Postcolonial Identity in Vera's Without a Name

Heather Sofield, English 119, Brown University, 1999

Part 4 of "Who Am I? : Negotiation of Identity in A Post -Colonial State"

Masvita, in Yvonne Vera's "Without a Name" leaves her war-decimated village, after being raped by a soldier. She moves onwards, trying to leave her nightmares behind. She lives for a time with Nyenyedzi, a man she grew to know as they worked together on a plantation, but her dream is to escape into the city. Finally she arrives in Harari and assumes a nameless existence free of ritual of which she has dreamed. But as might be expected, she is unable to escape her past. Soon she discovers she is pregnant. The baby could possibly be the result of her relations with Joel, the man she lives with in Harari, but he claims no responsibility. So, she is left stranded in the middle of her empty dream, the manifestation and consequence of her past sprung forth in her own belly. She cannot escape because her history travels with her.

Vera gives the reader pieces of foreshadowing and hints at the conflict of past warring with future in one person. When Masvita has first begun to co-habitate with Joel she ponders their situation.

"Joel never spoke of consulting her parents concerning living with her like this. Masvita found herself wondering about it. Though she told herself this was freedom, it was not easy to forget where she had come from. They lived as though they had no pasts or futures." (Vera, Without a Name, p.50)

In all of these cases we can see evidence of the conflict between past, present and future. There comes a point then when one must confront these in order to recognize an identity. Author and post-colonial theorist Chinua Achebe describes this as a crossroads. He writes,

"the crossroads does have a certain dangerous potency; dangerous because a man might perish there wrestling with multiple headed spirits, but also he might be lucky and return to his people with the boon of prophetic vision." (Achebe, p.191)
He seems to view the conflict of identity facing a post colonial citizen as certainly containing the potential for disaster - but more importantly being a point, when properly handled, from which one could draw strength and vision to benefit the nation as a whole.

In the above literary examples we have seen characters who have not successfully navigated those crossroads but succumbed to a crisis of identity. In Tambu's case, dilemma was introduced by education. Moab and Masvita, for different reasons, attempted escape into an urban society to which they did not belong and therefore found only despair.

Who Am I? : Negotiation of Identity in A Post-Colonial State

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