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Identity In James Baldwin’s Stranger In The Village And Zora Neale Hurston’s How It Feels To Be Colored Me

1740 words - 7 pages

Identity in James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” and Zora Neale Hurston’s “How it Feels to be Colored Me”

Everyone has a story, a past experience that has built them up to be the person
that they are today. In both James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” and Zora Neale
Hurston’s “How it Feels to be Colored Me” the presence of conflicting views in their
stories holds a large impact on how they later develop as individuals. While Baldwin’s piece demonstrates the ignorance from society which is projected onto him from Swiss villagers, it shares both similarities and differences to the attitudes demonstrated in Hurston’s piece influenced by her surroundings. Being that it is difficult to escape the past and the events that have brought strength through triumph, it is important to focus one’s attention on the present and into the future. Although the past determines who an individual is, the future determines who an individual will become.

James Baldwin holds the ability to push through negative affiliations in order to
reach self establishment. As demonstrated in “Stranger in the Village,” Baldwin is simply just a black man who “was motivated by the need to establish an identity” (196). Through his desire of recognition as a human being rather than as an object, Baldwin is willing to look past the ignorance of the Swiss villagers and focus on defining himself. Greeted by the children’s calls of “Neger! Neger!,” Baldwin unintentionally finds himself reminiscing (191). Although the children’s label is not meant in a derogatory fashion, it causes Baldwin to surrender to the racial indifference of his past. Baldwin attempts to disregard his unpleasant reflection and justify the fact that change has been made. In doing so, Baldwin faces a never ending battle to define both himself and his race in the process. Held by the chains of history Baldwin realizes that, “People are trapped in history and

history is trapped in them” (192). Whether or not the children are aware of the power
behind their words, those words remain only a portion of the lack of knowledge that
James Baldwin encounters in this village. Rather than reflecting back to the times of the
past, Baldwin is constantly found redirecting his energy toward the present and the
future due to the circumstances of the Swiss society.

Baldwin feels controlled in the Swiss society. He claims that “There is a big
difference between being the first white man to be seen by Africans and being the first
black man to be seen by whites” (192). Baldwin feels as though a white man holds the
power of superiority over a black man who in return feels consumed and controlled by
culture. Although Baldwin stands with both of his feet planted firmly on the ground, he
struggles to progress further with the reins of his past struggle restraining him. Putting
his determination to the test Baldwin is able to keep his goal in perspective by realizing
that even...

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