James Baldwin's theme analysis

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James Baldwin, an outspoken civil rights activist, helped America to realize the corruption of the social society and attempted to inform the people about the unraveling rivalry of white and black people of the nation. Colin MacInnes refers to Baldwin as a “premonitory prophet, a fallible sage, a soothsayer” which attempts to elaborate on Baldwin’s realism and the ability to touch the public in a known sense for the black community. In Go Tell It on the Mountain, his first and most famous novel, Baldwin states “they could change their clothes” (88) at a crucial point in the novel which the metaphor refers to the character’s constant search for identity. Baldwin also uses the juxtaposition “healed the sick” (5) to illustrate the character’s quest for love when denied human affection as God cures their desire for love. James Baldwin emphasizes that race is all about perspective. He uses several stylistic devices to expose his point of view


on the current racial issues and explains what needs to be done about the explosive situation. James Baldwin uses juxtapositioning, oxymorons, and metaphors to illustrate that conflicts are solved by strength of character and unity of race.


As seen in many of his novels and short stories, James Baldwin constantly assigns his characters with the important role of attempting to impose the racial impact of each story. In Go Tell It on the Mountain, James describes the church as “not the biggest…yet the smallest” (5), which the juxtapositioning of biggest and smallest has an uncanny relationship when discussing the large but small conflict that needs to be recognized. James’s childhood had a massive effect on his style especially growing up in the harsh world of downtown Harlem. At the same time, the unkind neighborhood did nothing but influence his religious yet racial perspective in his works. In the infamous Go Tell It on the Mountain novel, James searched for ideas “on the streets, on rooftops, or under the stairs” (5), to prove his beliefs. This way of investigating his ideas demonstrated that he was willing to hunt for facts anywhere and everywhere.


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As always, James constantly found the opportunity to unite disagreement with satisfaction to fulfill the reader’s expectations. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, he attempts to portray his stepfather’s effect “with an anger which surprised and even frightened him” (5), which the juxtaposition of surprised and frightened facilitated his ability to revolve the anxiety into optimism to support his principles in his works. James’s unsympathetic stepfather impaired him at the moment but yet fueled his ambition to illustrate to the public that he was not afraid to share his views. In “The Rockpile” in Going to Meet the Man, he unleashes his sense of pride as “her face raised to the sky and tears running down her face”(16), which elaborates on his brave sensation that sets free in most of his works. The brave trait that James possesses arrives in his novel Giovanni’s Room which is revealed through the ex-patriot that realizes his homosexuality. David W. Noble expresses that the main character, Giovanni, struggled to “accept suffering and deny guilt” throughout the story.


If Beale Street Could Talk breaks away from his racial perception and approaches a more sentimental and practical novel. Thomas R. Edwards believes that “being black makes it much harder to get justice in America”, which leads into the novel’s basic theme and argument. Throughout the story, two lovers fight for innocence for a crime that he did not commit. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, “mercy of the love or the wrath of god” () mainly portrays the decision that Baldwin has presented to the characters for which they have to choose their destiny. Baldwin has attempted to explain the process in fighting the American justice system and the consequences in doing so. Pearl K. Bell has stated that If Beale Street Could Talk is “Baldwin’s shallowest work of fiction” which Bell emphasizes that Baldwin’s style of writing was so categorically and schematically that Baldwin directed the reader to imagine ways that the story would be more believable.


Back to Baldwin’s intriguing brilliance of creating a gigantic impact on the American community, he strives to his incredible short story “Sonny’s Blues” in Going to Meet the Man, which he said that “I was going to choke or scream”(10). The juxtaposition of choke and


scream gave a taste on his uncertain outcry on the reality of his outlook on the ethnic crisis. This juxtaposition debates on whether James would yell or whisper to express his views on the dilemma. In most of his works, it is plainly obvious that he vividly exploits the racial problem throughout each project. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, Baldwin states that “one dared not imagine- but hoped” () to clean up the population of hatred, loathing, and disgust that the black citizens have endured over time. Imagination has a reputation on never coming true while having hope has the tendency of making an individual do what is needed to be done to create a pathway to a better world.


Not only does Baldwin use juxtapositions to prove his theories, he also uses metaphors to prove several decisive points throughout his short stories and novels. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, Baldwin declares that the “sun was orange and beat with anger” () with intent to explain that the metaphorical sun symbolizes the new day and the continuous reminder of the hatred that lies within the culture. Within that quote rests a religious sense as the sun is angry therefore meaning a higher power controls night and day which even God is weary of shining


over the fearful vicinity of racism. God and religion play a somewhat great role in Go Tell It on the Mountain as “his only memories�were of the hurry and brightness of Sunday mornings” (1) which Sunday is a day only based on religion in Baldwin’s perspective and he sets the tone with this metaphor early in his novel to proclaim his sense of faith as a black preacher.


Racism and hate are the topics that bother James the most but are too essential to him to disregard. In “The Rockpile” in Going to Meet the Man, James writes in a sense that “he might somehow acquire wings” (15) which indicates James would love for the racism issue to be resolve yet he must battle with the concept until it expires. James is relentless when it comes to discrimination against blacks especially when white people deny their rights. Baldwin was seen at many sit-ins as well as TV shows to express his feelings on unfairness of race. With the powerful voice of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Malcolm X, James joined forces with these two men to create a movement that will influence many Americans of all races to assist the equality of rights.


James is a remarkable individual that has the aptitude to persuade almost anyone to consider his ideas. When writing “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, James “seemed almost human, imbued with a relentless force that was not human” (41) which the metaphor describes himself in pursuit of the resolution of racism. The “relentless force” is James ability to write a story after story disguising his obvious yet hidden objectives in each work. Even though James took long breaks between some of his important works, it still did not affect James’s unique talent to write in his distinctive style.


Although metaphors and juxtapositions describes Baldwin’s work as controversial and addicting, oxymorons adds a philosophical outlook to Baldwin’s chronicles. In “Sonny’s Blues” in Going to Meet the Man, he clarifies that the society is “learning nothing” (1) which explains the complicated nature of the initial conflict that should have not started in the first place. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, James gives his characters’ “uncomfortable smiles” to symbolize their acknowledgment of the racial issue yet their choice to disregard the discrimination through appearance. Their emotion although doesn’t


change since every black person hopes for the same outcome to the existing predicament.


James’s search for love is a big fraction of his novels and short stories. A quote from “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, contemplates a vital point in Go Tell It on the Mountain as James’s portrait character, John, “lost sight” () in hope of finding love through God and his violent stepfather who denied him human affection. All throughout the story, the hidden agenda behind James’s storyline was to display the search for love and identity. Colin MacInnes describes the theme of Go Tell It on the Mountain is “life and religion and how both, wonderful and terrible, can create and destroy” which is painfully accurate.


James tries to mix happiness with madness especially when people smile. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, James finds characters “smiling painfully” as they recognize the trouble that they find themselves in. Throughout “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, James constantly uses the “despairing smile” to illustrate the seriousness of the unstable situation that he finds himself in. Both quotes demonstrate


Baldwin’s frequent yet effective way of getting his point across to the reader.


As James got older, the conflict of racial discrimination grew into a curable disease that has plagued America for centuries. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, James gets “drawn apart” from the fight that he loved to wrestle with due to the decline of racism. James’s services were no longer needed since his consistent struggle to end the war on racism was finally rewarded. An additional quote from “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, after the smoke had cleared from racial discrimination, the “ugly silence” was the attempt to finally get along with each other after such a substantial skirmish. Alfred Kazin expresses that Baldwin gave “voice to all his insights and longings and despairs without losing control.”


For any given problem there are always multiple solutions. James Baldwin believed that racism can be eliminated with patient intelligence. He grew up in a time when racism was somewhat restrained and that point in history was the perfect time to create a writer of such magnitude. In “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man, James once said “Remember


thy Creator in the days of thy youth when the evil days come not” (7). In other words, James meant “God takes the young as well as the old” (7).





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