Narrative and Opinion in Notes of a Native Son

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Choices James Baldwin is considered to be one of the great writers of modern time. There are many characteristics of his writing that could be used to show his talent but the one that is most often cited is his ability to interweave narrative and opinion seamlessly into his essays. One example of this ability is in his “Notes of a Native Son” essay. He interweaves narrative of his father and his death with his opinions about the relationship between blacks and whites at that time. James Baldwin uses contrasting ideas such as public vs. private, father vs. son, and past vs. present to switch back and forth between the narrative and his opinions. The major contrasting idea that Baldwin uses in the essay is the contrasting idea of public life vs. his own personal private life. The first paragraph starts by giving the date of his father’s death, then moves to telling about the Detroit riots and then brings them together in the end of the paragraph by stating that they “…drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass” (63). This shows how both their personal life had been ‘shattered’ and also the town around them. But this is only a hint of how Baldwin switches between his personal, private life and his public life in society. However, he always manages to pull what seems like two completely opposite ideas together into one combined thought. By drawing similarities between his public life and his private life, Baldwin is able to create the sense that the problems facing society were very similar compared to those that he faced on a personal level. Because of this Baldwin is able to make his opinions apply to the reader on a more personal level. The best example of Baldwin usi... ... middle of paper ... when taking a stance on an issue. That way you are sincere in your decision and you stand behind it. But he is also saying in the rest of the essay that when you are deciding if you should take a side or when you decide what side you are going to take, you must not rely on merely the past or the present. You must not merely on the word of society or the word of your private family. And you must not rely on the words your father says because you are his son. You must look at the entire picture, both past and present, both public and private, and both your thoughts and your father’s when you make a decision on a subject. Only in this way will the world ever be fair and just, and without racial tensions. 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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