Notes of a Native Son
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Notes of a Native Son is a non-fiction book by James Baldwin. It was his first non-fiction book, and was published in 1955. The volume collects ten of Baldwin's essays, which had previously appeared in such magazines as Harper's Magazine, Partisan Review, and The New Leader. The essays mostly tackle issues of race in America and Europe.
- 1 Summary
- 1.1 "Autobiographical Note"
- 1.2 Part One
- 1.3 Part Two
- 1.4 Part Three
- 2 Literary significance and criticism
- 3 References
- 4 Further reading
In spite of his father wanting him to be a preacher, Baldwin says he has always been a writer at heart. He is trying to find his path as a Negro writer; although he is not European, American culture is informed by that culture too—moreover he has to grapple with other black writers. Furthermore, Baldwin emphasizes the importance of his desire to be a good man and writer.
"Everybody's Protest Novel"
Baldwin castigates Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin for being too sentimental, and for depicting black slaves as praying to a white God so as to be cleansed and whitened. Equally, he repudiates Richard Wright's Native Son for portraying Bigger Thomas as an angry black man—he views that as an example of stigmatizing categorization
"Many Thousands Gone"
"Carmen Jones: The Dark is Light Enough"
Baldwin criticises Carmen Jones, a film adaptation of Carmen using an all black cast. Baldwin is unhappy that the characters display no connection to the condition of blacks and sees it as no coincidence that the main characters have lighter complexions.
"The Harlem Ghetto"
Baldwin points out that the rent is very expensive in Harlem. Moreover, although there are black politicians, the President is white. On to the black press, Baldwin notes that it emulates the white press, with its scandalous spreads and so forth. However the black Church seem to him to be a unique forum for the spelling out of black injustice. Finally, he ponders on antisemitism amongst blacks and comes to the conclusion that the hatred boils down to Jews being white and more powerful than Negroes.
"Journey to Atlanta"
Baldwin tells the story that happened to The Melodeers, a group of jazz singers employed by the Progressive Party to sing in Southern Churches. However, once in Atlanta, Georgia, they were used for canvassing until they refused to sing at all and were returned to their hometown. They now enjoy success in New York City.
"Notes of a Native Son"
Baldwin explains how his paranoid and angered father died of tuberculosis when he himself was 19 years old. Prior to that Baldwin had been taken to the theatre by a white teacher of his, and his parents had let him go because she was a teacher. Later he worked in New Jersey and was often turned down in segregated places—once he hurled a pitcher of water at a waitress in a diner. He goes on to say that blacks doing the military service in the South often got abused. Finally, he recounts his father's death which occurred just before his mother gave birth to one of his sisters; his father's funeral was on his 19th birthday and the Harlem Riot of 1943. This essay is an attempt to do away with the hatred and despair he feels towards his father.
"Encounter on the Seine: Blacks Meets Brown"
Baldwin compares Black Americans to Blacks in France. Whilst Africans in France have a history and a country to hold on to, Black Americans don't—their history lies in the United States and it is in the making.
"A Question of Identity"
Baldwin explains how American students living in Paris are shocked when they arrive and are eager to return home.
"Equal in Paris"
Baldwin recounts getting arrested in Paris over the Christmas period in 1949, after an acquaintance of his had stolen a bedsheet from a hotel, which he had used. The essay stresses his cultural inability to know how to behave with the police.
Baldwin looks back to his time in a village in Switzerland—how he was the first black man most of the other villagers had ever seen. He goes on to reflect that blacks from European colonies are still mostly located in Africa, while the United States has been fully informed by blacks.
Literary significance and criticism
Notes of a Native Son is widely regarded as a classic of the black autobiographical genre. The Modern Library placed it at number 19 on its list of the 100 best 20th-century nonfiction books.