My Final Blog Post

As I reflect on this class, the many readings I have done, and the various blog posts I have written, primarily on the work of James Baldwin, I am happy to see how I have grown as a writer and have grown in understanding the complexities of race, sexuality, and identity throughout literature. 

From beginning with Native Son and exploring the character of Bigger Thomas to reading the multiple representations and renditions of James Baldwin that he presents in his essays and books, one common theme is present. Throughout all of Baldwin’s works, there is a complex exploration of identity and a demonstration of the profound impact that societal norms, prejudices, and expectations of individuals have on that identity. Baldwin’s perspective on the societal issues of race in America, homosexuality, identity, and more serve as a powerful lens through which I can now view many of the complexities of race, sexuality, and the human experience outside of his works. Although Baldwin’s perspective on society that is seen in his work is one from long ago, many of the topics he covered and the insights he provided are still extremely relevant today. I am glad that Baldwin’s writings continue to serve as a timeless guide, sparking crucial conversations about social justice, equality, diverse identities, and the ongoing struggle for human rights. 

I am not going to lie, before this class, I had no clue who James Baldwin was and what his contributions were to the world of literature and social commentary, especially concerning the Black experience. However, through the pieces we read, I found myself immersed in Baldwin’s writings and found myself captivated by all of the things Baldwin had to say. As our class comes to a close, I feel as though I have a much richer understanding of James Baldwin. During the semester, oftentimes I failed to comprehend the things I read and failed to connect what we were reading to the larger picture but now, things make a lot more sense. 

From grappling with the character of Bigger Thomas to dissecting the relationships in Giovanni’s Room, each of Baldwin’s works taught me something new. I am glad that this class has expanded my understanding of literature and expanded my appreciation for Baldwin’s intricate storytelling and the layers of meaning embedded in his work. 

The “Angry Black Woman”

While we have talked a lot about race and Blackness this semester, one specific group of individuals within that discussion that we have not touched on is Black women. Just like Black men, Black women have faced many, even more, challenges to achieving racial and sexual equality and their stories and voices are just as important.

Audre Lorde was a key figure in the Black feminist movement that sought equality and liberation for Black women. In her essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Lorde explains how during the Black feminist movement and the Civil Rights Movement, women responded to racism using anger. Lorde writes, “Women responding to racism means women responding to anger; anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence…stereotyping, misnaming,” and more (Lorde, 1981). For Lorde and many other Black women at this time, anger was the only response that would be productive to their activism and their fight. Black women faced a unique set of struggles because they were disadvantaged by being Black and were disadvantaged by being females. Nevertheless, they were able to challenge the systemic inequalities and prejudice they faced, not only pushing the boundaries of the Civil Rights Movement but the Feminist Movement as well, advocating for their unique equality and justice as Black females. Through anger, Black women were able to defend their rights and demonstrate the seriousness of their struggles. Furthermore, because Black women were denied equality, rights, and justice even longer than Black men were, they had anger built up in them that would be strategically used when they would eventually advocate for their liberation. Black women “have lived with [their] anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, [and] learning how to use it,” and it was, in fact, used against “oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being” (Lorde, 1981).

When reading Audre Lorde’s essay, I could not help but think of the stereotype of the “angry Black woman” and how perhaps that stereotype was derived by instances like this where Black women were forced to use anger to elicit some sort of response and change that focused on their inclusion and equal rights. I find the stereotype of “the angry Black woman” to be quite demeaning. Even in the context of Lorde’s essay, using such a stereotype is done in an attempt to undermine Black women and the sacrifices they have had to make to fight for their rights and justice. It almost is like labeling a Black woman, when she tries to express her disdain for the challenges she faces in society and when she is trying to liberate herself, as an angry Black woman is a form of silencing her and many other women’s voices which is what the anger, the Black feminist movement, and more aimed specifically not to do.

It is sad to see that no matter how hard they try, Black women and their valid emotions are often dismissed and their experiences are not given the full recognition and empathy they deserve. Audre Lorde’s essay is incredibly insightful in seeing why anger is necessary for Black women to use as a response to the racism and sexism they confront. Unfortunately though, not many understand the role and significance of anger in the activism of Black women and how essential it is in their work towards fighting oppression, inclusivity, and more.

Why Liberation Movements are Important

 “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters” by Orlando Edmonds is a great demonstration of how Baldwin’s exploration of racism is not limited to a specific era. Many of the questions that Baldwin poses and the topics he addresses in The Fire Next Time and in many of his other pieces, are problems that those involved in Black liberation movements are still confronting and attempting to solve today. This article focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement and states that “critics fault BLM for reintroducing the problem of race and its significance in a supposedly “post-racial” society” (Edmonds 2016). The article also introduces criticisms on how “the Black Lives Matter movement is [often] interpreted cynically, with emphasis placed on its eruptive quality, rather than seeing the outburst as a consequence of its calmer voices going unheard” (Edmonds, 2016). Oftentimes, many think that when African Americans, in our contemporary world with BLM and during Black liberation movements like the Civil Rights Movement, spark liberation movements in an effort to seek better conditions, equality, and justice for the way they are treated in America, they are seen as being confrontational, aggressive, violent, and anti-white. However, this is truly not the case. 

In “The Ballot or the Bullet” a speech given by Malcolm X in 1964, he speaks on this issue. Malcolm says that in speaking about radical forms of liberation and Black nationalism, which is a movement that advocates for the establishment of a separate and unified Black identity in a more radical way, “it doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression. And if the white man doesn’t want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us (Malcolm 1964).  Like Malcolm is saying in “The Ballot or the Bullet” and Orlando Edmonds is saying in this article, because the respectful and peaceful forms of protest have not been successful in the past, it is through these radical forms of expression that Black Americans can truly reach their goals (Edmonds, 2016). Furthermore, it is not that Black Americans are protesting against white people and white dominated and governed systems because of the conflicts with race in what is supposed to be a post-racial society. The protests are in an effort to correct the injustices that still exist today. Baldwin would have most likely agreed with this approach as well. As he writes in The Fire Next Time, “now there is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching American society itself – its fundamental assumptions and underlying logic – needs scrutiny” (Edmonds, 2016). 

The assertions made by Edmonds, Malcolm, and Baldwin all align with the idea that in order to dismantle the systemic injustices and racism that existed during Baldwin’s time, during Malcolm’s time, and now during our time, the problem of race needs to be reintroduced to society and a critical examination needs to be made of the structures, systems, and even people that perpetuate these injustices. It is very important to recognize that the problem African Americans face is a systemic one that they deserve to fight against either by being radical, respectful, or protesting in movements like BLM today. Furthermore, the problem is certainly not an inherent opposition to any specific group. It just so happens that it is one specific group that is continuously inflicting oppression and racism. Insights like Malcolm X’s, Baldwin’s, and Edmond’s often go overlooked and unnoticed by many. Understanding something as simple as this is one of the keys to understanding the purpose and reasoning behind Black liberation movements, including the Civil Rights Movement and BLM. The fight and movements toward equality and justice is not about being anti-white just because. The fight and protests are justified because oppression, exploitation, and degradation of African Americans still exists, perpetuating a cycle of systemic inequalities and injustices that unfortunately continue to plague America today. This persistent cycle and denial of African Americans’ basic human rights and dignity necessitates a collective effort to dismantle these structures and pave the way for true liberation, justice, and equality which is what both Malcolm X and Baldwin encourage African Americans to do in their work.

A Letter to All of my Black Nieces and Nephews

In “My Dungeon Shook,” Baldwin’s letter to his nephew is very personal and shows a side of Baldwin unlike the one portrayed in his fiction. In the letter, Baldwin is preparing his nephew for the racism he will soon confront in America and which he will soon begin to realize is an aspect that will affect his everyday life. However, despite the racism that has corrupted and plagued the world, Baldwin has hope for his nephew. Before even getting into the intricacies of the letter, Baldwin writes, “I tell you this because I love you, and please don’t you ever forget it” (Baldwin, CE, 291). 

As someone who has clearly developed wisdom through his own experiences, Baldwin begins with a powerful line, “you can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger” (Baldwin, CE, 291). Baldwin gets straight to the point. Rather than advising his nephew on how to navigate the world as a Black man, he is preparing his nephew for the white problem not the Negro one. As Baldwin writes earlier in the letter, it is because of what the white people said that his brother and his nephew’s father died. “He really believed what the white people said about him” (Baldwin, CE, 291). This line reminded me of another passage by Baldwin in No Name in the Street. In the passage, Baldwin ‘exposes’ white people and calls out how they are the perptrators of racism and “the Negro problem” in society. Baldwin writes, “ 

The failure of the private life has always had the most debating effect on American public conduct, and on black-white relations. If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they would never have needed to invent and could never have become so dependent on what they still call “the Negro problem.” This problem which they invented in order to safeguard their purity, has made of them criminals and monsters, and it is destroying them; and this is not from anything blacks may or may not be doing but because of the role a guilty and constricted white imagination has assigned to the blacks” (Baldwin, CE, p. 386). 

The role of the guilty that was assigned to Baldwin’s brother and his nephew’s father and his belief that he really was the nigger the white world viewed him as is what killed him. As something almost inevitable because whites choose to privatize their life and operate on racism and fear, Baldwin wants to avoid this for his nephew. 

I found Baldwin’s transition into emphazising the power of perception in shaping an individuals’ reality very important. By highlighting that it is because of the racist mindset that white Americans possess that has nothing to do with what Black people are actually doing, Baldwin cautions his nephew and all Black people against internalizng the derogatory names imposed by the white world, the guilt, and more. The “private life” of white people has a negative effect on Black people more than many understand and realize and it has a great potential to create even worse impacts if Black people are to believe the nonsense white poeple create to rationalize their private life. As “authors of devastation,” white people are not innoccent. “It is the innocence which constitues the crime” Baldwin writes (Baldwin, CE, p. 292). The privilege that white people posses that grants them the power to assign these roles and impart these ideas onto society has more to do with white Americans using Negros and inventing the Negro problem as a way for them to grapple with their own insecurities and fears, making them the true “criminals and monsters” (Baldwin, CE, p. 386). Due to all of this, Baldwin explains to his nephew that “you were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason” (Baldwin, CE, p. 293). “You were not expected to aspire to excellence” thus, you should not “testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear” (Baldwin, CE, p. 293). 

Baldwin’s encouragement to his nephew to cultivate a sense of himself, remembering his humanity, his generation, and his history, in relation to the external narraitves that seek to define Negros as the problems and the monsters in society is phenomenal. He does something here by revealing the dynamics and attitudes of white people that not many do. Nevertheless, “A Letter to My Nephew” is very significant and continues to be relevant in understanding the complexities of race relations in America. Instead of placing the burden solely on Black people, Baldwin (in his political era) directs the attention to the problems within the white community and challenges the conventional narrative that does not often place responsibility where it belongs.

Parallels between “The Male Prison” and Giovanni’s Room

When reading “The Male Prison” I began to better understand the theme of masculinity in Giovanni’s Room. While most of Baldwin’s works explore the relationships of men to other people, Giovanni’s Room is the first text where there is an emphasis on the main character’s relationship predominantly with other men. Furthermore, in both texts, there is a clear relationship between masculinity and sexuality and after our discussions in class comparing David, to Jacques, to Giovanni, and more, I began to see this relationship much better. However, it was when reading “The Male Prison” that the characters’ roles of Jacques, David, and Giovanni became even more transparent.

 In “The Male Prison” when Baldwin wrote, “the arguments…as to whether or not homosexuality is natural seems to me completely pointless…it seems clear that no matter what…the answer can never be yes. And one of the reasons for this is that it would rob the normal…of their very sense of security and order,” I immediately thought of David (Baldwin, 232). Throughout Giovanni’s Room, David maintains a heterosexual relationship with Hella, despite his relationships and feelings for Giovanni. Having Hella around brings “security and order” to David’s life since having a woman, rather than a man, represents the socially acceptable and “American” heterosexual relationship that David seems to keep running to. Additionally in “The Male Prison,” Baldwin writes that Madeleine is “the ideal” for Gide (Baldwin, 233). He states that Gide “would have been compelled to love her as a woman, which he could not have done except physically…He loved her as a woman, only in the sense that no man could have held the place in Gide’s dark sky which was held by Madeleine” (Baldwin 233-234). To translate this into the world of David, Hella, and Giovanni, David really loves Hella on a physical level, or at least that is how I see it as. When Hella returns from Spain and the two progress in their relationship, David continuously thinks about Giovanni, because that is who his love is for. Like I mentioned earlier, Hella simply serves as the ideal woman for the ideal relationship for David. He knew that “no man could hold the place in his sky” that Hella could hold because David is uncomfortable with the idea of loving a man and having a homosexual relationship with Giovanni. 

Later on on page 234 of “The Male Prison,” Baldwin continues reiterating this point when he writes, “the horrible thing about the phenomenon of present-day homosexuality, the horrible thing which lies curled at …the heart of Gide’s [David’s] trouble and…the reason that he [is] so clung to Madeleine, is that today’s unlucky deviate can only save himself by the most tremendous exertion of all his forces from falling into an underworld in which he never meets either men or women, where it is impossible to have either a lover or a friend…” (Baldwin 234). Throughout Giovanni’s Room, we read through the mind of David and particularly see how he views characters like Jacques. As the novel progresses, David becomes ambivalent about Jacques because of Jacques’s openness about his homosexuality and acceptance of his lifestyle. Thus, when reading this line by Baldwin, I also made the connection between David and Jacques. David remains clung to Madeleine and clung to the idea of heterosexuality because he does not want to be like Jacques. David is repelled by Jacques’s openness about his sexuality while he is struggling to come to terms with his. In addition to this, Jacques, as someone who has fully accepted his homosexuality, struggles to meet both men and women and struggles to find a lover or a friend, a topic we discussed in class. In seeing this, David cannot accept a similar life for himself so he deviates even more from accepting his homosexuality. He does not want to fall into “the underworld” that Baldwin writes about in “The Male Prison.”

I could go on and on about the connection between “The Male Prison” and Giovanni’s Room but I am afraid this blog post would become too long. However, I am happy that I read “The Male Prison” because if reaffirmed a lot for me and provided me with great insights which are certianly useful as we continue to explore Baldwin’s work that deals with sexuality.

The ‘American’ View of Homosexuality

In Giovanni’s Room, the character David is an American man living and navigating European society. There are many different places in the novel where the contrasts between Europe and America are clear and one of them is in the context of David’s masculinity and his conflict with homosexuality. 

From the beginning of the novel, it is clear that David struggles with his sexuality. David has his first homosexual relationship with a boy named Joey and immediately after their sexual encounter, it is evident that David goes through an emotional crisis about his identity and the expectations that society has placed on him that affects that. David states that after him and Joey spent their night together that he lost his “manhood.” He states “But Joey is a boy” (Baldwin 226). The power of Joey’s masculinity “made [David] suddenly afraid. [Joey’s] body suddenly seemed the black opening of a cavern in which [he] would be tortured….in which [he] would lose his manhood (Baldwin 226). Later on on that same page, David’s shame and guilt even resorts to his thinking of his father and what he would think of David had he known about his relationship with Joey and his relationship with his sexuality and that again brings him more fear and shame. 

I think that due to the American societal standards that stereotypes annd stigamtizes homosexuality, same-sex relationships, and their relationship with masculinity or femininty, David begins to internalize his masculinity and what that means to him. And for David, his “American” view of masculinity does not exist with a man whether that be Joey or Giovanni. Therefore, in attempt to maintain his manhood and his masculinity, David resorts to his heterosexual relationship with Hella and a denial of his true love and desire for Giovanni. 

I also think that David’s relationship with his father has a lot to do with his acceptance or rather lack of acceptance of his sexuality. In contexts like after having slept with Joey and after his relations with Giovanni, David feels the shame and fear of losing his manhood and often thinks of his father and when he does, it represses his feelings even more. Overall, David’s relationships that he has in France with Jacques, Guillame, and Giovanni are very complex and interesting and when looking at them in depth and in contrast to how the European characters in the novel dealt with their sexualities and homosexuality (or at least through the eyes of David), there are many apparent differences. Furthermore, although I only touched on it in this response, David’s father and his masculinity has definitely influenced David’s idea of masculinity and because it reflects the traditional American masculinity and enforces heterosexuality rather than homosexuality, David clearly feels as though he must conform to those expectations rather than exploring his sexuality with men.

“Terrifying Single-Mindedness”

In “Down at the Cross” and in the film I Am Not Your Negro, there is a complex discussion and presentation of what it is like being Black in a predominantly white society. In “Down at the Cross” especially, there is a clearer image of Baldwin’s views and critiques of white supremacy concerning “the Negro Problem.” When Baldwin began to explore the Black and Negro experience and the issues of race and identity in the United States he noticed that Black people were openly weeping about the oppression they faced yet they were “unable to say what it was that oppressed them except that they knew it was ‘the man’ – the white man” (Baldwin p. 298). Baldwin called this a “terrifying single-mindedness” (Baldwin p. 297). I believe using the phrase “terrifying single-mindedness” underscores the depth of Black people’s feelings about their inferiority and what it is like to live in a world that debases them. It suggests that the determination and intense focus of the Black community to combat their white oppressors is frightening and extreme and to Baldwin, very unsettling. 

In this critique of the way Black people navigate white positions and power in America, I found that Baldwin was denouncing the Black experience by suggesting that their intense focus on achieving their goal and liberation was terrifying. The white culture and white superiority that dominates society has and continues to limit opportunities for many Black Americans. Whites reinforce and perpetuate the stereotypes and disadvantages of Black Americans by not only basing their identity on black inferiority but by maintaining their power and superior societal position so that Blacks cannot reach their status and so that they can maintain theirs. There are so many other things related to issues of race in the United States that support this argument. For example, as was shown in the film I Am Not Your Negro, the killings and beatings of Black men, police brutality, intentional discrimination and segregation, and more which all persist today. I feel as though this is more terrifying than the “single-mindedness” of Black people seeking equality and liberation. 

I cannot agree with Baldwin’s view of Black individuals operating on the knowledge that it was the white man who was oppressing them as a “terrifying single-mindedness” (Baldwin p. 297). White people have treated Blacks horribly, and Baldwin has demonstrated this therefore in my eyes, I think Black people are justified in separating themselves from the whites that have separated themselves from them for so long and have the right to be so extreme in their goal to seek liberation and equality from the white oppressors. While the importance of being partial is definitely a great thing for society, which Baldwin appears to be stressing in “Down at the Cross”, promoting the idea to the Black community that what they feel about the white man, their desire to separate, and their unwavering dedication to freeing themselves from their oppressors are single-minded and terrifying, in my opinion, diminishes their experiences and their objective.


While reading Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, I knew that there would be some connection and relationship between the story, its characters, and religion. I noticed references here and there, for example, the numerous mentions of being the “apple of one’s eye” which I believed to be a reference to the apple/fruit in the biblical story about Adam and Eve, and I highlighted these different references while reading (Baldwin p. 68, 133). However, it was not until our exercise in class where we actually referred to biblical texts that I realized there were a lot more connections. As Professor Kinyon said, almost every line has a reference to biblical text and religion in some way or another. From the title to some of the characters’ names, there were many biblical parallels.

One of the main biblical parallels that I had confirmed after our exercise in class was the parallel between John the character and a figure in the Bible. I recognized and understood the parallel between John’s father Gabriel and the Biblical figure Garbiel, his younger sister Sarah, the prophet Elisha or Elijah, and more but I was not able to make the connection with John so easily. I questioned if he was a reference to John, one of Jesus’ apostles, or John the Baptist. I think that finishing the novel really unified this concept for me when John in the novel becomes saved. In the Bible, John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth, (the same as John Grimes in the novel) is set by God to preach repentance and baptize people in the Jordan River. He serves as an example of the importance of repentance of sin. John the Baptist’s story through life and his unfortunate death also serves as a reminder that God has a plan for all and saves us all. This is similar to John Grimes because John’s life is “plagued by sin” and in the end when he has his hallucinations in which he is saved he repents and becomes a changed person. As we have already often discussed, John sins through masturbation and his thinking about his sexuality and afterward, believes that his sin is visible to everyone. However in the Part Three of the novel “The Threshing Floor,” John is religiously converted in a similar way that John the Baptist converts others. When John visions the communion service with Elisha in which he breaks bread and drinks wine (the holy communion), he realizes he has blood on his feet that won’t wash off (Baldwin p. 197). Someone cries “Have you been to the river?” (Baldwin 197). John then goes to the river and is questioned about his belief in the Lord as a sinner and once he sees the Lord, he is set free. Perhaps this allusion to the river in this instance is meant to be a connection the Jordan River in which John the Baptist baptized others.

Also similar to John the Baptist, whose transition to being a prophet came with an acknowledgment of a time when he lived in the desert in obscurity, I saw a similar theme with the character John Grimes. Throughout the course of John’s life, he feels as though he is not understood, especially by his father, or to be more specific step-father. The feelings and emotions that emerge as a result of this, which may just be speculation, are what push John Grimes into this religious conversion and awakening. In the same way that John the Baptist’s obscurity pushed him to a life of ministry.

One last connection that I will make between John Grimes and John the Baptist is through a specific place in scripture. In Luke 3 John the Baptist paves the way for those awaiting judgment day. The people were waiting, wondering if John was the Messiah, the prophet that was promised to them by God. But in Luke, John answered them all, saying that he would baptize them with water but that he was not the most powerful, the one that would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire was the Messiah and the most powerful. The scripture follows by stating, “his winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn…” (Luke 3:17). The threshing floor is an exact reference to the chapter title in which John is saved.

There are probably many more connections that I can make between John Grimes and John the Baptist. It is very intriguing to see that when you actually analyze the text, the abilities to make Biblical parallels are numerous.

Sin and Shame

When reading the first part of Go Tell It on the Mountain and Field’s piece “Pentecostalism and All that Jazz: Tracing James Baldwin’s Religion” I noticed many connections between religion and the Bible and Baldwin’s literary work. One that particularly caught my attention was the prevalent state of nakedness that dominated John’s feelings. On page 38, John stresses about what he would have to do if his mom was not feeling well. “He would have to prepare supper, …take care of the children…and be naked under his father’s eyes” (Baldwin, p. 38). When he looks at his baby picture in his house, he feels the shame of his nakedness in comparison to his siblings’ nakedness, even though he is a baby. Baldwin writes, “But John could never look at it without feeling shame and anger that his nakedness should be here so unkindly revealed” (Baldwin, p. 26). A lot of John’s feeling of nakedness reminded me of the origin and creation story with Adam and Eve. In the same way that Adam and Eve, once they committed original sin, became aware of themselves, their bodies, and their shame; they hid their naked bodies from each other and were overcome with vulnerability and guilt. The portrayal of John’s character is done similarly. In every example in which John acknowledges his nakedness, he feels shame and this nakedness and shame is tied to John’s sin. Like Adam and Eve, John submits to the temptations of his sexuality, has sinned, and now feels shame and guilt. John’s sin, not only his masturbation but his true sexuality, that being homosexuality, makes him feel shame in the world and this shame appears to him to be very visible to everyone. John is always under the assumption that others know of his sin, especially his stepfather. Now not only must he stand before God the Father on judgment day but must also stand before his step-father, naked and exposed. This also connects to a larger theme in which religion and the institution of the Church often view and depict sexuality outside of the tradition of the man and woman and outside of marriage to be shameful. These boundaries and standards of religion and the Church prevent people like John from having good relationships with the Church, religion, and even himself. I am curious to see how much this theme of nakedness and shame similar to the shame of Adam and Even when they committed their sin of temptation expands for John when he continues to explore his sexuality throughout the novel.

The Power of Literature in Perpetuating or Challenging Racism in America

In “Black Boys and Native Sons” by Irving Howe, Howe presents James Baldwin’s strong assertions about Richard Wright’s protest novel Native Son. Baldwin writes that although the novel was “undertaken out of sympathy for the Negro,” presenting Bigger as a monster, “a social victim or mythic agent of sexual prowess” confined Bigger as a Negro to “the very tones of violence that he [as a Black man] has known all his life.” The portrayal of Bigger Thomas and the implications that it provided for Black men and ‘Blackness’ was a topic I often questioned once completing the novel. Like Baldwin, I too wondered, if Wright’s goal was to show the negative effects of white America on Black Americans, then why paint the picture that Blacks were the problem in society? As we further discussed in class, Wright’s depiction of Bigger Thomas only further perpetuated the stereotype that white people had of Black men being violent and dangerous. Native Son articulated everything that Americans were thinking but were afraid to say out loud and because it did that, and confirmed a harsh and negative stereotype of Black culture, it was way more regressive than it was progressive. It presented a sociological issue that I found could not be fixed or at least could not be accurately addressed through Wright’s literary portrayal of Bigger. Native Son rather than empowering Black culture and progressing the already bad image that they had in society, instead incited and stirred up its white audience, verifying to them that the Black race was inferior. It perpetuated the same stereotype and tone of violence that Black men like Bigger were subjected to their whole lives and did not give Black people and even Black authors like Baldwin much room to grow and prove society and white America wrong about their preconceptions. Because Wright failed to humanize Bigger and defined him as a reactionary experimental figure that only operated on suffering and violence, the predominantly white audience of the novel who then shared that message with America were unable to understand and view Bigger as a realized individual. According to Howe, this negative portrayal communicated “that only through struggle could men with black skins, and for that matter, all the oppressed of the world, achieve their humanity.” As a result of Native Son, deepened racial divides, completely missing the mark of what Wright claimed it was not supposed to do. 

This exemplified to me how much literature can take responsibility for either deepening or diminishing societal issues like racism and racial inequality. As someone who studies Sociology, I acknowledge that there are a multitude of factors that contribute to societal problems but I never really imagined literature as having as much of an impact on shaping social narratives and perceptions in the way that Native Son did. Now, I am eager to read and find out how James Baldwin will use his literature to portray Negro men and Black culture. Although Howe stated that “Baldwin has not yet succeeded in composing the kind of novel he counterpoised to the work of Richard Wright” I am curious to see myself how Baldwin will counter the work of Wright in his own writings. Unlike Native Son, I hope that Baldwin’s work gives Black America the recognition it deserves and advances the image of Black men, Black women, and Blackness in general.