In this article, we’ll discuss the summary and analysis of Spoiling the Name by Kamala Das. The poem is all about the role of the name of an individual especially woman in a society (patriarchal).
The name which is given by someone else becomes the defining factor for that individual. The poet explains how this name is a burden for her and how society restricts her movements because of it. The poem falls under Confessional Poetry
The poem begins with the phrase, I have a name. According to the poet, the name was given to her by someone else for his own convenience and she has it with her since last 30 years.
Now that it is her identity, she is often advised not to spoil her name. Spoiling here refers to the acts that are against the norms of society. She is thus asked to abide by the rules of the society or else her name i.e. her identity will be affected.
The poet says, “I feel, I must laugh” because she has a life of her own which she desires to live and does not want to live with the identity given by the society like the cells of her body which are nameless yet living their lives. She doesn’t understand why she has been given this name.
I stanza 2, calling her name as sweet-sounding (quite ironical because it is a kind of burden for her) the poet asks two rhetorical questions to know why she needs her name. First, because of her name or female identity, she has been married to a man who gives him nothing but keeps her calling for sex.
Gives me nothing refers to the love and affection that she always desired but could not get from the very man whom she has to spend her entire life with. Her unsuccessful married life is well depicted in her other poem An Introduction.
Second, her name starts being called out whenever she goes in the city’s dusty streets in the afternoons just to read old books or to look for valuable things or experience new thrills. These lines show how a woman’s freedom is restricted in India.
She can neither get the education nor can roam around or experience joy. According to the poet, all these things are just because of her name or female identity bestowed on her.
In the final stanza, the poet wonders why she needs to remember or bear that sweet-sounding name. According to her, it is a medal which she has undeservingly gained when her life is in misery and this name is of no use to her but a burden.
The society, according to her is asking her silly thing, i.e. carry this gift of a name like a corpse and totter beneath its weight and perhaps even fall. The line means that she has been forced to retain this identity which is, in fact, a burden like a corpse for her and will have to keep it till she dies.
In the end, she says I who love this gift of life more than all! The ending is thus quite ironical. The poet is not celebrating her identity (as the line literally means). Instead, she hates this gift (refers to burden) more than anything in the world.
The battle against this identity can also be seen in Margaret Atwood’s poem Spelling.