Chapter 4 to 6 Summary of We Need New Names

In bed, Darling describes her old life, saying that her family “had a home and everything and we were happy.”

We Need New Names Hardcover
We Need New Names Hardcover

Chapter 4 Summary: “Real Change”

The atmosphere of Paradise changes as the adults prepare to vote in an election. The adults smile more and talk a lot about change and democracy; the women giggle at the men, trying to look beautiful. The children discuss what happens when you vote while putting up posters that say “Change, Real Change” on the door of every shack, as they have been assigned by other children named Bornfree and Messenger. They talk about what it means to vote and Bastard talks about how he will be president of the country someday. They sing the national anthem and Godknows pretends to act like the NGO man, taking pictures of the other children with a brick.

In bed, Darling describes her old life, saying that her family “had a home and everything and we were happy.” She again describes their current shack, focusing on the bed and saying that even though she has her eyes closed to pretend to be sleeping, she can tell that her mother is sitting there. There is a soft knock on the door, five times, and a man comes in. Her mother and the man whisper and laugh and then start to have sex.

Darling counts in her head and tries to get to sleep, knowing that he will be gone in the morning. She thinks that sometimes she does not sleep at all, especially because she is scared of a dream she often has where bulldozers and police come. In the dream, which seems like a memory made more vivid through emotion, the adults yell at the men in bulldozers and at the police but their houses are all demolished and they are left in rubble, choking on dust and yelling about the liberation war. One woman comes running in high heels because she has been in town while this all has happened and starts to yell that her baby son was in her house; the child is carried out of the rubble, dead, and she throws herself on the ground and rolls around ripping her clothing until she is wrapped in a blanket and taken away. Later, foreign news channels come to take pictures and videos. Still awake in bed, Darling hears her mother’s man snoring and the sound of MotherLove singing sweetly down the street to tell people her “shebeen” is open for people to come drink.


On the day the adults all leave Paradise to vote, the children are all left behind. In the confusion and solemnity of the day, the children do not play or raid the adults’ houses, but instead sit quietly under a tree together all morning and afternoon. At one point it begins to rain, but they stay outside, becoming wet and hungry and tired. Finally, the adults come back. They are joyful, with ink-stained fingers from voting by fingerprint. That night, everyone has a party in MotherLove’s shack, where MotherLove makes “brew” all day and gives it to people at night. MotherLove starts to sing a prayer and the adults dance with the children, telling them to “get ready for a new country, no more of this Paradise anymore.”

We Need New Names
Front cover of We Need New Names

Chapter 5 Summary: “How They Appeared”

Darling goes back to her memory again, narrating how her family and all the others whose houses had been demolished came to Paradise. She says that they did not “come to Paradise,” which would imply choice, but rather appeared in bits and then in “swarms” and “waves.” They portioned out land by drawing in the dirt with sticks and they brought materials to build shacks: pieces of tin, cardboard, and plastic. Some fought over what had not been brought and some stayed entirely quiet. When these people regained their voices, they said that the white men who made them paupers before independence were not as bad as the black men doing this to them now. Children also arrived, starting out confused but soon knowing not to ask questions. MotherLove arrived with big barrels to make liquor during the day, which the reader has just seen put to use in the last chapter. Chapter 5 of We Need New Names ends by noting that the men tried to appear strong in public and even in front of their families, but the women understood that the men were “falling apart” and had to show the real strength.

Chapter 6 Summary: “We Need New Names”

In chapter 6 of We Need New Names, the children decide they need to “get rid of Chipo’s stomach once and for all.” The girls, Darling and Sbho, decide that the boys shouldn’t go, and they invite another girl named Forgiveness to go with them. Sbho lays a “ntsaro” and Chipo lies on it. The girls don’t know exactly what they are supposed to do, so Darling collects a lot of rocks while Forgiveness undoes a rusty coat hanger. Sbho lays out a metal cup, a leather belt, and a “purple round thing.” They decide that Darling should pee in the cup. She does so and then Sbho sprinkles dirt in it and Chipo drinks it. They pull up Chipo’s shirt and poke at her stomach. They give themselves the names of doctors from a TV show and Sbho and Darling keep massaging Chipo’s stomach while Forgiveness flattens out the coat hanger completely. Finally, Forgiveness tries to get Chipo to take off her pants, but she doesn’t want to. Forgiveness explains that to get rid of a stomach you have to put the coat hanger through a woman’s “thing” and all the way up inside. Chipo asks if it will hurt and Forgiveness says she doesn’t know. While the girls fight over whether they should do this, MotherLove appears. The girls are afraid that she will be angry or take them back to their mothers to be hit, but when MotherLove realises what has been going on, she is just sad. MotherLove hugs Chipo and starts to cry, and then Chipo starts to cry. A “purple lucky butterfly” lands on Chipo and then flies away, and Sbho, Darling, and Forgiveness run after it yelling for luck.

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