Previous Condition

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"Previous Condition" is a 1948 short story by James Baldwin from the collection, Going to Meet the Man.

Plot introduction[edit]

Peter, an actor, is surreptitiously living in a white neighbourhood in New York.

Plot summary[edit]

Back from Chicago where he was working, Peter is now in New York City. His friend Jules lets him stay in a room he is renting in a white neighbourhood; despite hiding, Peter is eventually found out by the other neighbours and the landlady. She evicts him, and he goes back to Jules's, who says he will let him stay at his place. Jules and Peter engage in a long philosophical discussion about the nature of Blackness and Jewishness in America. Later, he goes to dinner with his friend Ida, who suggests suing the landlady, but he prefers not to. He then leaves, takes the subway, and goes to a black bar where he buys a drink for two women.


  • Peter, the protagonist. He is a short black man. He was named after his father. He works as an actor in theatre plays.
  • Jules Weissman, a Jewish boy who finds the room in New York for the protagonist.
  • Ida, a white girl of Irish descent, from Boston. She married a gay ballet dancer for money.
  • the white couple on the subway

References to other works[edit]

References to actual history[edit]

Main themes[edit]

  • Racism and African Americans.