How James Baldwin Shows Identity Research Paper

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¶ … self is one that is varied but almost always it is beneficial because it uncovers a sense of identity that helps establish individuality. Different cultures and populations experience different degrees of difficulty when it comes to a sense of identity ad author James Baldwin captures a slice of the African-American culture with his stories, "Sonny's Blues," "The Man Child," and "The Rockpile." Each of these stories deals with the difficulties of gaining a sense of self within the constructs of white communities. The white community, while sitting in the background remains a factor for African-Americans that attempt to reach boundaries and explore self. These stories attempt to explain how important identity is for the simple act of living a fulfilled life. Sonny, perhaps one of the most misunderstood of many people illustrates the importance of this. Some people are lucky and discover a sense of self while others never do. The differences between these two outcomes can mean the difference between contentedness and utter disenchantment.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Paper on How James Baldwin Shows Identity Assignment

The African-American identity is important to Baldwin because of its evolution during his life. Douglas Field observes that Baldwin was outspoken about a "re-visioning of American identity" (Field 142) through an African-American experience. The internalization of America's racial history in the private lives of the individuals, and "the connections between American national, racial, and sexual identities is Baldwin's great theme" (142). This theme is important because Baldwin experience first hand the civil rights movement. He visited the American South to gain a perspective of things -- not to learn what others knew about African-American Experience but what he saw it to be. His visits allowed him to create characters with texture and truth. Along with truth, the African-American experience must look into the issue of invisibility as it relates to identity. Marcus Klein notes that the "invisibility" (Klein 147) of the African-American is an "underlying metaphor" (147) in many of his stories and essays. "What is most revealing for the case of Baldwin comes to represent, however, is the fury in his frustration and the pathos his loss have led him . . . ever further from the clarity with which he began" (147). Identity is often associated with alienation with Baldwin as the two are connected on many levels in the African-American experience. As a result, Baldwin's heroes are "victims, caught between despair and hate" (148). They suffer because they cannot "make themselves felt in the world" (148). The hero searches for an identity but society thwarts him for achieving one and thus, cannot find a place in the world. His heroes have identities that "society does no corrupt so much as obscure" (150). Invisibility becomes Baldwin's way of revealing the "unseeing which society forces upon the hero, which hides his unchanged identity, and which imprisons him therefore in anonymity" (150). His heroes often struggle against this invisibility and, as a result, struggle to define himself in the process. The achievement of identity is not the story Baldwin tells, according to Klein. The identity is in many cases the very same in which the hero had in the beginning of the story. It is his "birthright" (151), says Klein. We agree to this notion and while it sound easy to imagine, Baldwin reveals just how complicated and difficult identity and invisibility actually are in the real world.

The theme of identity is explored in Baldwin's most popular story, "Sonny's Blues," through the experience of the nameless narrator who discovers self in a strange way. The difference between these two brothers is great and the men that each has grown into effects how they view one another. The protagonist in the story, Sonny's brother, cannot see Sonny as a real and complete individual because of his troubled past. He lives a rather loose life and becomes a heroin addict along the way. His brother avoids dealing with Sonny by simply avoiding him altogether. He explains how he could never find a place for sonny in his heart so he keeps "it outside" (Baldwin 22). Here we see the classic act of ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away. He does not know all there is to know about his brother and he does not want to know all there is to know. He knows Sonny is "wild, but he wasn't crazy. And he'd always been a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "How James Baldwin Shows Identity" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

How James Baldwin Shows Identity.  (2010, March 29).  Retrieved October 17, 2021, from

MLA Format

"How James Baldwin Shows Identity."  29 March 2010.  Web.  17 October 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"How James Baldwin Shows Identity."  March 29, 2010.  Accessed October 17, 2021.