Analyzing “Notes of a Native Son”
James Baldwin is a highly renowned African-American essay writer who is best known for his ability to interweave narrative and argument into concise well-written essays. He had his first book published at the early age of 19 and has published some astounding literature during the time of civil rights activism. He succeeded himself to rise out of his poverty to become an amazing writer through self-determination and courage. In his essay entitled, “Notes of a Native Son”, Baldwin does an excellent job making use of binaries and repetition of words and phrases as well as switching back and forth from narrative to analysis. He also cleverly connects his progressively raising maturity and understanding of the world to the unique style in which Baldwin writes throughout his work. We will now dissect this essay and see how Baldwin uses special writing techniques to make for a very powerful and meaningful composition.
The essay starts strongly with Baldwin providing insightful narrative in order to set the stage of his writing. By the second page of his essay, Baldwin has already developed his first binary. He emphasizes the black/white relationship. He continually refers to the “blackness” of his father and how his father was a proud, beautiful and powerful black man in his day (Baldwin 64). He then tells of his discovery of how “white people” helped to kill his father (65). Soon after, Baldwin addresses another binary, this one being life and death. His mother realizes that it was James’ father who “kept the family alive” (66). All the while, Baldwin’s father is slowly dying. Another example of the life/death binary occurs when Baldwin acknowledges that his “father had spent too much of his energies on death” (73). Bitterness is also established as a way of not only describing his father, (he was certainly the most bitter man) but also as a way of describing the attitudes brought onto the black man by the white man (65). At this point in the story, Baldwin hasn’t specifically pointed out these clever binaries and repetition of words but they can easily be picked up by the acute reader. These binaries and Baldwin’s intentional word repetition usage are then exposed through Baldwin’s narrative writing towards the end of his essay.
Baldwin’s writing tends to be very themed which, again, is achieved by repeating key words and phrases. Baldwin will use words like terror, hating, fearing, and betrayal to form an image of what his father felt towards the “white world” (66). Baldwin paints an image of the way that his father saw the world and also to contrast how he must have felt when his family was so trusting of the white population. Later in the essay, Baldwin tells us of how wary his father was of letting a white schoolteacher take his son to see a theater production; something which was not typically allowed in the Baldwin household. In order for Baldwin to see the play, his mother had to persuade her husband...