Study Guide

One Crazy Summer Identity

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Big Ma—that's Pa's mother—still says Cassius Clay, Pa says Muhammad Ali or just Ali. (1.8)

Muhammad Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to reflect his newfound beliefs. Pa recognizes this and calls Ali by his new tag. Big Ma, on the other hand, calls him by his original name. To her, that's Muhammad Ali's real identity.

However things are stamped in Big Ma's mind is how they will be, now and forever. (1.13)

It doesn't matter how much people change or how much time passes; things are remembered a certain way in Big Ma's head. She shows us that it's tough to change someone's identity once they are thought of a certain way around town.

I had already seen three people in dark clothes with Afros. (6.25)

Delphine thinks the way people dress shows off their identity. Is she totally incorrect about this? Or is there some truth? Where is the line between using appearances to glean clues about someone's identity and using appearances to make snap judgments? Over to you, Shmoopers.

"I'm not Little Girl. I'm Fern." (8.16)

You go, girl. Or should we say, Fern? Even though she's just a little kid, Fern calls it like she sees it. She knows there's a big deal over her name so she makes a point of telling Cecile how she'd like to be identified. Fern wants to be acknowledged, and when her mom calls her "little girl," she's refusing a part of Fern's identity.

It's hard to believe the last time they'd seen each other, Fern had been a loaf of bread in Cecile's arms. That was how Uncle Darnell told it to me. Some pieces of it I even remember. (8.19)

Now and again we get glimpses of how people grow up and change. Some of this is inevitable (like with Fern changing from a baby to a young girl), but other things aren't so set in stone. Like, say, Cecile not knowing much about her kids' lives, for example. Identity is in flux, it seems.

"Just find a black beret. Any black beret will do. Make sure you tell them I gave to the cause." (9.16)

Instead of calling the people at the Center by their names, or even directly acknowledging who they are (Black Panthers), Cecile blends them all together; they're all the same to her. One way to think of this is as collective identity instead of individual. It doesn't matter if it's Kelvin or some random guy that Delphine gives the cash to, so long as they are a part of the movement.

"My name is Nzila. Nzila is a poet's name. My poems blow the dust off surfaces to make clear and true paths. Nzila." (12.10)

Keep telling yourself that, Nzila. It's as though Cecile is working over time to make sure that everyone—including the kids she abandoned—think of her as a revolutionary poet with influence. To Delphine, she's still Cecile. Delphine and her sister don't really care how much Cecile wants to change who she is; she can't for them.

A name is important. It isn't something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground. Your name is how people know you. The very mention of your name makes a picture spring to mind, whether it's a picture of clashing fists or a mighty mountain that can't be knocked down. Your name is who you are and how you're known even when you do something great or something dumb. (13.2)

For Delphine, a name isn't just a word on her birth certificate or what people call her—it helps everyone learn something about who she is. It's part of her. Since Delphine thinks of a name is equivalent to a person's identity, we get why she's so upset about her mom changing hers from Cecile to Nzila.

Her name might have changed. She might have been living on the other side of the country. But Cecile was plain old Cecile. Just crazier and scarier than I remembered. (20.43)

Delphine wishes that people could change. Based on what she's seen of Cecile, though, they can't (or don't). She was hoping her mom would be different, but it seems maternal instinct isn't really in her blood. It's a bummer for Delphine, but it says a lot about how identity is cemented in this story.

I said, "That's not your real name. The one she gave you. […] Your name is Afua." (33.9-13)

Here, Delphine explains to Fern, er, Afua, what her real name is and why it matters. To Fern, it's a weird name that people will make fun of. Hey, you don't have to tell us. Do you know what people said on the playground about the name Shmoop?

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