In the bible, guilt is the remorse of sin, whereas shame comes from the devil and is the first emotion mentioned in the bible. Shame embodies the entirety of your existence, and I think understanding the biblical ideas of shame is essential in reading James Baldwin’s ‘Go tell It on the Mountain’. The character names are also rooted in religion, with the character of John, connecting to John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s mother was also called Elizabeth, she and her husband Zechariah had been told by the angel Gabriel that despite her age, she was going to have a baby. The role of Gabriel, as delivering God’s will by providing Elizabeth with a baby, mirrors Gabriel’s sense of duty to provide her with the protection of a husband and father the child. The biblical connotations of John are also significant in that he preached the word of God to the people. I believe that Baldwin chose this biblical figure to represent himself as he was delivering a message of great significance to the population of America. The hymn Go Tell It on the Mountain is a proclamation of the Birth of Christ. I believe this title was a metaphorical choice, that John’s religious revelation within the novel, is equivocal to the birth of Christ. The choice of the hymn could also be interpreted as Baldwin suggesting the importance of the messages he will deliver through his works as being on par with the significance of the message of the birth of Christ. Furthermore, the book ends with John’s character saying to Elisha “No matter what anybody says you remember – please remember – I was saved.” I think this idea of accountability is very important, that despite the scrutiny of others, the word of God and the reflections that Baldwin has on America in this period, are true. Biblical notions of love are also foundational to Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, which I view as an intentional response to Wright’s ‘Native Son’, in which Bigger has no faith or hope. Baldwin uses the sentiment of love, and the basis of religion to remove this fear and replace it with hope. However, he is very cautious of religion and is more of an advocate for the values than the practices of the church.
I took this course because as an English major I thought that taking a class solely on the works of James Baldwin was essential to my development as someone who is interested in writing my senior thesis on American literature. Before taking this class I knew that his works were significant with regards to the Civil Rights Movement. However, I did not think that his writing and experiences would become so personal to me. I think I ended up enjoying his essays more than his novels, mostly due to the fact that his essays delved into his personal life and I understood him better as a person from his essays. I enjoyed the Notes of a Native Son collection the most because the essays were written while he was abroad in France and my final essay is going to focus on this collection because I want to explore what made Baldwin’s time that he spent in Europe so transformative for his journey as a writer. I want to understand why Americans are able to cultivate a better sense of identity abroad. I understand that Baldwin left America to escape racism. However, I feel as though this feeling persists throughout generations of Americans who feel the desire to escape for other reasons (apart from travel). I will be studying abroad in England next semester and wonder how the experience of living abroad will affect my identity and how I view my Americanness. I look forward to exploring these ideas further in my final essay through my analysis of Notes of a Native Son. Now that I have read and conversed about Baldwin in an academic setting I feel prepared to read the works that we didn’t have the opportunity to discuss in class on my own and in other classes.
Throughout this class, Baldwin has always amazed me. From beginning with Notes of A Native Son, Go Tell it on the Mountain, and many other iconic works. Baldwin is fascinating to me because of how he writes his stories. The connections to the Bible, the writing of family, and identity that Baldwin has is something special. The overall connections that he is able to subtly portray throughout out his works is nothing short of exceptional. I believe that Baldwin had a gift to write. His time spent in Paris is something that shaped him into the successful author he was. I think that as the course went on, I was able to grow on my blog posts. I was able to truly receive Baldwin’s works as what they were. I find that I was able to use arguments to prove my points and understand what Baldwin was aiming for through his writings. Once I was able to get a grip on the daily readings, I felt as though I was able to be more involved in conversations and discussions.
The books read are something that will stick with me as I move onto the final edits of my paper. I wish to talk about Baldwin and how he writes about the Black identity and the portrayals of the Black church in his works. I find that while he incorporates the Bible into his work, he also backhands their work at the same time. I think he does a good job of talking about how the Church was able to shape him as well. Baldwin did have a strong faith as he was growing up, even becoming a preacher for an abundant amount of time. I want to argue that Baldwin’s works were his first time being able to subtly argue against the Church, through his character names and subtle hints of the Bible such as the curse of Ham. I believe that many people were bale to pick up on this. Through the articles shared within my group, I believe that I will be able to argue this successfully.
A self-proclaimed critic of America, James Baldwin writes about the past, present, and future of our country with unparalleled profundity, eloquence, bluntness, and foresight.
As I suggested in another blog post earlier this semester, Baldwin remains timeless, unfortunately, however, not for the reasons he might have hoped. He gives voice to difficult and upsetting topics, problems that persist today, and compels his readers to look the issues of racism, sexuality, religion, and violence (as they relate to one another in American life) square in the eyes of faces of characters like John and Gabriel in Go Tell It On the Mountain; Giovanni, Jacques, and David in Giovanni’s Room; or Jesse and his parents in Going to Meet the Man. In case the message was not explicit enough in these texts, Baldwin offers an even more scathing portrayal of America in his shorter essays such as “The Price of the Ticket,” “My Dungeon Shook,” and “Faulkner and Desegregation,” to name a few of my particularly favorite works. In engaging with Baldwin’s prolific canon in writing and class discussions, I cannot say I felt particularly proud to be an American at any point in the semester. I am angered, frustrated, and disappointed by the little tangible change that has occurred in the decades since his passing. Yet, as Baldwin notes, these feelings are complicated by my whiteness and complicity in the oppression of Black Americans, manifest in seemingly small acts I take for granted like my ability to wear a hooded sweatshirt in public or pull over on the side of the road in front of a police officer without fear.
In “A Fly in Buttermilk,” Baldwin writes, “You can take the child out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the child” (187). This sentence best captures one of my greatest takeaways from this course: the progress I seek for my country hinges on my ability to own my whiteness, privilege, and power– the things that make me American. I am part of the buttermilk that entraps and suffocates, and, while I detest it, I own this role. Baldwin reminds me that any attempt to distance myself from this reality, be it a “northerner joke” about the South or considerations of a more permanent life abroad in Spain, is futile. As much as I do not want to claim this America, I must. It would be a disservice to Baldwin, this class, and the future of our nation not to. He carried America’s dark history in his writing, a weight I am committed to undertaking and working to alleviate in his spirit.