James Baldwin was an African American writer who, through his own personal experiences and life, addressed issues such as race, sexuality, and the American identity. “Notes of a Native Son” is one of many essays that Baldwin wrote during his lifetime. Within this essay, Baldwin talks about when his father died and the events that revolved around it. His father’s death occurs in the early 1940s, where oppression and racism were still fairly prevalent in many cities across the nation. So amidst the events that revolve around Baldwin’s father’s death, there are many riots and beatings taking place. This essay is simply not a recollection of what Baldwin experienced in the past, but it challenges, critiques, and tries to understand the current social condition of the time. He does this by recalling his personal experiences to draw the reader in and as a result of that, can begin to construct an analysis of the social condition.
Baldwin weaves in and out of his personal experiences and private reasons to give the reader both a small and large perspective of what is going on at the time. It’s important for the reader to have a small, personal perspective so they can connect with the emotions Baldwin expresses. At the same time a large general perspective is needed because it shows the reader that Baldwin’s experiences, although unique, is connected to a larger group of people, that in one way or another, his plight is the plight of many.
Baldwin effectively implements this method when he says “All of Harlem, indeed, seemed to be infected by waiting” (73). This sentence is placed in between two moments. Prior to this sentence, Baldw...
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...bat the poison with it, “…perhaps poison should be fought with poison” (78).
Through his own experiences, Baldwin is able to highlight the social condition that he was surrounded with during that period. Through skillful use of words and transition, Baldwin was able to indirectly question and analyze the social condition without losing the interest of the reader. By moving back and forth from a personal experience to a public condition, Baldwin makes the essay very powerful and very effective in getting his points across. What is also successful about Baldwin’s method is that it captures the readers attention and forces them to look deeper and understand what it is he truly is talking about.
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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