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

Length: 1432 words (4.1 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Powerful Essays

Open Document

Essay Preview

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...

... middle of paper ...

...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.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Analysis Of ' Mommy There 's A Nigger At The Door ' Essay

- Analysis Mommy…There’s a nigger at the door Dr. Ronald L. Jackson’s piece titled “Mommy…There’s a nigger at the door” (which appears in Journal of Counseling & Development; Winter99, Vol. 77 Issue 1, p4) shares his experience with racism as a child and continues on as it follows him into adulthood. And expressing that what we instill in our children impacts their lives in a huge way. In this article the author shares his experiences on racism throughout his life. As the author goes in to detail about his first encounter of racism from what he called a “well- taught baby racist” he presents an ugly setting....   [tags: Race, Racism, Black people, White people]

Powerful Essays
1021 words (2.9 pages)

Summary-Literary Analysis of Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean by Gloria Naylor

- ... She had to ask her mother what the boy had called her that day. She grew up with the understanding nigger could be a reputation, quantity, gender, perspective or pronunciation from how her close-knit family would talk. All that Naylor knows becomes questionable due to a quite different reality shaping her thought of that word in her language. Her family-oriented word to describe a person or another family member is altered as well. Gloria does not give recognition to nigger in its hateful fashion, even though that fateful day in third grade an ignorant boy adds a disappointing definition of the word to her vocabulary....   [tags: language, reality, exemplification]

Powerful Essays
600 words (1.7 pages)

Analysis Of Gloria Naylor 's ' Mommy, What Does ' Nigger ' Mean? Essay

- When children of a certain ethnic group grow up, they often hear phrases or words that are used often by that specific group and they develop a definition of that word or phrase. The word is usually never used to hurt someone’s feelings or to put them down but instead used to greet one another or used to describe someone. That all changes when a person outside of the ethnic group uses the word or phrase. The meaning of it becomes totally different and can become hurtful. There’s a new meaning that’s different from the one that the child already had known and then it becomes a word that is hurtful and bad to them....   [tags: Race, Black people, African American]

Powerful Essays
1243 words (3.6 pages)

Analysis Of ' Mommy, What Does ' Nigger ' Mean By Gloria Naylor And Black Men

- In these two short essays “ Mommy, What Does ‘Nigger’ mean”. written by Gloria Naylor and “Black Men in Public Space written by Brent Staples both provided literal as well as inferred message. They emphasis the effects that determine how a person thinks and acts based on a stereotype about African Americans. The way words and behavior/actions can impact the way racial identity is formed or perceived as because each minority group has a word that is used towards them that identifies them. Based upon the word it can be the way people view them as a whole....   [tags: Black people, Race, African American, White people]

Powerful Essays
951 words (2.7 pages)

Comparing the Loss of Innocence in Cullen's Incident and Naylor’s Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean?

- Loss of Innocence in Cullen's Incident and Naylor’s Mommy, What Does "Nigger" Mean.   Unfortunately, a question that many African Americans have to ask in childhood is "Mommy, what does nigger mean?," and the answer to this question depicts the racism that still thrives in America (345). Both Gloria Naylor’s "'Mommy, What Does "Nigger" Mean?'" and Countee Cullen's "Incident" demonstrate how a word like "nigger" destroys a child’s innocence and initiates the child into a world of racism.  Though the situations provoking the racial slur differ, the word "nigger" has the same effect on the young Naylor and the child in Cullen’s poem....   [tags: comparison compare contrast essays]

Powerful Essays
1186 words (3.4 pages)

The Word Nigger Essays

- The Word "Nigger" “My niggas. Some niggas that you don’t wanna try.       My niggas. Some niggas that’s really do or die.       My niggas. Ain’t no longer living a lie.       My niggas is stong. My niggas is real.”      Does this artist use the word nigger in the same way that racists have and still are. The answer to this question is a simple one- no. Today’s urban society have changed, not only the definition, but also the spelling of this word, which was once used to belittle those of African-American decent....   [tags: Definition History Nigga Nigger Black Essays]

Powerful Essays
1466 words (4.2 pages)

It 's No Secret, The Word `` Nigger `` Essay

- It’s no secret, the word “nigger” in today’s society is one of the most offensive, controversial, and racist things that can come from someone may say. The word right away brings up a dark past in the United States that few can be proud of, a time where African-Americans were segregated against due to their skin color. To this very day it remains one of those words that are rarely said in public because of the hurtful and derogatory meaning that it processes. But what about the word “nigga,” some may argue that our language is changing and the meaning has changed....   [tags: African American, Black people, Race, Nigger]

Powerful Essays
1324 words (3.8 pages)

Power in O'Connor's The Artificial Nigger and Mason's Shiloh Essay

- Power in O'Connor's The Artificial Nigger and Mason's Shiloh Flannery O'Connor's story The Artificial Nigger and Bobbie Ann Mason's story Shiloh both possess characters that excercise power . Mr. Head, the main character that exercises power in The Artificial Nigger, is an old racist man, who claims to know everything. In Mason's story, Norma Jean, a simple southern woman who wants change in her life, is the main character that exercises power. Both characters are similar in their successful exercise of power; however, the effects their power have are different....   [tags: Artificial Nigger Mason's Shiloh Essays]

Powerful Essays
822 words (2.3 pages)

Essay about Grandson’s Lesson in Flannery O’Connor’s The Artificial Nigger

- Grandson’s Lesson in Flannery O’Connor’s The Artificial Nigger “He’s never seen anything before,” Mr. Head continued. “Ignorant as the day he was born, but I mean for him to get his fill once and for all.” P.254 This quote which comes early in the text of Flannery O’Connor’s “The Artificial Nigger,” is of great significance for understanding this novel as a whole. The quote comes from the beginning of this short story when the Grandfather (Mr. Head) is on the train with his grandson (Nelson)....   [tags: O’Connor’s Artificial Nigger]

Free Essays
563 words (1.6 pages)

Role of Parents in Morrison's Recitatif and O'Connor's The Artificial Nigger

- Role of Parents in Morrison's Recitatif and O'Connor's The Artificial Nigger         Parental figures in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif" and Flannery O'Connor's "The Artificial Nigger" use indoctrination in an attempt to uphold tradition and reinforce racial boundaries. While one adult influence fulfills the mission entirely, the other must settle for inconstant, recurrent success and ultimate failure.   In "Recitatif" and "The Artificial Nigger" a mother and a grandfather, respectively, with too much responsibility seek to alter the lives of two children for the worst....   [tags: Artificial Nigger Essays]

Powerful Essays
1161 words (3.3 pages)