Names and Titles in Gloria Naylor's novel, Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean

Names and Titles in Gloria Naylor's novel, Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean

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Names and Titles in Gloria Naylor's novel, Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean

 
"Words themselves are innocuous; it is the consensus that gives them true power." (Naylor 344)

A name is a mark of classification, a basis for self identity. Able to elevate or annihilate a persons' perception of herself and the surrounding society, these designations can uplift, joke, chide, mock, insult, degrade. "Society" implies the people and the atmosphere encompassing an individual in her daily life. "Culture" is closely tied to the society of a person--it is the aspects of her life which are directly influenced by such issues as race, color, nationality, religion, sexuality, and any other number of things that mark a person as distinct. Culture, though an integral part of everyone's lives, is frequently misunderstood or seen as threatening by people outside of the group in question. This ignorance of other people leads to judgments and assumptions, which frequently cloud daily issues. The most ignorant people stoop to name-calling, a painful slap of hatred. Stereotypical, racist, religious, and sexist name calling, especially, can affect the victim's views and opinions for life. Most vulnerable to these taunts are children, innocent and uncallused, who hear these names and know neither their true meanings nor the depth of senseless hatred behind them. As shown by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Gloria Naylor, these labels can be taken in and their meanings rendered harmless. By seizing and possessing these hateful words, a group can reshape the meaning of the slurs once wielded so forcefully against them.

In Gloria Naylor's novel, "Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean?" she tells of her experience as a young child called a "ni...


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...round the family. While terms such as "nigger" remain excruciatingly prevalent in today's society, victims of racist slurs have found healthy ways of dealing with the abuse. By projecting new meanings onto old words and focusing on the ever-changing names for African Americans for reassurance, the victims' strengths allow them to reroute hate, instead creating a more positive recognition of intelligence, beauty, and individuality.

Works Cited

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. " 'What's in a Name?' Some Meanings of Blackness." American Mosaics: Multicultural Readings in Context. Eds. Barabara Roche and Sandra Mano. Boston: Houghton Milfflin. 1996. 424-38.

Naylor, Gloria. "Mommy, What Does 'Nigger' Mean?" New World of Literature: Writings from America's Many Cultures, second edition. Eds. Jerome Beatty and J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton. 1994. 344-7.

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