James Baldwin Notes Of A Native Son Essay Analysis Activities

Lessons Learned From Notes To A Native Son

Realizing What Society Really Is

Born in 1924, James Baldwin grew up in Harlem during harsh racism and the infamous Jim Crow laws. In addition to being surrounded by hate crimes and riots, Baldwin had a rough relationship with his father, who died when Baldwin was only nineteen. Twelve years after his father?s death, Baldwin wrote an essay, entitled ?Notes of a Native Son,? which described the events that took place around the time of his father?s death. Being one of his trademark talents, he also inserted periods of analysis while narrating the story. These insights, often reflections on his life and actions, illustrate the importance of learning to truly understand the society in which one lives in order to react appropriately to one?s current situation in life.

James Baldwin noted at the beginning of his essay that he really began thinking about his life and his father?s life when his father passed (63). Just like most rebellious teenagers, he did not always understand his father?s intentions when he was being warned about drugs, white people in general, and other activities that he was specifically warned about and kept away from. Arguments were of course inevitable, and their relationship worsened because James Baldwin kept silent. In fact, the one time that he can remember when they had a real chat together was when his father asked him if he really wanted to write instead of being a preacher, like his father (80). Looking back on his childhood, James Baldwin realized that he did not really take any time to get to know his own father, and once he died it was too late.

Baldwin also added some analysis about father and son relationships, noting that ?It seems to be typical of America, where opportunities, real and fancied, are thicker than anywhere else on the globe, that the second generation has no time to talk to the first? (63). He spent so much time despising his father and staying away from him that he lost touch with the special bond between father and son. He could have absorbed so much more knowledge and been much happier in his childhood if he truly connected with his father, because his father had so many experiences and perspectives of his own which could have been shared with his son. The father-son relationship is a very important base of learning, for the son, about his environment, and since young Baldwin separated himself from his father, he lost that chance.

Although Baldwin did not really get to know his father, he began to look back on his life and realize that his father wanted only the best for him. His father would gloat with pride about how wonderful a preacher Baldwin was, during the short time that he was a preacher. James Baldwin could remember his father actually was ?grinning with pleasure? after his sermons, as opposed to the continuous look of disgust and hatred that he was used to as he was growing up (79). Instead of working off of the happier times that he had...

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The funeral was held on Baldwin’s birthday, and he spent the day drinking whisky with a female friend and wondering what to wear because he did not own any black clothes. His friend eventually found him a black shirt. At the church, Baldwin reflected that his aunt, who fought with his father throughout his life, was one of the only people who had a real connection with him. During the eulogy, Baldwin notes that the preacher was not describing his father as he really was, but rather inviting the congregation to forgive his father, reminding them that they did not know the full truth of what he suffered. Someone began singing one of Baldwin’s father’s favorite songs, and suddenly Baldwin was transported to a memory of sitting on his father’s lap in church. He recalls that his father used to show off Baldwin’s singing voice to others when he was young. He remembers their fights, and the only time in which they “had really spoken to each other.” Just before Baldwin left home, his father asked him if he’d “rather write than preach,” and Baldwin replied, simply, “Yes.” Baldwin did not want to see his father’s body in the casket, but had no choice but to go and look. Baldwin felt that his father looked like any “old man dead,” and notes the strange proximity of the body to his newborn child.

This passage is a cathartic and redemptive moment in an otherwise bleak essay. Baldwin’s inability to find suitable clothes, his sense that the preacher is not being honest, and his reluctance to see his father’s body all create the impression that he is alienated from his father and from the process of mourning him. However, at the same time he experiences a sudden sense of connection to his father through the experience of hearing the song. This in turn leads him to remember their only moment of true communication. Although it is tragic that this moment was so fleeting, there is also beauty in the fact that Baldwin recalls it at all, alongside other happy memories of his father’s life. The presence of his father’s youngest child, a newborn baby, creates a sense of hope. Although Baldwin’s father is gone, part of him lives on through his children, who may experience some of the joy and freedom that he was denied.

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