"Notes of a Native Son" by James Baldwin

22Feb05

In this essay, James Baldwin explores the complexities of both race relationships and familial relationships. Concerning his relationship with his father, Baldwin admits toward the beginning of the essay: “We had got on badly, partly because we shared, in our different fashions, the vice of stubborn pride.” This admission sets the tone for the rest of the essay, an idea of both opposition and similarity in this relationship.

Baldwin seemed to spend most of his childhood struggling against his father. His father wanted him to preach like he had while Baldwin wanted to write. He grew up in Harlem where he was in the majority and, against his father’s advice, easily befriended white people. When he moved to New Jersey, he encountered an environment much less friendly to Blacks. He became the minority in a segregated town. The poor treatment he received in New Jersey created a bitterness in Baldwin that matched the bitterness that his father had. His father’s bitterness had become his. He also does not act unlike the paranoid schizophrenic that his father was when he displayed some of his father’s violence at yet another restaurant’s refusal to serve him because he was Black.

In the first few sentences of the essay, Baldwin notes that his sister was born on the same day that his father died and that his father was buried on Baldwin’s birthday. Both of these events suggest a rebirth of sorts and, in a way, the essay ends in a rebirth. At the time of his father’s death, Baldwin has finally come to understand him and realize their similarities. Baldwin’s father has, in effect, been reborn in him.

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