Final Reflections on Baldwin

I think my two biggest takeaways from Baldwin’s writing were that religion can be a tool for individual salvation without some of the church’s dogma and that true love, the love that Baldwin describes as necessary for a true human experience, takes effort.

I was not excited when we entered the religion section of the course. I did not do well in either of my theology classes while at ND and I rarely understood the extratextual material we read for these classes. I thought religious philosophy was not useful to the human experience and that institutionalized religion caused more harm than good in the form of some of its anti-homosexual dogma. But Baldwin gave me a better understanding of religion. It is an experience that is both individualized and communal, and the key to unlocking true religion is love for the world, those in it, and yourself. I do not pray often, but when I do, I often find myself praying for myself, which I found selfish. But Baldwin’s writing showed me that I should not suppress my own wants in order to achieve some dogmatic form of salvation. Salvation can only be achieved, in Baldwin’s eyes, through loving yourself, and additionally loving your community. This leads to my other big takeaway, which is Baldwin’s concept of love.

Before reading Baldwin, I was unsure if I have ever actually loved someone. The love that Baldwin describes, to me, is an active experience that one must continuously work at. There are certainly moments when loving the world and those in it is hard, especially during this hellish year that so many of us have struggled through. But walking around campus these last few weeks, contemplating life after graduation, I have tried to find the things that I love during this depressing time. I see all the bleakness, but I in an effort to narrow out the good. I love Notre Dame, despite several of the institution’s issues. I love the lake and the grotto; walking there brings me peace and joy. And while I certainly do not love all of my friends, I love a fair number of them, and I am going to make an effort not to let that love die after graduation.

This class was my favorite one this semester because of these two concepts of religion and love that Baldwin taught me. Often, I hear people criticize the English major and humanities in general because their content is “not applicable” to everyday life. But Baldwin’s teachings of love and religion are probably the most useful concepts I have learned this year; they are certainly more useful to my development as a human being than my accounting minor. So, I am very glad I took this course and very glad to have read so much from Baldwin. I will definitely be reading some of the stuff we did not get to over the summer.

Tradition and Memory

After reading the articles “Equal in Paris?” and “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters,” I am thinking a lot about how Americans create and remember “traditions” in comparison to the rest of the world. In the first article, we see a number of Parisian traditions which are overtly racist and antisemitic, yet remain a part of the culture simply because they have a historical connotation, as Paris is an “ancient” kind of city and these “traditions” have become a part of that ancient history. The U.S. is not “ancient” like France, yet we still perpetuate racist “traditions,” claiming they are a part of our history, such as people flying the Confederate flag. There is the presence of a dual history in America: one that white America accepts and one that it does not, and this dual history is exactly what I think Baldwin wants to combat in The Fire Next Time. In “My Dungeon Shook,” Baldwin claims that white people are “trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it” (CE, 294). So, when I think about the path towards achieving racial equality, the first step must be the true teaching of history.

In “Equal in Paris?” we see a denial of history in a modern day setting when Williams describes drinking in a room with his friends, yet being surrounded by racist decor and imagery. Whoever decorated that apartment most likely saw these decorations as nothing more than historic artifacts, but this is exactly the problem. Denying the racism of historical artifacts does not make any sense because it leads to the denial of racism in our present day. In “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters,” Edmonds brings up how many white people have qualms with the message of the BLM movement because they believe America is a “post-racial society.” But again, this is simply not the case. We cannot deem our society a post-racial one simply by denying the racism of our history and then hold that history sacred in the form of “tradition.” Like the racist decorations in the Paris apartment, America perpetuates symbols of racism like the Confederate flag; it perpetuates a history that is not even American in order to create some sense of white complacency. I do not think Baldwin would have been surprised by the Capitol Riot and the various racist symbols flaunted during it, such as the Confederate flag and the constructed gallows, because the whole event was a result of white America denying half of its history; the rioters denied the loss of Trump, and thus created a false narrative which sent them down a path to making that false narrative a reality.

These false narratives that are popping up more and more are exactly what we need to combat in our schools. We cannot let one side of history overshadow another, and further claim that the racism of that history must be forgotten in order to uphold American tradition. In my Political Theory course, when discussing John Stuart Mill, we discussed whether or not tradition should be upheld at all in society. Mill argues that upholding tradition leads to the preservation and perpetuating of false truths that will ultimately undermine a society if it leaves these false truths unquestioned. I completely agree with him on this point (even though he hypocritically speaks against this point later) and believe that in order for our society to be grounded in actual truth, we must question most of our traditions. Why do southern schools still refer to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression”? Why do some treat the Confederate flag as an American symbol if it represents a history that is purely anti-American? Why are black authors excluded from the American literary tradition in high school classrooms? These are the kinds of questions we must ask ourselves and others in order to learn and accept the true history of our country. If we reject upholding tradition for tradition’s sake, then maybe white America can finally be “released” from the history it does not understand as Baldwin hoped would one day happen when writing to his nephew James.

Education and Silence

Being that I am going into the field of education after graduation, I was very touched and humbled reading G.’s story in “A Fly In Buttermilk.” The evils this young boy faced and his reaction to them was a very shocking read, but the thing that did not surprise me at all, but which I believe Baldwin found shocking, was G.’s silence. He did not speak of any of the traumatic experiences beyond stating that there was “name calling” and one case of him being tripped in the hallway. But this is what a lot of kids, in my experience, tend to do: they internalize their experiences. And this is probably the biggest fear of mine in becoming an educator, that I will not be able to help children achieve the ability to vocalize their experiences.

One line that particularly affected me upon reading this essay was Baldwin’s take on the general public’s reaction to integration: “admiration before the general spectacle and skepticism before the individual case” (CE, 188). This attitude toward integration is generally what I believe is the current state of education today, and it perpetuates the silence of students. I do not believe anyone in this country would argue that education in and of itself is an objectively bad thing. However, I agree with Baldwin’s claim in “Nobody Knows My Name” that most Americans “have so little respect for genuine intellectual effort” (CE 201). This is the experience I myself faced attending public high school in New York, as I would consistently see kids attempting to coast through school without actually desiring intellectual stimulation, and their parents would perpetuate this behavior by consistently arguing with teachers and administrators. Those who cared about their education were the most silent, and those who did not were the most vocal. Generally, people admire the spectacle of school: playing sports, socializing, and hopefully getting a diploma by the end of the whole experience. But with regards to the individual case, the few kids trying to learn something to bring value to their own intellectual stimulation, people are skeptical, and this is why the silence of those who care for their education continues.

G.’s story is inspiring, but not surprising to me, because he and his family genuinely desired a good education and not the spectacle of school as so many families in American society do. His silence as a “weapon,” as Baldwin describes it, is then logical to me because it is the sign that he was able to put his mind toward his education and not let the spectacle distract him. G.’s silence is a sign of his dedication to his education and it is a powerful weapon because it allows him to not fall victim to the retaliation that would lead him into the side of school that is spectacle. But the weapon of silence also has a fatal downside, because while it helps individuals ignore the general spectacle of our current system of education, it does not stimulate any change in that system. Individuals can get by if they are one of the few “truly exceptional” students as Baldwin notes, but this is generally not the case. So, while silence and pride protects the individual, they do little to improve universal school reform. I do not know what the solution to this issue is, as all of Baldwin’s statements in these essays still have vast implications today. But if America somehow learned to love learning and be vocal about that love of learning, I believe some of the issues of our current school systems could be solved. I am sorry if this was a very niche and unorganized post, but I have a lot floating around my mind when it comes to education issues of the past continuing into today and I would love to hear other people’s thoughts.

Power and Execution

In Giovanni’s Room and “Going to Meet the Man,” Baldwin makes an argument for love and against hatred. Giovanni and David’s relationship fails because David is unwilling to admit his love, rather hoping that he will be able to live a straight American lifestyle after he leaves Paris. Similarly, Jesse is unable to love his wife Grace because he sees sex as a form of domination rather than love. But even though these two men are the causes of their failed relationships, they do not face the greatest consequences in each of these stories that involve execution. Rather, Giovanni and the man at the lynching are killed as a result of the main characters’ inability to love. David and Jesse both associate sex with power rather than love, which results in their worlds being worse off for themselves, but more so for the people they infatuate over.

We have talked heavily about who had the power in David and Giovanni’s relationship. and I believe it is David, for he associates his sex life with his ability to enter a straight space. He does not enjoy having sex with Hella, but does so anyway because he wants to be a “natural” American man; he wants a family, a house, and steady income. And he holds this idea of a “natural” life over Giovanni throughout their entire relationship, reminding him of the looming threat of Hella returning to Paris, which will cause David to return to his “natural” self. Giovanni does not understand why David cannot love him, and it is because David believes Giovanni will not give him any power, both economic and social, if he has a full time relationship with him. Hella on the other hand will give David that power because she gives him access to the straight married world that David’s father wishes him to enter before he gives his son any more access to money. David flees his relationship with Giovanni because it does not give him any social or economic power, and because of this Giovanni sets his own path towards execution; David’s infatuation with power, then, serves as one of the blows in Giovanni’s long path towards execution, with the final blow being the guillotine. Had David practiced a life of love rather than power, Giovanni would probably not be facing death. Similarly, Jesse also experiences an execution in his story, but rather than being the cause of it, he is the result of it: a man who has been taught hate and power is the way of the world.

Jesse, in a sense, is a more extreme version of David; he is incapable of love, but does not even consider that love is a possibility in his life. Instead, he arouses himself with images of hate and power, specifically the castration of the man at his first “picnic.” His sense of power is not an economic or social one like David’s, but a purely physical one where domination over the body is equivalent to happiness in sex. He sees the castration as something pleasurable because it is the ultimate form of domination over the body, in that it is both a murder and a sexual destruction. Baldwin shows us how harmful a life of hatred can be, with people infatuated with destruction and domination rather than love. Jesse is an extreme example, but he is the logical conclusion to a child being taught a doctrine of hatred; it follows that he equates execution with sexual fulfillment because his father taught him that execution is where people come together.

Through Giovanni’s Room and “Going to Meet the Man,” Baldwin shows us how the dogma of power corrupts the purity of love. In both stories a father figure teaches their son “natural” ideas of the family and its power in society. David learns that the straight American family is a path toward happiness because it gives him access to wealth. Jesse is taught that physical domination brings happiness because it brings power to those who dominate. While the ends of Giovanni and the castrated man is far worse than the ends of David and Jesse, Baldwin still shows us that obsession with power has ruined both of the main characters of these stories. David is left sickened and disturbed by the image of himself in the mirror and Jesse is left impotent unless he thinks of violence. While Giovanni and the man are physically executed, David and Jesse are spiritually executed, left with empty and unfulfilling lives because they were taught to practice accessing power over trying to love.

Country and Identity

At its heart, Giovanni’s Room is a story about the search for one’s identity by going on a journey to another country. David flees America to discover himself in Paris, Hella leaves David in Paris to go to Spain to contemplate her feelings for him, and Giovanni leaves his small village after his newborn child dies to start a new life for himself in Paris. All three main characters believe they will learn about themselves by fleeing from their home to another country, but all three end up worse off than they were in the beginning of the novel. Hella loses David’s love, David cannot bear the feelings of his sexuality, and Giovanni is sentenced to death. The quest to Paris to obtain love or peace, then, is ultimately flawed, and I believe that has something to do with the divide between American identity and European identity.

Throughout the novel, David is referred to as Giovanni’s “American friend” or simply “the American,” but Giovanni is never referred to as “the Italian” by anyone in Paris. Both are outsiders in the city, yet it is only David who is referred to as one because he is distinctly American. There is a disconnect between American and European culture that cannot be resolved despite David’s best efforts and I think that this disconnect also ties to David’s views of his sexuality, and even Hella’s view of hers. Giovanni is very open about loving other men and about his life in general. But David and Hella cannot shake traditional gender roles out of their lives in Paris. Hella wants a family and a house, and for a long time it seems like David wants the same thing; but David is gay, and thus cannot make Hella his wife in good conscience. However, it does seem like David genuinely desires a family life with steady income and some stability, and this also seems to be an Americanized lifestyle to David. Thus, he associates Europe with his queer identity and America with a straight identity that he wishes he could have, but cannot.

This is why when he comes to Paris, David is viewed as such an outsider; he appears to be merely visiting this life where he can be true to his own sexuality. Reality for him is where he is viewed as straight by everyone he knows, mainly his father and Hella. Giovanni sees David for who he actually is, even when David cannot, because he is not blinded by an American sense of purpose. Giovanni is an outsider in Paris, but never feels like one because he is not just visiting Paris to escape his former life. For a while, when he is loving David, Giovanni feels as if he is at home. But when Hella comes to Paris, thus bringing David back into an American mindset, Giovanni is made an outsider again, as he has no place in David’s traditional American future.

The different ideas of sexuality, country, and identity in Giovanni’s Room are very complex, and I do not want to generalize by saying Europe is a place where Giovanni and David can be openly gay and America is not. But Baldwin seems to believe that being an American in Paris exacerbates one’s own sense of their outsider status, thus making his sexual identity even harder to comprehend.

A Churchgoer Walks Into a Bar…

In our last in-person discussion, I was very flummoxed about not being able to empathize with the religious perspectives and themes in Go Tell It On The Mountain. I think that I got too wrapped up in the community aspect of John’s life being a purely religious one rather than some other form of community. But I think I am starting to understand Baldwin’s beliefs in a joint communal-individual salvation. In Giovanni’s Room, the first bar scene illuminates both the goals and desires of an individual (David) and the greater community around him. This bar certainly does not present salvation in the traditional sense, but it presents Giovanni, who gives David an opportunity to love and be loved, and it gives the rest of its patrons a similar opportunity.

I did not comprehend John’s salvation because I don’t think John really comprehended it either; him being saved goes completely against his beliefs throughout the book that he cannot be saved because he is attracted to men. The religious dogma being taught to John (and at the same time Baldwin) made me upset, and my feelings of anger toward the institution of the church blinded me to the opportunity for growth that religion presents to individuals. While the institution of the church itself is flawed, its tenets of love are actually beneficial for those who cannot learn to love on their own. There are those in the church who choose a path of living in and teaching fear rather than love, but if love is taught effectively, people can live happier through learning about it. But again, the church itself is flawed and sometimes love is not presented as the end goal of its teachings. But the bar in Giovanni’s Room, while traditional viewed as an institution of sin and lust, actually brings the David towards a true love with Giovanni.

While I have not finished Giovanni’s Room, and thus do not know the result of David and Giovanni’s love or how Giovanni ends up arrested, the love is currently presented as pure and true. At first, it seemed Jacques was roping David into going to a bar purely out of lust; his goal seems to be simply sex. But David ends up having a rather meaningful and lovely conversation with Giovanni. Nothing overtly sexual occurs, yet they find themselves infatuated with each other throughout their entire evening together. The bar gives them this opportunity to do so. Like the church, it brings people together and places them in an environment where they can begin to express love. Obviously, this is not always the rule in a bar, and in fact many people at bars simply end up lusting after others like Jacques. But the bar does not instill the same dogmatic fear of not being saved in David that the church does to John. It is a place that is explicitly secular, yet gives David the ability to find love with Giovanni. Again, I do not know how the novel proceeds after Part I, but as of right now I see both David and Giovanni living through love rather than through fear.

Masculinity and Relationship with God

Both in Gabriel and John’s case, their ideas of masculinity cause them to have a flawed relationship with God. Gabriel believes masculinity is his path towards a purer relationship with God, as his main motivation in all of his relationships is to create a holy male lineage. But John seems to have a pure relationship with God except for when he questions his sexuality. His view of other men’s physical power as sexually appealing causes him to question his salvation at the end of the book. Elisha’s ignorance of why John really asks him if he believed in his salvation puts that salvation even further into question, and the reader must wonder whether or not Baldwin believes anyone can truly be saved by God.

Masculine sexuality and holiness are portrayed as contradictory at a number of points by Baldwin. Gabriel’s masculinity’s failure to bring him closer to God is obvious, as he continually tries to “give” women his holy male heir, yet fails when these children end up being violent, dead, or non-existent. Further, his failure is marked by John’s salvation at the end of the book because he reaches union with God as an adopted son whereas Gabriel’s actual children do not even come close to having such an experience. But John questions his salvation at the end of the book due to his own view of his homosexuality as being in conflict with God’s will. When he imagines the strength of the boys in the bathroom in the very beginning of the novel, he believes he has sinned and thus is destined to go to hell after he dies. He then denies his sexuality, such as when he has the scuffle with Elisha in the church. There are queer undertones throughout the whole scene, yet this is viewed as a “straight” encounter by Elisha, who seems to be oblivious to John’s attraction to him. This obliviousness continues to the end of the novel where John is seemingly saved, and thus causes the reader to question whether or not Baldwin believes John was actually saved, or whether humans can be “saved” at all.

Ultimately, at the end of the novel I believe Baldwin thinks salvation itself is a farce, and not something that people should aim their lives toward because it is a futile affair. John’s consistent inquiry of Elisha to pray for him at the end of the book because he has romantic feelings for this man only serves to insight fear in John’s heart even though he just had an experience on the altar that can only be described as fully divine. Gabriel’s jealousy also serves no purpose other than to give him fear and grief, fear over his own ability to be saved and grief over a lineage that he views as failed in the eyes of God. The concept of salvation serves not much more than to drive this father and son mad over how they will reach heaven. Gabriel feels he must make up for his past sins by bringing a divine child into this world, which will likely never happen. John feels that in order to reach heaven he must denounce his sexuality, but this sexuality is what makes him human. One man feels he must exert his masculinity to a greater extent to achieve union with God and the other feels that he must repress his attraction to masculine figures to do the same. Baldwin then must see the concept of salvation as nothing more than a ridiculous and overbearing ideal to strive towards that, in the real world where people should not be expected to act more than human, people are driven to the brink of insanity by the constant fear of failing to please God.

Religious Male Genealogy and Autobiography

Baldwin brings a lot of autobiographical elements into his writing, especially when writing about Gabriel and his quest for a male heir that he believes was ordained to him by God. Baldwin focuses on this heavily when writing about Gabriel, and I believe he is writing with the male lineage in mind when describing John as well. In all of Gabriel’s relationships, he believes he can “save” the woman he pursues by giving them his child. I believe that Baldwin thought this characteristic true of his own father, and that because Baldwin was not his own son, but a break in the lineage, he was viewed as evil by his father. But it is really the lineage of Gabriel that could be debated to be “evil,” because while John goes to church and does his chores, Roy gets into fights constantly. And it is not just Roy that gets into trouble, but Gabriel’s son Royal as well.

The narrator, describing Gabriel’s motivations behind the name of his first child, states “He had once told Esther that if the Lord ever gave him a son he would call him Royal, because the line of the faithful was a royal line – his son would be a royal child” (134). When Esther claims she has been ruined due to the pregnancy caused by Gabriel, he yells at her, saying “Ruined?… You? How you going to be ruined? When you been walking through this town just like a harlot, and a-kicking up your heels all over the pasture? How you going to stand there and tell me you been ruined? If it hadn’t been me, it sure would have been somebody else” (126). He continually refers to her as a harlot and claims he was tempted by her as if by Satan. He is unwilling to consider that it is he who is the evil part of the relationship with Esther because he views her through a sexist lens as a biblical temptress. But it is Gabriel that brings evil to each woman in his life through his desire for the birth of a son. He leaves Deborah because she is barren, he leaves Esther to die because she is not his wife, and he unjustly punishes Elizabeth’s son John simply because he is not his own child. Gabriel brings evil to all of these women through his sexual desire, not the other way around, and I think Baldwin is making a commentary about hyper-masculinity’s incompatibility with moral religion.

I feel like John (Baldwin) believes his father saw him as not good enough not only because he did not belong to his biological lineage, but also because of his homosexuality which prevented him from starting his own biblical male lineage; Gabriel’s unwillingness to view John as good even though he tries hard in church most likely stems from John’s inability in Gabriel’s mind to function as a traditional man. I believe Baldwin carried these thoughts with him while writing and is why he portrays Gabriel in such a toxic way; his shaming of women and ignorance of the damage inflicted by his own masculinity leads to sadness, violence, and death. Yet, it is masculine traits that are praised in the Bible and feminine ones which are scorned and criticized. I believe that this novel does a great job illuminating the hypocrisy of the gender roles enforced by traditional religion and how the perpetuation of these roles leads to actual damage in the lives of religiously concerned American families.

Baldwin and Wright: Fear in Religion

Upon reading Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain for this coming week of class and reflecting upon Wright, I would like to discuss the way each of the writer sees religion, specifically how they fear the institution of the Catholic Church. Both Bigger and John express fears of organized religion, albeit John’s fears are more explicitly stated. But each character associates religion with gender, which creates a fear within both characters over how they are able to effectively express their masculinity. But while Bigger associates religion with femininity in the form of his mother, John seems to associate it with masculinity in the form of his father, as he is a preacher who instills the fear of God into the hearts of his children on a daily basis.

Bigger sees access to religion as something that would make him more feminine and thus destroy his masculinity, which he views mainly as his capacity for violence. When the preacher comes to his jail cell and requests Bigger pray to God for his fate in the trial, Bigger refuses to do so, thinking that he must accept his death because he created this path for himself through his acts of violence. But I believe there is a deeper meaning to Bigger’s refusal to pray that stems from his fear of the women in his life. The main religious figure in his life is his mother, whom he does not feel comfortable around and refuses to be himself in front of. At one point (though I forget the exact page number), Bigger associates his mother’s devotion to God to Bessie’s alcoholism, showing that he believes religion to be a sign of weakness. He does not see religion as a path toward salvation, but as a crutch that can barely assist one in escaping their painful existence. Bigger’s fear of religion peaks during the trial, when he sees the burning cross outside the court being used by the Klan to intimidate him. This imagery of white people using the cross as a symbol of hate definitely ties Bigger’s fear of religion to whiteness, but I feel that his fear stems more from his hatred of women; he does not want to be “feminine” in the way he perceives the women around him like his mother, so he abandons religion.

John, however, sees religion as a much more masculine institution, as his father is a preacher. Additionally, he is constantly reminded by the fear of sin; people at his church and in his life frequently bring up the threat of eternal damnation. And it seems that the one practice John is most fearful of that will lead him to eternal damnation is premarital sex. So unlike Bigger, John embraces religion, but this embrace still leads him toward a path where he is afraid of femininity. But rather than being afraid of himself losing his masculinity in the face of a female figure, he is afraid of embracing it. So John and Bigger’s mutual fear of religion leads to opposite ends in the two boys. For Bigger, he embraces his masculinity, equating it to the sexual violence he exerts upon Bessie and Mary. For John, he is scared into embracing religion, and thus avoids confronting his sexuality in fear that he will face perdition in the afterlife.

I am not sure what to make of these two opposite takes of the combined role of religion and fear, but I thought it would be interesting to explore especially because the topic of fear came up a lot in the presentations last class. If anyone has any thoughts let me know, as I am still trying to piece this all together.

Max’s Case for Bigger: Determinism and Accountability

I was reflecting more after class about how “determined” Bigger was in committing his heinous actions. To a certain extent, I agree that his environment put him in a position where it was easier for him to succumb to his inner beast rather than suppress his feelings of lust. But then I asked myself, “how far back can we take this determinism argument?” The answer, based on Max’s argument for Bigger in the court is infinitely, as he takes the argument past Bigger to his ancestors during the era of American slavery. But I feel that there is something very flawed in this rationale, as it removes any sort of personal accountability for one’s actions.

There is an episode of Bojack Horseman (yeah I know I’m really referencing Bojack Horseman, sorry not sorry) where Bojack considers holding himself accountable for some of the cruel things he has done to other characters in the show. Diane, his friend, comforts him by saying that to a certain extent, society and his upbringing are responsible for his actions. In turn, Bojack goes on to reject the notion that he should be accountable for his behavior and continually claims that he cannot a bad person because it is society’s fault that he behaves poorly. Diane tries to tell him this is not what she meant, and that he should still hold himself accountable for his actions, but Bojack ignores her and goes on to say that he and his actions are insignificant specks in the grand scheme of a predetermined fate created by “society.” This is a rather comical example, but I think it points out some of the more absurd implications of Max’s arguments within Native Son and perhaps the absurdity of some of Wright’s own beliefs.

Max, and by extension Wright, argues that Bigger is not responsible for the murders and rapes he commits because living in the slums of Chicago made him a murderer and a rapist. It is not his fault, but his society’s. The world he lives in made him a murderer and a rapist by giving him no avenues of escape. But there were avenues of escape for Bigger. We briefly discussed in class the option of Bigger going into the military and I believe it is also mentioned towards the end of the book, though I think it is quickly brushed aside due to the military being a mainly white institution in Bigger’s eyes. Bigger also commonly used the movie theater, albeit in a disgusting way, as a method of escape from his reality. Throughout the novel, Bigger’s lack of escape is often portrayed as a nervous voice inside his head encouraging him to commit crimes, so there is a certain extent to which Bigger has agency over his actions even if his surroundings provoked him into giving in to his egregious desires. His upbringing was certainly flawed due to his environment, so some blame should be put on his surroundings when determining who and what was at fault for him falling victim to his inner lust for violence. But if we put all of the blame on his surroundings, we end up with a scenario where personal accountability does not matter. If we accept Bojack, Max, and Wright’s hypothesis that our environment is to blame for our actions, we would in turn live immorally without concern for our immorality.