Unsettled distinction.

“’And then we ran back here so we wouldn’t have to look at what we had done.’
His right foot was buried past his ankle. I understood now why he was doing that.
‘How deep is this hole?’ he asked me.
‘Not very deep,’ I said.
He pulled his foot out of the ground and shook the dirt from his shoes.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘It’s already more than they deserve.’” (234)
This passage is striking when one considers that these bodies are the dead of ‘their’ side, not the enemy – and that their fellow soldiers could not rest unless they buried them in their own village. The relationship that Isaac has to these bodies reflects self-hatred and search for distancing from the evil that war brings. Was he not, earlier that day, ‘with’ these men buried now beneath him? By scorning his troop’s actions he scorns himself, indirectly. The image of shaking dirt from his shoes reflects Isaac’s efforts to rid himself of the weight and ownership – metaphorical ‘dirt’ – that rests on his murderous consciousness. So quickly does he shift from being a part of a ‘we’ to placing them apart as ‘they.’ For in reality, he is still alive to make such a distinction. Does his hatred come from ‘their’ failure to make it through the violence? Does he see himself as better for surviving? Or does his expressed distaste shield a weakness and insecurity for what the next day… evening… or hour will bring? The end of the above passage is the final line in the chapter, resting within the reader’s brain. Isaac’s words do not sit well, not for you, me, him and presumably, the narrator. Both Isaac and the narrator lie on both sides of that grave; one who saw the events previous to their death, the other who was forced to face the bodies after death. Even if the action of the fighting remains at a distance from the narrator, one can sense the violence coming closer towards the forefront. What will be next?

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About elizasalmon

Serving as an AmeriCorps member in Alamance County.

Posted on September 25, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m so glad you brought up this passage, it really resonated with me too, but in a different way. I did not see this so much as Isaac turning his back on the cause, or distinguishing himself from those who lost their lives, but rather identifying with them. Isaac knows his fate, and he knows it’s only a matter of time. I believe him burying his feet in the ground is acknowledgement of that fact, that soon he will be among them. This is why he is not surprised by Joseph’s death, but feels a duty to stay among his people and die for this cause, while letting Langston take his place in America.

  2. By the end of All Our Names, I also felt as though Isaac became despairingly remorseful for the role he played in instigating the Ugandan Civil War. Judging by Isaac’s dejectedness in the scene in which you wrote about, I imagine that his bitterness derived from the realization that his dream for social change died throughout the process of participating in the war. In other words, he was gravely disappointed- one of the most prominent themes throughout the novel.

    Disappointment was imminent for Isaac. On page 250 Isaac talks about all the perks that coincided with being under Joseph’s care, such as having clean cloths every day and not going to bed hungry every night. Through being pampered, Isaac became Joseph’s pawn in this game of warfare until he realized his dreams of revolution died, swallowed up the chaos that enveloped the country. As realities collided, Isaac gave his dream to somebody else (Joseph) who ultimately perverted everything it was originally supposed to represent- freedom, independence, a better life for every Ugandan.

    In a way this reminded me of Tambu’s new found privilege while living with Babamukuru in Nervous Conditions, to the extent that the unknown luxuries that she experienced for the first time unknowingly led to her transformation into a more Anglicized woman. Along the same premises, Isaac’s new found comfort brought about a blood thirstiness that coincided with war that he didn’t deliberately want in the first place. It happened against his will and it disturbed him, just as it did Tambu. Pampering a person with conveniences and gifts is the best way to get a person on your side, right? Neither of them realized their change of character until it was too late.

    I also believe your entry relates to the passage on pages 129-131 when “Langton” was reminiscing about his father’s poignant story in regards to “the city of dreams.” From my interpretation, the “city” in which society fantasized about represented the hope every Ugandans had for a better life during the colonial era. How “people dreamed of their garden, the flowers they had planted that they hoped would bloom in the spring, or the onions that were still not ripe enough to eat” (129) symbolized all of society’s aspirations as autonomous people that had yet to come to fruition under colonial rule. Their dreams is what led to their survival, and gradually, to their independence. However, the era following independence became a nightmare. The individuals responsible for taking the dreams of others, “to make their own,” signified the corrupt politicians who persuaded people to forfeit their dreams that they’ve held on to for so long, just as Joseph influenced Isaac to give up his own. Considering the events that followed independence, their trust was betrayed. By forfeiting their dreams, Ugandans unknowingly allowed corrupt politicians (who promised the fulfillment of their dreams) into power, and as a result, “the people gave that young man their lives without knowing it. They had given him all the power he wanted, and even though they didn’t know it, they had made him their kind.” (130)

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