Robert Hayden Names Summary

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An Unfolding of Robert Hayden’s “Names” Throughout the history of Black culture in America, poet Robert Hayden represented Black history explaining and illustrating it through his poetic works. Although it is one of Hayden’s lesser known works, Names, is an extremely powerful poem that takes the reader on a journey of the trials and tribulations of slave life in America. “Once they were sticks and stones I feared I would break my bones,” provides a concise opening line as Hayden utilizes this idiom to relate the situation of the speaker to something that the reader can relate to. Hayden continues in the first stanza to explain a situation in which slaves feared “Four Eyes,” meaning a slave owner. The term “Four Eyes” is also an allusion…show more content…
Upon the speakers fourth decade as a slave, he finally realizes that the concept of slavery robs individuals of their personalities, freedom, and even their names. The speaker came to the realization that his name “was not his name,” and with this he lost his sense of humanity, becoming a mockery and spectacle for slave owners to treat however they pleased. The title, Names, is tied into the text at this point in the poem as the speaker learns that the single most defining characteristic of a person is not granted to him. He loses his name, his last shred of personality, and, in turn, loses all hope. As the stanza comes to an end, the speaker questions why the “old ones” lied to him; but that the answer to his question mattered none since the “old ones” were dead. It can be inferred that the old ones the speaker refers to are deceased slaves who gave him hopeful insight as a child that his quality of life would improve someday. At this point, the speaker abandons hope that his life will ever improve, as exhibited in lines 13 and 14 of the poem when the speaker refers to a better life as a life he “might have known” instead of a life that he may know in the future. The speaker uses his mother’s escape from slavery compared to his life still as a slave to illustrate his loss of faith
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