Baldwin and the Family

While reading No Name on the Street, I found the way Baldwin talks about his family to be very interesting. Baldwin has talked about his family a lot in his past essays, as well as hosting unique family dynamics in books such as Go Tell it on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room so similar to his own.

Baldwin writes, in some of the few opening lines of the book, ”I was so terrified of the man we called my father; who did not arrive on my scene, really, until I was more than two years old.” I feel as though this adds to the ongoing view of Bladwin’s family. In Go Tell it on the Mountain, seeing as Roy and John were not related by blood and had an stiff animosity that surrounded them. It is an overall on going relationship inside of Baldwin’s books/essays. With No Name on the Street sort of touching on the Civil Rights movement, it made me think to another reading that I did in another class.

In that class, we talked about the effects of slavery on the black family. For example, the last names were taken away from the mother and children because fathers would typically be sold for the highest bid and were highly unlikely to see their children again. In this sense, the woman were expected to care for not only their children, but the children of their masters as well. They then become the maters property, stripped of their heritage and roots and most importantly, their name. They did not have the power to continue on having the family that they might have had in their home, they had to all live with the fact that they (black slaves) were not their own anymore. This set a course for the matriarch inside of the black family. Mothers and children were typically kept together and in turn, a sense of the mother only family became widely accepted. Today though, we hear about how more often it is the mothers choice or fault to be the one who raises the children alone. Baldwin writes ‘I knew – children must know – that she would always protect me with all her strength. So would my mother, too, I knew that, but my mother’s strength was only to be called on in a desperate emergency.’ Baldwin is talking about his Grandmother and his mother in this line and I feel that you ge the sense of the importance of the matriarchy in this line.

In another section, when Baldwin visits his friend, he writes ‘This was no revealed by anything she said to him, but by the fact that he said nothing to him. She barely looked at him. He didn’t count.’ Granted, this was another view of the stepfamily that Baldwin had. I just found it to be interesting that Baldwin almost defends his friend by saying ‘I always think that this is a terrible thing to happen to a man, especially in his own house, and I am always terribly humiliated for the man to whom it happens.’ I find this interesting because of how Baldwin typically writes about the fatherhood relationships in his books and essays as a negative. This is almost making me question if in other of his works where Baldwin mentions he hates his father, does he truly just find unjust father/son relationships to be wrong, or in the case of his friend and the stepdaughter, did he just find the lack of respect to be wrong.

One thought on “Baldwin and the Family”

  1. I enjoyed reading this passage and seeing your perspective on the relationship between race and family. I think that it is interesting to think about how the image of the Black man and Black father that Baldwin portrays, with a very dominant and overbearing personality, can possibly be as a result of their history and relationship with slavery. Perhaps, because Black men have been historically denied “the ownership” of their family and, as you mention, were stripped of their heritage and roots, following slavery, they began to reposses those positions and roles in their family. However, as Baldwin shows in his work, that repossession was often times negative and too aggressive.

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