promised to bring these children back to their countries to meet their elders, but without papers these were empty promises. Then the elders died and their children grew up American and Googled their parents' countries rather than asking for stories. The children grew up and married in the American way and had children of their own and fail to take care of their parents, placing them in nursing homes where they are visited by memories of their own parents. These immigrants die without the proper mourning from their children and so they are not retrieved by the spirits of their ancestors and must wait forever.

My America

Darling has grown up even more and now works at a grocery store. On this particular day, she is sorting bottles and cans when her manager comes in and compliments her. Darling watches as a thin young woman goes into her manager's office and then a cockroach crawls out of one of her bottles which she drops with a crash of broken glass while screaming. He tells her, as he often does, that she's "acting up" (255) because she must have seen such things and worse in Africa. After work, Darling waits for Uncle Kojo to pick her up; another employee named Megan who has been working at the grocery store for fourteen years complains to Darling about one of the new workers. Darling starts to think about Megan and then about herself growing old working at the grocery store and then her manager scares her by touching her too intimately to get her attention. He asks her if she wants more hours over the weekend and she agrees because she is saving money for community college, where she'll be starting next fall.

When Uncle Kojo comes, they just drive around for a while, which Darling says he has started to do more and more since TK was sent to Afghanistan. This time, Uncle Kojo drives and drives and eventually they meet a hooker who leans in the window asking for money and then starts to say Darling's name over and over. When they finally get home, Aunt Fostalina puts out food; she has started cooking again since Uncle Kojo stopped eating after TK left, and she now mostly must cook food from his country to get him to eat. Instead of watching sports, Uncle Kojo now watches only television about the war, looking for TK's face.

Darling has another job, cleaning the house of a man named Eliot. He is a man Aunt Fostalina knows whose previous maid had to go back to Mexico. On one occasion when Darling is cleaning, a tiny dog dressed in clothes comes in along with Eliot and his daughter while Darling is working in the kitchen. The dog wants to play with Darling but she refuses, trying to communicate snidely to the dog. Eliot makes a mess in the kitchen while he asks her about Zimbabwe. Eliot introduces Darling to Kate, who Darling knows tried to kill herself recently at college and has an eating disorder. Eliot tries to get Kate to eat something but she declines; she goes upstairs wearing an "Invisible Children T-shirt" (269) and comes back after showering wearing the same Cornell T-shirt that Bastard once wore. When Kate finally assembles a meal, Darling laughs at her for how sparing she is with food when she has so much. Kate gets mad at Darling, but Darling isn't scared of being fired because she says Eliot wants to learn her language so he can go to Zimbabwe and shoot an elephant and in addition he pays her well because of "that Kony video" (271).

Uncle Kojo picks Darling up from Eliot's house and they start to drive aimlessly until Uncle Kojo's phone rings. Aunt Fostalina summons them to Shadybrook where Tshaka Zulu greets them and hands Darling a real spear. He is wearing traditional dress and has painted his body bright red; he yells to the sky and asks where his "impi" (272) is. Darling realizes that "this is proper craziness" (272) while Uncle Kojo tries to get her to translate what's going on. Tshaka Zulu keeps talking directly to Darling, pointing into the distance and asking what she sees. The old man makes a grave speech about motherland and rule by strangers and then rushes at a pizza boy standing not too far away. Just when Darling begins to fear for the pizza boy, police cars approach with their sirens blaring and Tshaka Zulu throws his spear which doesn't go very far. The police come out with their guns pulled, telling Tshaka Zulu to drop his weapon; he will not.

Writing on the Wall

Darling is studying for a biology test one night, trying to put in an effort since Aunt Fostalina has been pressuring her to study medicine or nursing in college. Marina and Darling text back and forth, and Darling without much thought starts to write on her wall in marker. She goes downstairs and gets a sponge, but this makes her wall look even worse than before. She thinks about how she and her friends once drew a bunch of penises and bad words on a wall in Budapest. Marina texts her that she had sex for the first time last night, and Darling informs the reader that Kristal is already pregnant. Darling tells Marina that she made out with Tony, then elaborates on the story to the reader, saying that Amma picked her up one day and took her to a club where she danced with Tony. Other couples also danced incredibly close, almost performing sexual acts while "grinding" (280) and "daggering" (281). Darling doesn't tell Marina much about it though, simply saying it was "cool" (281). She hears Uncle Kojo come home downstairs and says that he is getting worse, drinking more and driving off for multiple days. To make matters more complicated, the week before Darling had come home and caught Eliot walking around in boxers at her house, confirming that he and Aunt Fostalina were having an affair. Darling goes downstairs to check on Uncle Kojo; he is sleeping on the couch and she cleans up his bottles, sets out food, and then takes off his shoes for him.

In the morning, Darling notices what she has done to her wall. She knows she has only half an hour until Aunt Fostalina comes home from work, so she rushes to the basement and chooses a bunch of things to hang on her wall: a batik, a clock in the shape of Zimbabwe, and a mask. She hangs the things on her wall upstairs and thinks of the slab of ivory in the shape of Africa at Eliot's house that she stole; she hangs this above her bed. She decides to call her mother over Skype and Chipo picks up the call. She asks Chipo where the others are and she says that Bastard has gone to South Africa, Godknows is in Dubai, Sbho has joined a traveling theatre group, and Stina is still around but sometimes disappears. Chipo and her daughter Darling are the last ones left in Paradise. Darling starts to talk about being sorry for how bad things are there, but Chipo gets very angry at her, telling her that seeing things on the BBC is nothing like being there and that Zimbabwe is no longer her country because she abandoned it. Darling is so upset by this that she throws her computer and then immediately regrets this. The computer hits the mask on the wall and they both fall to the ground. Darling leaves her room and goes into TK's, which is very clean and looks the same as when he left, with pictures of TK and his friends dancing and his electronics all waiting for him. Darling reaches to "touch Tshaka Zulu" (289), hoping to talk to his urn like she sometimes does. Suddenly, Uncle Kojo comes in and announces that they have killed bin Laden. He tells her all about it, excited, and she thinks back to her childhood friends again, discussing the game they made up about finding bin Laden. In her memory, they see the dog Ncuncu who had been Bornfree's dog but now roamed all over. They chased her yelling "Bin Laden! Bin Laden!" (292) and suddenly a lorry came and hit her, leaving blood and "crushed meat" (292) in the road.


The chapter "This Film Contains Some Disturbing Images" returns to the theme of childhood and adulthood, as the adolescent girls attempt to mimic the behavior of older women (emphasized by the fact that the category of porn the girls watch during the chapter is "MILF"). They make the sounds of sex, but at this point are still forming the tightest friendships with other girls, not entering the world of dating and sex until chapters later. However, Bulawayo demonstrates that young girls in America are not removed from quick maturity: Kristal, Darling's African American friend, is already pregnant before they all graduate from high school.

The motif of masks returns in this section, helping to illustrate Darling's transforming identity. First, when the children see a mob force a white couple out of their home in Budapest, they find a mask hanging in the ransacked home. Darling narrates, "In the sitting room, we stand before the large mask on the wall and stare at the black face, the eyes gouged out. It is a long, thin face, white lining the eyebrows and the lips..." (215). She goes on to further describe the mask, which gives the impression of an exotic African artifact uprooted and placed in the expensive home as a nod to the black, impoverished, and less modernized lives happening just miles away in Paradise and places like it. Now, embarrassed by writing on the wall and frantic at the idea of Aunt Fostalina finding the mess she's made, she goes downstairs to find decorations to put on her wall to cover it. Darling now narrates, "I find this weird mask; it's split in the center, one half white, the other black. The black half is split further into numerous crazy patterns that I can't figure out, but it looks interesting to me..." (285). The mask being half black and half white parallels Darling's internal conflict regarding whether she is now Zimbabwean, American, or both, and even within her identity as a black person and Zimbabwean, there is much complexity like the "numerous crazy patterns" (285). Soon after she takes the mask to her room, however, she has an upsetting conversation with Chipo in which her friend accuses her of abandoning Zimbabwe and throws her computer so that it hits the mask and knocks it off the wall, symbolizing the way her sense of identity comes crashing down as a result of this encounter.

Kate is a quite minor character in the novel as a whole, but plays an important role in this section. Kate is from an upper-middle class family from America, and one of the problem that plagues people, especially females, in this class is eating disorders. We have seen this issue to some extent already, through Aunt Fostalina's intense focus on watching white TV programs about exercise and getting slim herself. Seeing Kate's extreme version of this problem reflects how this fixation in Aunt Fostalina is really a creeping of American culture into her formerly Zimbabwean identity and self-perception. Kate is also used as an ironic character, when Darling laughs at her for eating so little when she has access to so much food, something she and her friends only had in Zimbabwe when they rifled through the ransacked house in Budapest. This irony is compounded by the T-shirts Kate wears as a representation of her identity - a shirt for an organization that works in Africa and the same shirt from Cornell that Bastard had worn so many years before, drawing even more strongly the comparison between the two characters.

When Darling lived in Paradise, her friends would often go to Budapest to steal things they were lacking - primarily food. It is clear that Darling sees this as perhaps a crime but never a sin, as she thinks to herself while at the church service on Fambeki that she has not committed any sins. What is interesting is that even once Darling has lived in America for many years, she seems to take the same attitude toward stealing. Darling casually narrates that she stole something from Eliot's house - an expensive trinket in the shape of Africa - and she even hangs it on her wall, not fearing repercussions. This small moment demonstrates that Darling's upbringing has affected her moral sensibilities even long after becoming immersed in American society and values.

The final scene of the novel leaves the reader with a strange feeling, certainly not one of resolution. The climax comes late in the story - Chipo confronting Darling about her abandonment of Zimbabwe - and Darling runs away from this issue by throwing her computer and then leaving her room entirely. In TK's room, Uncle Kojo tells her that troops have found bin Laden, and Darling thinks back on a memory in which she and her friends played their game Find bin Laden and saw a dog hit by a bus. This unsettling memory underscores the importance of the fact that Darling still so often bounces back in her memory to her days in Paradise with her friends and also symbolically demonstrates how quickly a situation can change.