Posts Tagged ‘James Baldwin’

‘Going to Meet the Man’ by James Baldwin – A Fearless Artist

 

‘Going to Meet the Man’, stories by James Baldwin (1965) – 249 pages

 

I wanted to read more James Baldwin, and I had read a lot of good things about his collection of stories, ‘Going to Meet the Man’. It did not disappoint.

These are deep stories with an acute and often angry understanding of the predicaments of his characters. One theme in each of these powerful stories is our refusal to really know other humans and to accept out differences.

The subjects of these eight stories are wide-ranging, and whatever the subject that James Baldwin takes on, he approaches it with an insightful humane intelligence.

It’s always been like that, people always try to destroy what they don’t understand – and they hate almost everything because they understand so little.”

The early story ‘The Outing’ is about a church outing when the members of the church and a few others take a boat trip up to Bear Mountain where they would spend the day. Since it is a church outing the pastor Father James preaches to those who came along.  Johnnie, the son of the Deacon of the church, is attracted to his male friend David. David is more interested in the girl Sylvia who is an upstanding member of the church than in Johnnie. Neither Johnnie nor David has committed to the church, thus they are both unsaved. Can this almighty God forgive Johnnie’s “sin”?

I found this story to be powerful and caused me to eagerly read the following stories.

These lines from the story “Previous Condition” resonated with me:

Acting’s a rough life, even if you’re white. I’m not tall and I’m not good looking and I can’t sing or dance, and I’m not white; so even at the best of times I wasn’t in much demand.”

Many of the stories confront the racial prejudice which the characters must contend with, being a black person in the United States. There is justifiable anger in the shabby and sometimes much worse treatment these characters face every day. However in the story “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon”, our main protagonist escapes to Paris where racial attitudes are different.

 

In “Sonny’s Blues”, one man finds his escape through music:

For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

‘Going to Meet the Man’ finishes with the devastating title story depicting the lynching of a black man in a small southern US town, told from the harsh view of the white deputy sheriff who is overseeing the proceedings.

There has been a James Baldwin revival lately, and the compelling stories in ‘Going To Meet the Man’ are strong examples of his eloquent insight into daily life.

 

Grade:    A

 

 

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ by James Baldwin – Young Lovers Who Are Kept Apart

 

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ by James Baldwin (1974) – 197 pages

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” – James Baldwin

In ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, James Baldwin has created a precarious love story and family drama that has now been made into a movie by Barry Jenkins (he of Oscar Best Picture winner ‘Moonlight’) which will very soon be coming out in theaters. I have not seen the movie and will discuss only the novel by James Baldwin instead.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is the story of a young couple, Fonny aged 22 and Tish aged 19, living in Harlem in New York City in the 1970’s. It is told from the point of view of Tish. She visits Fonny in jail, framed for a rape he did not commit. Later we learn that Fonny was set up by a white racist policeman. Tish goes to the jail and visits him there every day.

“I was sitting on a bench in front of a board, and he was sitting on a bench in front of a board and we were facing each other through a wall of glass between us…I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.”

On one of her jail visits, Tish tells Fonny that she is pregnant.

I guess it can’t be too often that two people can laugh and make love, too, make love because they are laughing, laugh because they’re making love. The love and the laughter come from the same place: but not many people go there.” 

Their two families meet and discuss what to do about this predicament. Despite differences between the two families, they agree that they must get Fonny out of jail. Tish’s mother goes to Puerto Rico in an effort to locate the woman who accused Fonny of rape and talk her into dropping the charges.

Tish has the bright optimism of youth but must deal with a dire situation made more dire by prevailing casual white racist attitudes.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is a realistic intense black American love story and family drama of people trying to survive in an inherently unfair world. Baldwin captures the poignancy of both of these two young people and their families as they are caught in this unjust situation. As in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the world, in this case the white world, is conspiring to keep this loving young couple apart. As Stacia L Brown wrote in Gawker, Beale Street  “belongs to a collection of literature that seeks to humanize black men, through their relationships with parents, lovers, siblings, and children. It swan-dives from optimism to bleakness and rises from the ash of dashed hopes.”

Why Baldwin titled the book ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ remains a mystery, as there are no references to Beale Street in the novel.

Besides being a novelist, poet, essay writer, and civil rights activist, James Baldwin also came up with some great quotes. I will leave you with one more.

Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity.” – James Baldwin

 

Grade:    A

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