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Aswathi. M.P, Department of English, K A H M Unity Womens College, Manjeri
Abstract: Jose Saramago, the Portuguese writer, the Nobel Laureate, admired Kafka, the Modernist deeply and this
influence is reflected in his writings overtly or covertly and All the Names is observed to be an example for that.
The novel, All the Names is a literary piece celebrating anonymities. Most of its characters are identified in terms
of their official status such as Clerk, Deputy, Registrar and so on. The setting reminds us of a graveyard locale and
the atmosphere is claustrophobic, whether the scene is the Central Registry or the protagonists quarter. The timid
protagonist, Senghor Jose- the only character in the novel with a name- became brave when he emancipated
himself from the clutches of power and initiated a search to trace the existence of an unknown woman and thereby
fell or elevated to the level of an existential researcher. The recurrence of the activities of the Registry and the
novelty in the act of the researcher are portrayed parallel so as to expose the difference between the attitude of a
human being and non-human system. The objective of the present study is to analyze as to how the construction of
the novel answers the personal metaphysical needs set against the system of orders and how a man of name found
out his real name by being himself amidst of hierarchical methodical system. Also the study tries to substantiate the
working of gender, since the object of Senghor Joses search is an unknown woman. The multiple meanings of
death also come within the scope of this analysis. By digging the archives of mysteries the writer intends to disclose
the adventure of the knight, Senghor Jose, unknowingly dragged to his mission, knowingly conduct it to the final
moment and postpones the inevitable discovery, since personal is far away from the formal.
Key Words: Name, Unknown, search, existence, law, bureaucratic
You know the name you were given
You do not know the name that you have.
The Book of Certainties (qtd. in Saramago)
The encounter between eyeless and earless laws designation as it serves the dual role of classification
and the sensitive human being has imprinted signature and exerting power - imparting and implementing
in history and literature whenever the individual orders. Obviously the official name being a
questioned the logic of the laws formulated years earlier denominator of respectability, a tug of war is happening
and proved to be farcical when observing through the under the surface and the effect of which is the survival
looking glass of modernity. The issue, whether the law of the fittest. This chemistry of politics is pronounced in
is outdated or updated has little significance in a work, impartial terms at the beginning of the novel:
The continual state of agitation of the eight
tracking the legalities of a Central Registry keeping the
records of birth and death, thereby monitoring the clerks in the front row who have no sooner sat down
population rise or fall, but of unknown place and time. than they have got up again , and are always rushing
The only observable factor is the action; what is from their desk to the counter, from the counter to the
happening inside the Registry, in what order and which card indexes, from the card indexes to the archives,
way. The novel itself is the celebration of the tirelessly repeating this and other sequences and
anonymities in the midst of objective records of combinations to the blank indifferences of their
identities. The significance of the identifier i.e. the superiors, both immediate and distant, is an
name has lost its real correspondence with the person indispensable factor in understanding how it was
who holds it and it does the only function which is possible , indeed, shamefully easy, to commit the
classificatory in the view of the staffs of the Central abuses, irregularities and falsifications, that constitute
Registry. The only name that has got the significance the main business of this story. (Saramago 4)
better than something used to categorize is the


Bureaucracy, its working and the resistance of
the individual against stereotyping due to it , has been
voiced in a lot of fictional works such as Joseph
Hellers Catch 22, Franz Kafkas Trial, Neal
Stephensons The Cobweb, Jose Saramagos The Cave
etc. Bureaucracy works upon structures established for
the smooth administration and the achievements of the
goals of a firm or agency. In order to retain its strength,
it proposes certain laws that are equivalent to the
dictums of the religious scriptures. According to James
Wilson, there are two different ways to look at the
functioning of agencies- bottom up and top down.
(Wilson 11) The first being the crucial step in finding
out the characteristics of that system, it has to be
focused if one wish to have a serious study to rectify the
errors for better. Unfortunately the emphasis of the
second, flattering the merits of the superiors, ignores the
inner plays in the underground. The authorities fail to
understand that the exploitation is a double edged sword
as it not only harms the subject who is overburdened,
but also sweeps away the rigidity of the system i.e. its
foundation. The protagonist, Senghor Jose, is intelligent
enough to capture this. He reflects: a power so sure
of itself that it not only completely ignored the person it
was speaking to, not even looking at him, but also made
absolutely clear that it would not subsequently lower
itself to ascertain that the order has been carried
out.(Saramago 10). By introducing the loop holes and
glorifying the duplication and invasion done at the
lower level, the very nature of indifference of the
system is challenged.
Leveling is a philosophical term employed by
Soren Kierkegaard to explain the principle pertaining to
the surrender of individual before policies. In
Kierkegaard by M. Jamie Ferreira, the writer defines
leveling as abstractions victory over individuals,
quoting Kierkegaard. It is a negative form of imparting
equality and it is an abuse (Ferreira 118). Applying the
same philosophy in a different context, placing power
parallel to God and putting governmental procedures
against religious observances a new equation based on
power is constructed. This radical shift is the inevitable
consequence of the social changes after industrial
revolution but is proved to be against humanism. The
new system moulds a sheepish individual, and the
shepherd will be the leader of the officialdom. The

ultimate goal of the modern shepherd is to pull the
thread of the wandering sheep as he believes discipline
to be the ultimate thing of existence. The power politics
spreading in the air when the duel between the robotic
and humanly individuals takes place, is problematized
in the novel All the Names.
The novel portrayed the events in the life of
Senghor Jose, a fifty year old clerk the lowest in the
hierarchies- with no prospect for promotion, single and
timid with the fears such as falling from the ladder
when climbing to collect the record cards from the
upper row of shelves. The name he owns is of two parts,
each of the disyllabic are expected to be pronounced
with multiple modulations such as condescension,
irritation, irony, disdain, humility, flattery and so on,
Contrary to his expectations , he could perceive only the
negative tones whenever he hears it inside the Registry.
The reason for the degradation is simply the rank he
carries despite being an individual deserving respect.
His quarter is the one preserved in the midst of
demolished quarters as a memorial of the earlier labour
relations and architecture. Ironically the quarter serves
the purpose of a destroyer of privacy as the door from
the Registry always links it to the office network. But
the same way works as a mediator in asserting the
individuals metaphysical needs. The protagonist
utilized the secret door to enter in to the Registry to
conduct his expedition by searching the archives of the
famous people, and collect and codify the data for the
sake of nothing other than a hobby. The higher
officials decision to impart equality i.e. everyone
should enter the office through the main door, was more
a boon to him than a curse as it restored his personal
freedom by separating his personal life from official
Hobbies are meant to utilize the leisurely hours
in a meaningful way. But to some people it would be a
part of metaphysical angst (Saramago 13).The logic of
bringing about order in the chaos might be the idea
behind this collection as remarked by the omniscient
narrator of the novel. Hobby being a part of private
satisfaction, there is nothing wrong in keeping it as a
secret. Becoming a voluntary biographer is the title
Senghor Jose, the protagonist, has given to his hobby.
At the moment when he turns to be a transgressor of
laws, his task is transformed to a formidable deed of


adventure and much painstaking. Though naturally a
reserve person, accumulating the strength, he entered
into his work place at night like a thief. The reason for
the act of deception is simple: he is more sincere to his
hobby than to his work. But it is not that innocent as he
struggled against the abstraction- the act is a sin against
espirit de corps of civil service (Saramago 16). It is
not because of the nature of the document he seeks
made it a sin, because the document is open to all if
requested in black and white. Despite that the question
marks of ethics, discipline, law, system and ethics
disturbed his mind. But the obsession remained with
him and metamorphosed to be a passion that brought
forth a shift: the collection became his profession and
job a burden. The broken string of hierarchy remains
broken and the innocent man cunningly reshaped it to
cater to his needs.
The pattern of classification followed in the
Central Registry is separating the living from the dead
whereas Senghor Jose, without accepting the finality of
death used another criteria of division i.e. taking into
consideration whether one is famous or standing on the
frontier of lime light. The biographer is well aware of
the arbitrariness of his criteria. The similarity between
his method and the governmental method is the
mobility of the files due to the nature of data implying
the truth that no status in any set is permanent. The
narrative voice interferes in an occasion to justify the
protagonists stand by giving hints towards the biology
of birth and death as the cause of denial of that criteria:
if the life were instead to remain biologically the
same, that is, the same being, the same cells, the same
features, the same stature, the same apparent way of
looking, seeing and noticing, and, without the change
even being registered, statistically, what if the life
became another life, and that person a different
person.( Saramago 21). The culmination of such a
thought against standardization, by putting individuals,
emphasizing the individual greatness is his first hit in
his encounter which came unconsciously. Later he
himself reached the progress as he discarded his own
criteria of standardization, say fame, and selected an
unknown woman as the object of his major research. He
declares in his imaginary conversation with himself- the
bureaucratic face- that she (the unknown woman) is
special in the sense that she is unique being unknown.

Thus he became a true researcher. This realization of
fixing anonymity as a quality could be marked as a
milestone in his adventure.
The process of exploration was tough as the
information obtained from the cards in the registry is
minimal. The doors he knocked as a part of his
investigation were, in most of the situations, indifferent.
As every spokesman of bureaucracy did, he used his
identification card in the Registry as a tool to make
people obey him. But whether it was the lady in the
ground floor apartment, or the woman in the upstairs,
they took least struggle to help him finding out that
unknown woman. The only information he obtained
was about the school in which she studied. More than
the metaphysical reasons such as she became a habit, a
companion who made him active, helped him to rise
from lethargy of repetition not by presence but by
absence, in some moments he needed her personally as
his partner. A platonic relationship had sprouted in the
mind of the protagonist. Though he succeeded in an
effort to steal her documents from the school he could
not even recognize the fact that she was the
mathematics teacher of the same institution. The search
might have reached an abrupt end when he came across
the card declaring her as dead. But the protagonist could
not convince himself of the truth as he could not see the
death certificate. More over anonymity made her alive
in space as her physical presence was not perceived and
so became the absence. He continued his research with
the persuasion of a lady- the godmother of the unknown
woman, who considers him not as a clerk of Central
Registry but as a man who has mysterious reasons
behind his enquiry. But moving deeply in to his search
one could gather stones hurled at the futile mechanism
of Registry failing to identify the status of the unknown
lady at the time of her death. In his search too, Senghor
Jose lost the precious information about the personality
of the person under enquiry as he only wishes to collect
recordable information omitting the personal likes and
dislikes of the lady. He did not show the enthusiasm he
had at the beginning in finding out the deeper regions of
the ladys predicaments. Perhaps the recognition of
death and its finality both legally and spatially pulls him
back more than the natural reserve. He hastily
concluded that the visit to the head master and the
parents of the woman will put him at the edge. The


meeting with the shepherd, who changes the number of
the tombs, thereby making them rest in peace by being
unknown, sowed the seeds of new insights in his mind.
Bureaucracy serves the purpose of a shepherd i.e. it
guides the sheep- the officials in the same direction so
as to meet his demands. Here we could see a variationsheep are wandering and the shepherd is liberating the
escaped souls of those who committed suicide by
allowing them to be unknown by replacing their
numbers with that of others. It predicts the change in
bureaucracy or at least in bureaucrats to a posttraditionalist vision of the world. With the final visit of
the registrar to his quarter, though as an invader, the
protagonist gained confidence and became alert again.
Union of the spirit of enquiry with that of two
women with no special reasons to be kind to the
protagonist shows the affinity of the novel to the gender
paradigm working inside. Primarily the object of the
male researcher is a woman, a woman unknown though
posses a name. The other two, whom Senghor Jose met
as a part of his study, who in the midst of the hierarchy
in the family, helps him either by directing him to a new
clue, or by encouraging him to pursue his study
otherwise might have considered to be futile in male
perspective. The other woman staying in the upstairs
too shared some of her family secrets to him to
convince her inability to help him in the mission. In that
way the writer invites readers attention to the working
of a parallel to bureaucracy in the domestic structure.
Thus the Central Registry, by its resemblance to the
family proves to be patriarchal in its essence.
Consciously the writer avoids showing the gendered
identity of the stereotypes- the staff of the Registry.
Their plight is explained in metaphorical terms through
the spoken and unspoken words of females and there by
asserting the fact that the equation of leveling is futile
and each of them are essentially different and this
difference is revealed only in certain moments and in
other situations they are repeating their roles with
pseudo-obedience. Also in the gendered characters,
sparing the protagonist, all the other figures whether the
head of the bureaucratic Registry, or the Head of the
educational institution, or the two husbands , the
pattern of behavior could be seen as similarauthoritarian, autocratic, arrogant and rigid. Like all the
women, except the unknown woman, who found a

space to implement their plans, Senghor Jose, the down
trodden prey of the system, the prisoner of the law for
twenty five years resist by making use of the hidden
paths of the system.
The transition of the individual from blind
obedience to creative resistance opens the eyes of the
authority, at least one major figure of the power.- the
registrar. At first the transformation appeared
mysteriously, then it appears before the protagonist
when he suggested a method to overcome his crisis due
to the finality of the search caused by the awareness of
death. The speech of the registrar in a meeting exposes
the nature, pitfalls and the reasons for its failure in the
management sphere and a transformed face it proposed
under the disguise of the order- the declaration of
power. The meeting itself is a part of the new game
because in the past the directions from the Registrar
reach the other staffs from their immediate superiors.
The chief of the institutions desire to destroy the
hierarchy by explaining the matters pertaining to the
work was a surprise to the staff. But contrary to the first
act he pronounces the same words expected to be
uttered by the machine of bureaucracy: while it is
true that the laws and regulations can be altered and
substituted at any moment, the same cannot be said of
tradition, which is , as such, in form and sense
immutable.(Saramago 177). Again to the wonder of the
staff, breaking the convention that is emphasized before
the registrar continues: the matter that my thoughts
called into question, much to my surprise, was one of
the fundamental aspects of Central Registry tradition,
that is, the spatial distribution of the living and the
dead,, their obligatory separation, not only in to
different archives, but in different areas of
building.(Saramago 179). Recognizing the individuals
greatness, irrespective of the status whether dead or
alive, the Registrar ordered for a new method of
classification placing the dead and alive together,
incorporating the information relevant in statistical
point of view. The reason for this idea is kept as a secret
and later exposed to Senghor Jose, as merely to keep the
unknown woman alive. Thus the Registrar made the
dead alive by becoming an accomplice with Senghor
Jose when he suggested that he has to find out the death
certificate and to destroy it to make the woman alive. At
this juncture death has turned to be an official affair.


Ironically the text laughs at the systems presumptions
and assumptions of ones existence and how the
individuals, internalizing the systems dictates, vainly
succumb to the values proposed by it when trying to
have an encounter with it. Foucault rightly remarked
when he says in History of Sexuality:
By power I do not understand a general
system of domination exercised by one element or one
group over another, whose effects traverse the entire
body social It seems to me that first what needs to be
understood is the multiplicity of relations of force that
are immanent to the domain wherein they are exercised,
and that are constitutive of its organization; the game
that through incessant struggle and confrontation
transforms them, reinforces them, inverts them; the
supports these relations of force find in each other, so as
to form a chain or system, or, on the other hand, the
gaps, the contradictions that isolate them from each
other; in the end, the strategies in which they take
effect, and whose general pattern or institutional
crystallization is embodied in the mechanisms of the
state, in the formulation of the law, in social
hegemonies. Omnipresence of power: not at all
because it regroups everything under its invincible
unity, but because it is produced at every instant, at

every point, or moreover in every relation between one
point and another. Power is everywhere: not that it
engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere.
(Foucault 121-122)
More than a simple portrayal of transgression ,
search, approval of the superior and all is well that ends
well game, multiple messages pertaining to power,
which is not only the property of a system, but also a
decisive force reigning the world through its
omnipresence, are conveyed through the nameless and
named characters in All the Names .Franz Kafka, in
his Trial problematized the blind power of the
bureaucracy and its failure to recognize the needs of the
individual for whose convenience laws are structured.
But here, a complex strategy of resistance is devised
through an apparently simple narrative thread. The
repercussions of the rehabilitation of the human values
in non human structured world could be spread across
the cynical outer and the stoic inner world of the
bureaucratic sphere envisaged through the Central
registry as the change will be all pervasive shaking the
chain of status from both sides i.e. from a clerk, the low
ranking official to the Registrar- the custodian of the
archives of the dead and alive, known and unknown.

Ferreira M. Jamie .Kierkegaard USA:John Wiley & Sons ,2008. Print
Frier, David. The Novels of Jose Saramago. UK:University of Wales Press,2007.Print.
Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality. Harmondsworth: Volume II .Peguin Books Pvt. Ltd, 1990. Print.
Saramago,Jose. All the Names. Trans. Margaret Jull Costa.London: Harvill Press, 2000.Print
Wilson, James.Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do And Why They Do It.USA: Basic Books, 2000.Print