Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Power of Multiple Stories: Bulawayo on Social Responsibility

     Much like the journey our protagonist takes in We Need New Names, African literature has taken a long journey from its early days in the 1940's.  The beginning of this journey started out with the raw emotions of colonialism turning into post-colonialism.  First and foremost, African writers sought to take back their humanity from the inhuman identity bestowed by colonial writers.  When African humanity was reaffirmed through the great literature of Achebe, Tutuola, Ptaaje, etc; authors turned to personal identity. Authors like Dangarembga focused on how individual Africans, now recognized widely as wholly human, chose to identify themselves and the difficulties that come with forging a personal identity.  Finally, with We Need New Names, Bulawayo seeks to show the flip side of identity and humanity, which is responsibility, in this case the responsibility to home.  This book starts off with our protagonist in a shantytown in Zimbabwe, dealing with the political corruption, poverty, and health issues that have torn through the country since Mugabe took over.  In order to deal with the strenuous task of survival, Darling, the protagonist, would playing to distract her from reality and imagining when her aunt will finally call fro her to come to America.  In the second half of the book, Darling's wishes are fulfilled when she gets a student visa to go to America with her aunt.  Here she lived a care free lifestyle, from a survival aspect, but struggled to fully fit into her new society.  Ultimately, however, she is reminded of her new otherness by her old friend Chipo, who is the only one of her original gang of friends who have stayed in Zimbabwe.  She tells Darling on multiple occasions that she cannot say she is truly from Zimbabwe anymore because, "'You think watching on the BBC means you know what is going on? No, you don't my friend,' says Chipo, brushing off Darling's halfhearted attempt to decry the fate of their country. 'The house was burning,' Chipo continues, 'and Darling and her kind have left it to others to put out the flames.'" This, nearly at the end of the book, is where Bulawayo places the next sign on the road of African literature, So many have fled their countries, their burning houses, and that is not a bad thing, but to forget their homeland is where she draws the line.  With humanity and identity comes responsibility and that responsibility is to take the blessings they were afforded and come back to their countries with a wealth of experience to assist in building it back up.  This is not to say that every African displaced by diaspora need come back as a revolutionary, but they need to do something and the way Bulawayo chose is to tell her story in her English, thus expanding the wealth of African stories.  Just by spreading their own story, the displaced do good in the form of spreading the African experience and shedding light on the people.  

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