Baldwin's Insights of History in Notes of a Native Son Essay

Baldwin's Insights of History in Notes of a Native Son Essay

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Private Insight into Public History

James Baldwin had a talent of being able to tell a personal story and relate it to world events. His analysis is a rare capability that one can only acquire over an extensive lifetime. James Baldwin not only has that ability, but also the ability to write as if he is conversing with the reader. One of his most famous essays, “Notes of a Native Son,” is about his father’s death. It includes the events that happened prior to and following his father’s death. Throughout this essay, he brings his audience into the time in which he wrote and explains what is going on by portraying the senses and emotions of not only himself, but as well as the people involved. This essay has a very personal feeling mixed with public views. Baldwin is able to take one small event or idea and shows its place within the “bigger picture.” Not only does he illustrate public experiences, but he will also give his own personal opinion about those events. Throughout “Notes of a Native Son” Baldwin uses the binary of life versus death to expand on the private versus public binary that he also creates. These two binaries show up several times together showing how much they relate to each other.

Baldwin makes certain readers understand the states of the issue at once; his essay starts by describing his father’s funeral in the aftermath of the Harlem riots of 1943. Baldwin states, “As we drove him to the graveyard, the spoils of injustice, anarchy, discountent, and hatred were all around us. It seemed to me that God himself had devised, to mark my father’s end, the most sustained and brutally dissonant of codas” (63). Yet as Baldwin mourned the death of his father, he celebrated the birth of his yo...


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...e “big picture” in the world. Some events may not seem significant, but they are somehow related to other events that are going on in the world. Baldwin also took events that coincidentally happened at the same of his father’s death and analyzed them, giving his own personal opinion. Baldwin also had a constant motif of life versus death throughout his life story and his analysis of events. Baldwin’s creative writing skills show through his style of writing and makes the reader feel as though he is being directly spoken to. He gives the audience the opportunity to feel the emotions that he felt during these events. It is this ability that made James Baldwin the celebrated talent that he became.

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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