Another Country (novel)

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Another Country
AnotherCountry.JPG
First edition cover
Author James Baldwin
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Dial Press
Publication date
1962
Media type Print (Hardcover, paperback)
Pages 436 p
OCLC 264020

Another Country is a 1962 novel by James Baldwin. The novel is set in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s. It portrayed many themes that were taboo at the time of its release including bisexuality, interracial couples and extramarital affairs.

Background information[edit]

Baldwin started writing Another Country in Greenwich Village in 1948 and continued to write the novel in Paris and again New York. Despite his privately confessed reluctance to bring "Another Country, unfinished, into yet another country," Baldwin completed the book in Istanbul in 1962.[1][2] In 1959, amidst growing fame, Baldwin received a $12,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to support his work on the book.[3]

Baldwin had returned to the United States in 1957, partly to cover the mounting civil rights campaign led by Martin Luther King, Jr.. Baldwin admired King, but sought to depict relationships deeper than King's "brotherly love".[4]

Plot summary[edit]

The first fifth of Another Country tells of the downfall of jazz drummer Rufus Scott. Rufus begins a relationship with Leona, a white woman from the South and introduces her to his social circle, including his closest friend, the struggling novelist Vivaldo, his more successful mentor Richard, and Richard's wife Cass. Although the relationship is initially frivolous, it turns more serious as they continue to live together. Rufus becomes habitually physically abusive of Leona and she is eventually admitted to a mental hospital in the South. Rufus returns to Harlem in a deep depression and commits suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

The rest of the book explores relationships between Rufus's friends, family, and acquaintances in the wake of his death.[5][6] Rufus' friends cannot understand the suicide, and experience some guilt over his death. Afterwards they become closer. Vivaldo begins a relationship with Rufus’ sister Ida, which is strained by racial tension and Ida's bitterness after her brother's death.

Eric, Rufus's first male lover and an actor, returns to New York after years living in France where he met his longtime lover Yves. Eric returns to the novel's social circle but is more calm and composed than most of the clique.

Everyone's relationships become strained in the course of the novel. Ida starts having an affair with Ellis, an advertising executive who promises to help with her career as a singer. Cass, who has become lonely due to Richard's writing career, has an affair with Eric after he arrives in New York. At the novel's climax, Cass tells Richard about her affair with Eric, Eric and Vivaldo have a sexual encounter, and Vivaldo learns about Ida's relationship with Ellis.

The book uses a third-person narrator who is nevertheless close with the characters' emotions.[7]

Themes[edit]

Race and nationalism[edit]

Baldwin called Rufus "the black corpse floating in the national psyche", as well as a Christ figure—a living (and dying) symbol of suffering black men.[5] Rufus's death has been described as tantamount to murder.[6][8]

Because Rufus is living in a predominantly racist time era, his life is constantly affected by an internalization of this racism to the point where he hates himself. Throughout the novel, the effects of this internalized oppression are obvious: he is sexual with any person who is white—violently sexual, because he seeks power; he feels disappointed in himself because of his proud black sister Ida, and avoids the support of his family during his last day of life.

The concept of "another country" reflects not only the return of Eric to the United States from France, but also the feelings of alienation experienced by African Americans within the United States.[8]

The novel was unique at the time in its attempt to explore race relations through romantic love instead of homosocial friendships.[4]

Love and sex[edit]

The relationship between Ida and Vivaldo serves as a microcosm for the relationship between African Americans and white liberals.[9] Their relationship and others (including the earlier coupling of Rufus and Leona) represent a struggle for love amidst the obstacles of race, sex, and modern society. According to Baldwin biographer W. J. Weatherby:

Whether it was the central relationship between white Vivaldo and black Ida or the accompanying bisexual affairs involving most of the other leading characters, all were intended by Baldwin to illustrate how difficult he felt real love was in contemporary American society. Facing each other without lies and perceiving the relationship realistically were much more important than which sexes were involved or how love was expressed, in Baldwin's opinion. [...] The whole racial situation, according to the novel, was basically a failure of love."[10]

Racial and sexual differences are compared and contrasted, both represented as areas for conflict that must be addressed en route to mature love.[11] According to some readings, this complete unity represents another 'another country' and perhaps an impossible utopia.[4][12] Stefanie Dunning writes:

Rufus' death suggests that there is no black utopia, no place where he can escape the iniquities of racism. More importantly, Another Country suggests that we have not yet found a model for thinking outside the box that frames our discussions of interraciality and same-sex eroticism. It suggests, more importantly, that eliminating gender and racial difference will not solve the "problems" of difference either. The title of the novel suggests the wish for "another country," another nation, in which our racial and sexual selves are imagined and defined differently or perhaps where they are not defined at all. It is at once a question: another country, illustrating the futility of national crossings, and it is a wistful fantasy: another country, a mythic, imaginary and unattainable place where relationships are not fractured by difference.[8]

Dunning argues that the novel's critique of nationalism extends to black nationalism, which still relies on a fantasy of authentic and heterosexual reproduction.[8]

Willing ignorance[edit]

One of the most significant themes in Another Country is one's willingness to ignore parts of reality (including onesself) that he or she finds unpleasant or ego-dystonic. Vivaldo is perhaps the most affected by this tendency. He also partially denies his own bisexuality. He fails to fully admit his attraction to Rufus. On the night of his death, Rufus went to Vivaldo and indicated a need for sexual love but Vivaldo pretended not to recognize this need and later feels guilty, suspecting that he might have prevented Rufus’ death. He does not see that his attraction to Ida potentially mirrors his attraction to Rufus. Also, despite mounting signs that Ida is involved in a career-advancing affair with the white TV producer Ellis, Vivaldo mostly denies this until the disillusioned Ida confesses to him herself in a cathartic scene near the end of the book.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, after considerable youthful struggles with self-acceptance of his homosexuality due to social ostracism in his hometown in Alabama, Eric eventually becomes the novel's most honest and open character. He admits that Rufus was abusive of Leona, that he actually does not reciprocate Cass's love, and that his love of Yves is genuine. This also makes him the book's most calm and composed character. Only after a night with Eric does Vivaldo see the world more clearly and make tentative steps toward acceptance of his own bisexuality.

Most of the white characters in the book downplay or refuse to admit the racial tension surrounding them. Cass and Richard are shocked when a group of black boys beat up their sons. Ida constantly suspects Vivaldo of exploiting her because she is black and has known white men who seek out sexual relations specifically with black women. Vivaldo refuses to admit any of this, although it is indicated that it may be true of their relationship.

Professional jealousy[edit]

Richard and Vivaldo are jealous of one another as writers. Vivaldo essentially denies the value of Richard's first novel, and is jealous that it is being published, while Richard is jealous of Vivaldo because Richard thinks his wife Cass sees suffering and a lack of commercial success as a sign of artistic integrity. Consequently, after Cass and Eric initiate their affair, Richard suspects she is seeing Vivaldo.

Also, Ida's beginning recognition as a jazz singer causes increased tension and jealousy between her and Vivaldo.

Reception[edit]

Another Country received much attention and mixed reviews. Reviews in the black press were generally favorable. The New York Times called it "a sad story, brilliantly and fiercely told" and compared it to T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" as record of spiritual desolation in modern times. Time magazine called it "a failure". Norman Mailer said it was "abominably written". The book was designated "obscene" in New Orleans. It quickly became a bestseller.[13][14]

Baldwin inferred from the book's popularity that "many more people than are willing to admit it lead lives not at all unlike the lives of the people in my book."[15] Baldwin also said that the book "scared people because most don't understand it."[16]

Eldridge Cleaver had harsh words for Baldwin in Soul on Ice, writing that although he admired Baldwin in some ways but felt increasingly uncomfortable with his writing. Cleaver says that Another Country made clear why his "love for Baldwin's vision had become ambivalent",[17] and writes:

Rufus Scott, a pathetic wretch who indulged in the white man's pastime of committing suicide, who let a white homosexual fuck him in the ass, and who took a Southern Jezebel for his woman, with all that these tortured relationships imply, was the epitome of a black eunuch who has completely submitted to the white man. Yes, Rufus was a psychological freedom rider, turning the ultimate cheek, murmuring like a ghost "You took the best so why not take the rest," which has absolutely nothing to do with the way that Negroes have managed to survive here in the hells of North America![18]

The book was listed by Anthony Burgess as one of his Ninety-nine Novels: The best in English since 1939.

Literary criticism[edit]

On writing the book, Baldwin said in the New York Times Book Review: "I think I really helplessly model myself on jazz musicians and try to write the way they sound. I am not an intellectual, not in the dreary sense that word is used today, and do not want to be: I am aiming at what Henry James called 'perception at the pitch of passion.'"[10] Asked to cite literary influences, Baldwin said that Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and George Bernard Shaw were his "models".[19]

It has been argued that James Baldwin is in three characters : Rufus as Baldwin would have turned out had he not moved to France, Eric as Baldwin was in Paris, and Vivaldo as a writer struggling with a writer's block because of his love affairs, in the manner of Baldwin himself.[1] Baldwin has also been identified with Ida, as Rufus's advocate after death, and Richard, a writer who is become successful.[20]

Baldwin later said that he developed the character of Rufus to complement and explain Ida.[4]

The character of Yves is connected to Baldwin's lover Lucien Happersberger, who made plans in 1960 to meet Baldwin in New York City.[21]

The book has been described as an implicit criticism of Mailer's "The White Negro" and its passive romanticization of black culture. Brandon Gordon describes this critique in terms of the relationship between Vivaldo and Rufus, mediated by Leona. Gordon writes: "Contrary to Vivaldo's expectations, emulating the African American's hypermasculine sexual ethos does not ultimately enable him to fulfill the hipster's fantasy of embodied identification." He concludes that in fact Vivaldo's homosexual encounter with Eric at the end of the novel—and specifically the fact that Vivaldo is penetrated—represents a truer form of "embodied identification" with another.[22]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Dievler, James A. (1999). "Sexual Exiles: James Baldwin and Another Country". James Baldwin Now. New York: New York University Press. pp. 163, 173–181. ISBN 0-8147-5617-4. 
  2. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), p. 195.
  3. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), p. 157.
  4. ^ a b c d Jenny M. James, "Making Love, Making Friends: Affiliation and Repair in James Baldwin's Another Country", Studies in American Fiction 39(1), 2012; accessed via Project Muse.
  5. ^ a b Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), p. 201. "...Rufus has been deeply wounded by the realities of racism. He is an embodiment of the curse that lurks in the American soul. Rufus, said Baldwin, is 'the black corpse floating in the national psyche'; he and what he represents must be squarely faced if we are to find peace in ourselves and our society. In 'Nobody Knows My Name' Baldwin had written, 'The nation, the entire nation, has spent a hundred years avoiding the question of the place of the black man in it.' Rufus is that man. [...] The presence of Rufus, then, is at the source of all the relationships in Another Country. Each character has been touched in one way or another by him, by his agony. Rufus Scott is the Christ figure—the sacrificial victim—in this parable of James Baldwin's 'gospel.'"
  6. ^ a b Katy Ryan, "Falling in Public: Larsen's Passing, McCarthy's The Group, and Baldwin's Another Country", Studies in the Novel 36(1), Spring 2004; accessed via ProQuest.
  7. ^ Weatherby, James Baldwin (1989), p. 219.
  8. ^ a b c d Stefanie Dunning, "Parallel perversions: Interracial and same sexuality in James Baldwin's Another Country", Melus 26(4), Winter 2001; accessed via ProQuest.
  9. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), pp. 202. "It is through Rufus's sister, Ida, the surviving witness, that Baldwin carries the message of Rufus's tragedy to the 'white liberal' world represented primarily by her white lover, Vivaldo. Like Baldwin, Ida sees herself as a voice in 'another country'. Again like him, she stresses that she can trust the love of that country's white inhabitants only if they can afford to know her 'name,' her history, her condition [...]."
  10. ^ a b Weatherby, James Baldwin (1989), p. 218.
  11. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), pp. 172–173. "Even as he was addressing the students of Kalamazoo, Baldwin was exploring ideas about love in the complex relationships that form the basis of Another Country. The struggle of the races was analogous to the struggle of sexual union. Out of the struggle could come a breakthrough to real communication, to a recognition of the love bond, to real 'growing up.'"
  12. ^ Kevin Ohi, "'I'm not the boy you want': Sexuality, 'race', and Thwarted revelation in Baldwin's Another Country", African American Review 33(2), Summer 1999; accessed via ProQuest.
  13. ^ Weatherby, James Baldwin (1989), pp. 216–217.
  14. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), p. 205.
  15. ^ James Baldwin, in "What's the Reason Why: A Symposium by Best-Selling Authors", New York Times, 2 December 1962; accessed via ProQuest.
  16. ^ Bryant Rollins, "James Baldwin, Author Extraordinary V: U.S. Paying the Price", Boston Globe, 18 April 1963; accessed via ProQuest.
  17. ^ Cleaver, Soul on Ice (1968), pp. 97–98.
  18. ^ Cleaver, Soul on Ice (1968), p. 107.
  19. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), p. 201.
  20. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), p. 202.
  21. ^ Leeming, James Baldwin (1994), p. 180. "Baldwin returned in early November to Horatio Street, where he found a letter from Lucien announcing that he planned to leave Peru and, as promised, to meet him in New York. The letter served as a catalyst for the further development of the character of Yves in Another Country, the French lover who returns to Eric in the novel."
  22. ^ Brandon Gordon, "Physical Sympathy: Hip and Sentimentalism in James Baldwin's Another Country", Modern Fiction Studies 57(1), Spring 2011; accessed via ProQuest.

Sources[edit]