How is James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son Organized

How is James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son Organized.

Not Ideas but Life

by Robert West. Flint
Notes of a Native Son. By James Baldwin. Buoy. 175 pp. $2.75.

Hither is a collection of ten essays, all bearing in one way or another on the Negro question, by the bright young writer of
Go Tell
on the Mount. Readers of that admirable offset novel will non be surprised by the bright mordancy and sardonic humor of these essays. What does surprise—and I intend to labor the point a little—is their equivocation.

If I merely wanted to be clever at Mr. Baldwin’south expense, I might point out how readily Notes
of a Native Son
evokes an already shopworn judgment on writers of my own generation, namely, that we tin can never resist the temptation to reduce the ironies and paradoxical despairs of the 20’s into a sort of uniformly marketable commodity. The wryly pontifical ironies of a T. Southward. Eliot jostle the raffish ironies of a Ring Lardner, and manner threatens to swallow matter. Mr. Baldwin informs us that “Farther, the militant men and women of the thirties were not, upon examination, significantly emancipated from their antecedents, however bitterly they might consider themselves estranged or however gallantly they struggled to build a better world. However they might extol Russia, their concept of a better world was quite helplessly American and betrayed a sure thinness of imagination, a doubtable reliance on suspect and badly digested formulae, and a positively fretful romantic haste.” The first judgement, with its solemn “upon test,” was surely carved from Eliot’southward
Sacred Wood, while the rather haggard elegance of the second puts united states of america strongly in mind of Anthony West and his fellow pundits on the
New Yorker. No dubiety it is remarkable enough to observe this kind of writing in a book past a Negro on the Negro question, but information technology remains something of a stunt nevertheless and not particularly germane to the book’s real quality, which is substantially novelistic—dramatic, dumbo, bitter, swift, and cocky-absorbed, the work of a built-in novelist whose political and social opinions, however but, are uniquely private and, from a purely political standpoint, frustratingly circular.

Mr. Baldwin’south world, like that of most gifted novelists, is closed upon itself; the ophidian is forever swallowing its tail. On the one hand, he imagines a literature that will take Negroes as much for granted equally Jane Austen takes Englishmen; on the other, he writes with eloquent despair that “The American image of the Negro lives as well in the Negro’due south centre; and when he has surrendered to this paradigm life has no other possible reality.” Everywhere in this book, the bent of his mind is indignant, militant, and sometimes evangelical. Yet he will pause in the middle of a vivid written report on “The Harlem Ghetto” to reverberate that “Matters are not helped in the least past the fact that the white man’s globe, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, has the meaningless ring of a hollow pulsate and the odor of slow expiry.”


These are stiff words; they bring usa back with a jolt to the fact that Baldwin, for all his easy commerce with the vocabulary of liberalism, like most “creative” writers, is an absolutist. He espouses the splendid negations of
The Wasteland, and no Riesmanesque vision of joy-through-affluence will appease him; for “the merest big-headed hint of hatred, the faintest, withdrawn, speculative shadow of contempt,” is enough to shatter it.

In other words, I remember this book innocently arouses certain expectations which information technology has no intention, really, of satisfying. Not every serious study of a major social consequence need exist an of import contribution to social or political theory in order to be interesting. I found
Notes of a Native Son
extremely interesting, not every bit the emergence into polite letters of a talented Negro, only every bit a piece of honest, perceptive, dramatic reporting. He renders vignettes from Harlem, Atlanta, Paris, a Swiss mountain village, and episodes from his private and family life that are not hands forgotten. Here, it seems to me, is the real fruit of his equivocation on matters where nearly people look a “spokesman” to exist adamant. A dozen talented
Partisan Reviewers, of any race, could have shown up the weaknesses of
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Native Son
likewise as Baldwin does. We are all very wise, these days, well-nigh the futility of strident protest. We can all write eloquently, though with an increasingly vacuous piety, about the obligation to accept our total humanity. These are practiced and necessary things to say. But very few of usa experience our ideas as concretely or every bit dramatically as Mr. Baldwin experiences his. His real contribution, I retrieve, is not ideas just life, not opinion but art. This is autobiography that future readers of his novels will return to with more curiosity, and an important chapter in our cultural history.


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How is James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son Organized