What are the main themes and major ideas in the book Zami: A New Spelling of my Name by Audre Lorde?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Zami is what has been called a "biomythography," in that it mixes true incidents from Lorde's life with fiction . A main theme of the book is the nature of identity and the combination of biography and myth, which suggests that Lordes's subject position, as black, female, lesbian, immigrant, and...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Sign Up for 48 Hours Free Access

Zami is what has been called a "biomythography," in that it mixes true incidents from Lorde's life with fiction. A main theme of the book is the nature of identity and the combination of biography and myth, which suggests that Lordes's subject position, as black, female, lesbian, immigrant, and artist, is both the result of the influence of the many women she discusses in the book as well as an act of self-invention.

Lorde's project calls into question the difference between biography and myth and argues that her life, as it is given to us in the text, is itself a form of self creation. Her adoption of the name "Zami" (meaning "women who work together as friends and lovers") is both a description of the way she has lived and is prescriptive, in that it expresses a kind of optimism about the way she would like to be in the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Zami is a bildungsroman—that is, a coming-of-age novel. It is a partially fiction and partially auto-biographical work in which Lorde explores the question of how she became the woman that she is.

As a black lesbian and daughter of immigrants, Lorde is marginalized from multiple angles. Much of Zami focuses on themes of isolation and existing in a world that seems to not have space for Lorde, in which many forces pull her in different directions that she does not want to go. In reaction to this, Lorde puts value on self-naming and autonomy. Over time, and largely through relationships with other women, we see Lorde come to live for herself more and more. Eventually she takes on the name Zami after a West Indian goddess associated with women's companionship with each other.

In taking on this name, Lorde asserts her connection to her West Indian heritage and asserts her existence as a woman who loves women. This name is also a way for her to name her love for women on its own terms and in a way that's specifically rooted in West Indian culture. This is a dynamic process of self-making and self-naming, and it shoes the importance to Lorde of creating art, images, words, and mythology in which to position her identity rather than simply choosing between terms and names invented by others.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As well as the obvious themes of sexuality and lesbianism there's also the theme of isolation. Throughout the whole of her early life, Zami is isolated from the world around her, not just by her color and her sexuality, but also by her disability. Zami is legally blind, and among other things this forces her to create her own world with its own rules.

In that sense, isolation ironically acts as a spur to Zami's empowerment. Set apart from everyone she can begin to rely on herself instead of being dependent on others. Though inevitably challenging at first, Zami comes to find this whole process of self-discovery to be a liberating experience. In due course she embraces all her many differences, allowing her to develop greater self-confidence as a result.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Audre Lorde's autobiographical novel Zami: A New Spelling of my Name, explores common coming-of-age themes such as: the struggle and search for authentic identity, separation from one's parents and native culture, and the fears and anxieties associated with exploring the world as a young adult. In addition however, Zami also addresses head-on themes of race and sexuality. Zami is a fictionalized memoir that narrates Lorde's coming-of-age as an African-American lesbian poet.

One central idea in the text is the notion of autonomy. The women with whom Lorde comes into contact all seem to obey certain archetypes. Kitty, for example —a young black gay woman whom Lorde met early in life — presents herself as shy, dainty, and sensitive; almost girlish. However, later in life, Kitty develops more autonomy. She learns to deconstruct the various archetypes of femininity and to choose what kind of woman she wishes to be. As a symbol and a consequence of this mature, developed sense of autonomy, Kitty renames herself Afrekete, after an ancient deity of female power and sexuality. Similarly, Lorde takes on the name "Zami"; a name which carries its own mythos and history. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team