Baldwin's Father in Notes of a Native Son Essay

Baldwin's Father in Notes of a Native Son Essay

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Playgrounds of Harlem

Narrative is a form of writing used by writers to convey their experiences to an audience. James Baldwin is a renowned author for bringing his experience to literature. He grew up Harlem in the 1940’s and 1950’s, a crucial point in history for America due to the escalading conflict between people of different races marked by the race riots of Harlem and Detroit. This environment that Baldwin grew up in inspires and influences him to write the narrative “Notes of a Native Son,” which is based on his experience with racism and the Jim-Crow Laws. The narrative is about his father and his influence on Baldwin’s life, which he analyzes and compares to his own experiences. When Baldwin comes into contact with the harshness of America, he realizes the problems and conflicts he runs into are the same his father faced, and that they will have the same affect on him as they did his father.

Baldwin’s father died a broken and ruined man on July 29th, 1943. This only paralleled the chaos occurring around him at the time, such as the race riots of Detroit and Harlem which Baldwin describes to be as “spoils of injustice, anarchy, discontent, and hatred.” (63) His father was born in New Orleans, the first generation of “free men” in a land where “opportunities, real and fancied, are thicker than anywhere else.” (63) Although free from slavery, African-Americans still faced the hardships of racism and were still oppressed from any opportunities, which is a factor that led Baldwin’s father to going mad and eventually being committed. Baldwin would also later learn how “…white people would do anything to keep a Negro down.” (68) For a preacher, there was little trust and faith his father ...


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...his father had acted the way he did, which caused him to be committed. He was facing the same experiences and the same side-effects his father once felt. However, faced with this dilemma between acceptance and equal power, Baldwin looks to the only man he can trust to help him, his father. He trusts his father because he knows that his father went through the same dilemma he is going through, he has seen the same affects in his father’s rage and hate. However, his father already passed away, and what help that could have been gathered from his father is gone; Baldwin can only piece together his memories of his father’s character and life and compare it to his own to see how the two are really alike.

Works Cited

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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