Baldwin’s Dual Perspectives

“Notes of a Native Son” written by African American author James Baldwin during the 1940s and 1950s, gives readers a look at the environment in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. In the first paragraph of James Baldwin “Notes of a Native Son”, he immediately establishes three events. Firstly, that his father just died, secondly that his little sister was just born, and also that a riot had broken out in Harlem.

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Explaining the riot seems to be done on purpose to establish a setting. It gives an introduction to Harlem in the 1940s and shows the issues that were being faced during that time. Baldwin also explains his father’s life and death. Baldwin’s father did not like white people, however, this translated into his personal life and he was full of bitterness. This bitterness stemmed from the fact he was apart of the few black men who still knew what it was like to be a slave, having experienced it first hand.

Baldwin hated his father for bringing so much bitterness into his life but eventually, once his father died he started to become bitter as well. This is because when Baldwin moved away from home, he found that some of his father’s beliefs were true. When Baldwin worked at a defense plant in New Jersey he had to deal with racism, Jim Crow Laws, etc… However, Baldwin did not want the bitterness his father had. Looking into how the two races have warred with each other enveloped Baldwins though. It is this hatred killed Baldwin’s father as well as caused the riot in Harlem. However, meanwhile, in his family, there is a new child born. This ultimately leaves hope that one day maybe he will not have to deal with the horrible race relations in America.

Baldwin maintains a good balance between a personal memoir and social observation in his essay. He does this by relaying his own personal experience with a topic that involves many people. Specifically the effects of Jim Crow laws, which demanded segregation between races. Baldwin speaks about his experience referring to how he was not used to being told that he could not eat in certain restaurants. Baldwin ends this essay stating “One must never … accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength.” Meaning people should learn to balance life and promote equality.

The two elements that Baldwin uses to relate his message are a personal memoir and social observation. These are closely related to Birkerts concept of a dual perspective. Baldwin employs this technique by first talking about his own personal experience dealing with racism. Much of the essay is Baldwin grappling with how the civil rights movement affected him as a black man in America. He then analyzes, compares, and contrasts his experiences using social observation as a tool to reflect on the past and try to harness some growth from former mistakes. This use of reflection is so important as it gives Baldwin a vehicle to get the essay’s message across of equality and acceptance.

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