The Baldwin Technique
James Baldwin is highly regarded as one of the great writers of his time. In the “Notes of a Native Son” he describes a very influential moment in his life. The essay’s setting takes place during the Harlem riots in New York City and Detroit. The riot in New York all began due the fatal shooting of a young African American boy by a white police officer. Protesters began to protest the police brutality, but then fights and looting broke out when some protesters became unruly. Baldwin’s essay reflects upon his interactions and feelings with and about his father. He analyzes how his father affected him and talks about what kind of person his father was. He also reflects on the impact of his father’s death. All the while, within the essay, Baldwin uses different techniques in order to obtain and intrigue his readers. He primarily makes his essay a narrative. However, he also incorporates his analysis, which usually stem from his use of binaries and contrasts. His use of repetitive words also plays a big part in his style. All of those techniques all intertwined in a way that will help the reader understand Baldwin and his ideas a lot clearer. His combination of both narrative and analysis can be viewed in the very first paragraph.
Baldwin begins his essay by stating that fact that his father died on the July 29, 1943. Right after stating that fact, he mentions the rioting, which occurred in Detroit and in Harlem about a month before the death of his father. Baldwin incorporates the events that are going on around him in his narrative as a way to set up the environment for the reader. The rioting and other events that Baldwin speaks of is his way of explaining, or even rationalizing his feelings during that time period. In the first section towards the end of the section, Baldwin admits that he “wanted to do something to crush these white faces, which were crushing me”. (71) Baldwin said this as a result of his altercation with white waitress in a restaurant who refused to serve him. This hatred and ill feeling that he felt was very similar to the feelings that the rioters felt toward the police and their acts of unnecessary brutality. Baldwin mentions the riots through out the story because he, himself, can associate with them. The feelings that the rioters had against the police were similar to the feelings that Baldwin had toward white people and his father. So in essence, Baldwin uses the public events that are going on in order to compare to what is going on in his own private life. The rioters and police recapitulate the association that Baldwin had with his father.
The conflict that the rioters and the police shared were quite similar to the relationship that Baldwin and his father had. In a way, he is also constructing a type of connection between the riots and his relationship with himself and his father. This is an example of how Baldwin utilizes binaries. When reading Baldwin’s literature, one can come...