Zami: A New Spelling of My Name Themes

The main themes in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name are love between women, racism in America, and conflict with family.

  • Love between women: Lorde explores her diverse relationships with a variety of women, each of whom leaves an indelible imprint on her life.
  • Racism in America: Despite her parents’ attempts to shield her from it, Lorde is forced to contend with the realities of racism in school, work, and her personal life.
  • Conflict with family: Lorde feels isolated within her family and clashes with her mother, while many of the women she meets experience even greater family conflict.


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Last Updated on December 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1109

Love Between Women

Audre Lorde describes one brief sexual relationship with a man, which led to one of the most painful experiences of her life, an abortion that caused severe short-term illness and long-term mental anguish. Aside from Peter, the father of the child, and Byron, Audre’s own father, the only men in the book are sinister, abusive figures: Father Brady, the Catholic priest, and the unnamed comic book storekeeper, both of whom molest children; and Phillip Thompson, who scratches his daughter’s face and drives her to suicide. Love, kindness, generosity, excitement, and pleasure are described exclusively as taking place between women and other women.

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At the beginning of the book, Lorde’s mother, Linda, is placed in the foreground. Byron is described in relation to her, as a good husband and therefore a good man, a reversal of the convention that defines women solely by their wifely role. Although she felt compelled to escape from Linda’s overbearing personality, the author returns to her mother and her dreams of Carriacou in the epilogue, ending the book with the sentence:

There it is said that the desire to lie with other women is a drive from the mother’s blood.

Though Linda’s influence may have been a factor in the author’s sexual orientation, her parents’ relationship provided her with no model to imitate. This is a point that is repeatedly made about love between women: insofar as it follows any patterns at all, these patterns are still being created and refined. There are bisexual women who regard lesbian love as an enjoyable diversion from the real business of marriage and family. There are women who try to follow the patterns of heterosexual marriage with other women. There are open relationships, triangular relationships, and various other forms of experimentation.

By the end of the book, the author has been profoundly affected by the failure of her longest relationship, which was initially monogamous but changed to allow the participation of others. After this, she is comforted and invigorated by her brief, intense affair with Afrekete, which is closer in type to the series of short-term relationships she had before meeting Muriel. However, she does not suggest that her relations with Afrekete will be a pattern for the future. Instead, she celebrates the diversity of all the women she has loved, and the ways in which she has loved them, in helping to create the person she has become.

Racism in America

The author says that she was largely unaware of racism in early childhood, partly because she was so isolated and partly because both her parents tried hard to shield their children from racist abuse, largely by pretending that it did not exist. It did not occur to Lorde to doubt her mother’s assertion that low-class people spit randomly into the wind and that some of the spittle landed on her by accident. This meant that when she did encounter overt racism that could not be mistaken for anything else, the effect was even more shocking. This is most vividly illustrated in the family trip to Washington, D.C., in chapter 10.

The fact that the dining car is not open to Black people can be covered up by preparing a...

(The entire section contains 1109 words.)

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Chapter Summaries