Native Son James Baldwin Published His Book Term Paper

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¶ … Native Son

James Baldwin published his book Notes of a Native Son in 1955 at the urging of his friend Sol Stein. The book is a collection of nine essays he had written on the state of what were then called "Negroes" in the United States. In his essays, he noted the interface between his personal life, the social atmosphere of the day, the political movements of the day, and even what was going on in entertainment. The result is essays that give a view of the Negro experience in the 1950's that is both broad and deep.

Some of the issues presented in his essays seem dated based on today's racial attitudes, but Baldwin does such a good job of providing details and examples that the reader leaves the book with a clear picture of the status of Blacks, and race relations, in the decade before our country began to actively work toward true equality for all.

In several of his essays, Baldwin looks at how Blacks have been portrayed both in older literature, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, and in more modern works, such as Gone with the Wind, the Sound and the Fury, if He Hollers Let Him Go and Native Son, as well as the movie Carmen Jones.

As he does this, of course, Baldwin does it from his perspective of Black experience, which included the perception that while to be Black was not good, having lighter skin was better than having darker skin. He gave extensive examples of this from Uncle Tom's Cabin, where many of the most important Black characters were lighter-skinned and used that fact to their advantage. He described Uncle Tom's Cabin as overly sentimental, but then described a significant problem with writing about race in over-sentimental ways: it distances the reader from the people because the emotions reported and generated aren't real. He did recognize that Uncle Tom's Cabin was a book for its time, but also noted that attitude regarding race relations in 1950's America. He also acknowledge that it was not a Black issue only, citing Little Women as an example of similar writing not related to race. Thus, while Baldwin's essays reflect the reality of being Black in the 1950's, he revealed his broader experiences with people of all kinds of races. This is exemplified by Sol Stein's influence on him to produce this book.

He notes the great difficulties when Blacks and Whites got together socially in the fifties: Whites were likely to be criticized by other Whites while the Negroes would be accused -- by other Negroes -- of being untrue to their race. He does not criticize these Blacks for making such judgments, however. Instead he lists the rich social and cultural world of the American Black and reflects it back to the reader as something to be cherished and valued. While we take this view as a given today, in the fifties it may have been an uncommon idea, at least to Whites.

In another essay he talks about the neighborhood press in the Harlem of the time. Harlem at that time was run-down, and he reports, rents there were higher than they were in other parts of Manhattan, something not generally true today. He complained that the Negro newspapers emulated White newspapers, focusing on prominent crimes committed by Blacks, or society gossip about the Harlem upper crust. He found fault with the Black magazine Ebony, which he said encouraged people to a sentimental kind of happiness that suggested they should assume things would get better. He wryly noted that if this were true, "Black" publications wouldn't be necessary and noted that the article was accompanied by a Black woman carrying a basket of onions from a field.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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