Personal stories and descriptions of major events are narrated throughout James Baldwin’s works as he analyzes the nature of the relationship between white and black America. The marriage of narration and analysis are especially evident in Baldwin’s essay, “Notes of a Native Son.” As Baldwin describes his father and their relationship until his father’s death, he simultaneously comments about the relationship between white and black America. Baldwin compares the events of his experience with concurrent American events to conclude about the nature of his personal relationships and the relationship between races; namely, that one must come to accept the reality of mankind, yet must strive to fight the injustice inherent in mankind’s nature.
Baldwin begins with a brief description of the 1943 Detroit and Harlem riots and his father’s funeral. Both riots were centered on resistance to injustice, while the death of Baldwin’s father marked the end of oppression in Baldwin’s life as seen later in the work. These two events juxtaposed in the opening paragraph propose the questions that Baldwin works to answer by the end of his essay. Baldwin concludes his opening paragraph with “we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass” (63). The first question is “why death?” while the second question is “why resist?”
Baldwin’s father is never named in the work but is always referred to as “my father.” This ambiguity allows Baldwin’s father to play dual roles throughout the work as both the oppressor and as the oppressed, symbolizing both white and black America. Almost immediately, Baldwin points out ...
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... one must acknowledge mankind for what it is and the associated injustice without reserve; however, one must also resist the injustice inherent in mankind. This applies to the struggle between races as well as it applied to Baldwin’s relationship with his father. The initial questions proposed by “Notes” are answered in a general warning: hate breeds death and destruction, so resist the injustice where hate is conceived while accepting the unjust for who they are. It is through both personal and general experiences that Baldwin arrives at his final conclusion, offering a warning to society and the individuals within: hate only causes destruction and must be put aside before positive gains may be achieved.
Baldwin, James. “Notes of a Native Son.” 1955. James Baldwin: Collected Essays. Ed. Toni Morrison. New York: Library of America, 1998. 63-84.
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