James Baldwin’s Critique of the Social Condition
James Baldwin was an African American writer who, through his own personal experiences and life, addressed issues such as race, sexuality, and the American identity. “Notes of a Native Son” is one of many essays that Baldwin wrote during his lifetime. Within this essay, Baldwin talks about when his father died and the events that revolved around it. His father’s death occurs in the early 1940s, where oppression and racism were still fairly prevalent in many cities across the nation. So amidst the events that revolve around Baldwin’s father’s death, there are many riots and beatings taking place. This essay is simply not a recollection of what Baldwin experienced in the past, but it challenges, critiques, and tries to understand the current social condition of the time. He does this by recalling his personal experiences to draw the reader in and as a result of that, can begin to construct an analysis of the social condition.
Baldwin weaves in and out of his personal experiences and private reasons to give the reader both a small and large perspective of what is going on at the time. It’s important for the reader to have a small, personal perspective so they can connect with the emotions Baldwin expresses. At the same time a large general perspective is needed because it shows the reader that Baldwin’s experiences, although unique, is connected to a larger group of people, that in one way or another, his plight is the plight of many.
Baldwin effectively implements this method when he says “All of Harlem, indeed, seemed to be infected by waiting” (73). This sentence is placed in between two moments. Prior to this sentence, Baldwin returns home in anticipation of his father’s passing and the birth of a new baby. So like the rest of Harlem, he is waiting. Immediately after the sentence, Baldwin describes the racial tension that exists between the African Americans and the Whites. The people of Harlem as well as other cities are waiting for that one injustice or catalyst that will push their tolerance over the top and lead them to violently fight back through riot and protest. In one sentence, Baldwin manages to switch gears, from one that is very private to a description of the general feeling felt among the people living in Harlem. Baldwin, being a part of the community, takes his own feelings of waiting and applies it to a general picture, where a lot of people were in fact waiting as well.
Baldwin continues on and says that blacks were being oppressed everywhere. “…Negro girls who set upon a white girl in the subway because…she was stepping on their toes. Indeed she was, all over the nation” (73). Not only does this portray the ever growing tension felt among African Americans in a certain area, it expresses the tension felt across the nation. African Americans everywhere were still continuously looked down upon,...