Friday, May 4, 2012

James Baldwin

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“Exploring Character Revision”

“ Notes of a Native Son” is a journey into the life and mind of James Baldwin, a young black man feeling oppressed by not only the “white man” but his own father. As he reflects back on his past, he is more understanding of the present. I believe his story is about realization and acceptance. Baldwin, who is seemingly naïve and not understanding of his father’s views, soon becomes filled with the “intolerable bitterness” of his father. In the end, he realizes “the dead man mattered; blackness and whiteness did not matter” (67). His comforting tone puts the reader in his position, and allows one to

become a part of him and his history.

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As a young child, I think it was hard for Baldwin to relate to his father. Baldwin did not see skin color, as most children don’t, and his fathers hatred and detachment from not only society but from his family caused confusion for Baldwin. He didn’t understand why his father thought, “white people would do anything to keep a Negro down”(56), and why the presence of a white person in his house was a “violation.” It was in his innocence that he denied his father and his views.

Lack of education made it hard for Baldwin to fathom reality, his innocence became ignorance, and it was not until he was placed in the “read world” that he saw what caused his father to be so bitter for so many years. The discrimination he was faced with made him “colder and more murderous than ever” (58). He was no longer naïve, and he carried hatred in his heart.

After returning home, “he visited his father for the first time during his illness and for the last time in his life.” He had resented his father for so many years, and he knew that “once hate is gone, [he] will be forced to deal with the pain” (61). Baldwin’s anguish made him remorseful, and he feared that he would have to deal with this pain.

Baldwin soon realized that “hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose” (67). Growth and the acquiring of knowledge over time allowed Baldwin to see the “big picture” more clearly. He learned ideas of “acceptance” and “equal power.” It’s as if his perception of life completely changed, he didn’t want to die like his father, bitter and cold, so he decided to let go. It was important to keep his “own heart free of hatred and despair” (67).

This essay is intended to capture his feelings towards racism and his father, and show how they ultimately impacted James Baldwin himself. As his innocence became blindness, his relationship with his father was exemplified in the relationship between blacks and whites. It was the weight of his father and white people that oppressed who he was; however, through a journey to self-realization, it was education that changed his views on life. Knowledge allowed him to that he had set himself apart from his “bitter” father for so many years, and now he held that same anger inside. This is when he realized what really mattered in life, and when his father was gone, “[he] wished [he] had been beside [him] so that [he] could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give [him] now” (68).

I believe Baldwin’s purpose for writing “Notes of a Native Son” was to put others in his position, by using a lot of description and detail. He wanted the reader to understand the external and internal chaos that was occurring at this time. However, his tone is honest and comforting and this allowed me, the reader, to relate and understand Baldwin in relation to his father and history.

Even in society today, people are still struggling with discrimination. A twenty-first century voice that I believe is comparable to James Baldwin is Buju Banton. Like Baldwin’s writing, Banton uses music to convey “past tribulations, contemporary triumphs and future aspirations.” He reaches out to people of all racial and cultural backrounds and uses music as a way of expressing himself.

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