Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 205

We Need New Names is deeply involved with the contemporary American immigrant experience, from the perspective of a young African girl who leaves the hardships in Zimbabwe only to trade them for the challenges of growing up black and foreign in Detroit.

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On one level the main theme is that of all diasporic literature: the difficulty of finding a place in a new land. Functioning in U.S. society without totally assimilating and erasing one's native culture is a thread woven throughout the book.

As Darling, the protagonist, was ten when she left her life of poverty in Zimbabwe, she treasures her social scene and friends. These memories, as well as those of the dangers and deprivations under the Mugabe regime, are well established in her mind. Leaving them behind not just physically but mentally so as to enable emotional growth, while still embracing the positive bonds of childhood friendship, is another strongly developed theme.

The vital role of language in growth and expression also emerges clearly.

We could not use our own languages, and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised.

Adjusting to new forms of expression and the constant burden of being misunderstood are among the burdens Darling learns to carry.

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