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James Baldwin’s association with Life

James Baldwin was a writer with several parameters, born from illegitimate father, and in acute poverty; he penned down his creative notes humanly with most hidden sexual and personal identity and notable essays with depth of irony on civil-rights struggle in United States. In his two most notable works of fiction, he inserted autobiographical notes with careful analysis on social injustice and prejudices taking into various aspects of human identity with bravery and dexterous propositions.

“If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sigh, No more water, the fire next time! ” (The Fire Next Time, 1) His two works of fiction, The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room have entirely different themes- one on homo-sexual and the other on minority blacks and their subjugation in the hands of white majority, but he gave in both psychoanalysis touch.

In Giovanni’s Room, he profoundly crafted the traits of his homosexual protagonist creeping into his deeper feelings as he is faced with his own identity as a man and a role of homosexual, whereas The Fire Next Time, is a satire of social injustice and racial subjugation. The Fire Next Time was written in 1963 when the Civil Rights Movement was going to take shape and stirred the nation from the slumber of deep racism. In one of reviews appeared in The New York Times termed this novel as, “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle …

all presented in searing, brilliant prose. ” (Annenberg Media Online Edition) In two essays written as personal letters, he is demanding the end of racism and intolerance from the soils of United States of America. Sexual identity is a dominant theme in Giovanni’s Room and more of homosexual romance and the feelings that homosexuals endure in the process. It is all about sexual oppression that an individual homosexual white man has to undergo and the way actions of protagonist’s past life torments his present. It is the individual’s need to express his feelings and acceptance of his own identity.

Baldwin makes the use of his main character David to highlight the individual struggle and his own torment against the socially prescribed sexual divisions. The Fire Next Time begins with six to seven pages letter to his nephew titled, “On the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and gives good advice to him on his varied ways to deal with the racists world and his concluding remarks say, “It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity.

You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest since Homer. one of them said, The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off. ” (The Fire Next Time) Then he went ahead with his next mission, to rebuke in a satirical tone the Muslim movement among Africans Americans, who fostered among the African blacks their ideologies on Allah (Muslim God). In an essay form but with a story telling technique, he carries the readers on to the idea what is the actual meaning of blackness in the white world of America and what is their relationship and how can blacks and whites come into fruitful terms.

In combination of different essays, he sketched the different traits of black man and their life. He wanted that both blacks and whites should live in harmony with each other and in this only lay their interests. But he also realized that being black means to stay within the confines of one particular life with only disappointments at their disposal yet he was optimistic that a time would come when whites would realize importance of living in harmony with their black neighbors.

He painted a grim picture of his own life and its surroundings full of painful and tragic consequences of poverty only because of one reason that they are black. He also mentioned about lower class jobs and prize fighting, as the only means of earning money for the blacks. In the vicinity of his traumatic experiences, his dilemma towards religion is clearly visible. He said why he was inclined towards religion and that was only owing to one reason- as in religion only he felt himself at home but this realization also daunted him like a piercing knife that religion gave him no peace.

The life, streets, political turmoil’s and hypocrisy propounding among various religions of the America soil make a back ground of The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room is a place of psychological and sexual temperaments of homosexuals. Giovanni’s Room is a symbolic temperament of sexual upheaval arising in David’s mind and soul. Giovanni’s Room is a sort of prison for David who is caught in the web of paradoxical situation in his life. It’s a symbol of homosexuality for David- a life deemed by society as shameful, suffocating, restricting and making homosexual men turning to self -hatred.

Societies attitude towards homosexuals is that of hatred and obnoxious. Despite the fact that David was engaged to Hella, he developed deep profound relationship with Giovanni, but the society pressures did not allow him to recognize it and every time the feeling daunted on him that it was wrong to love. He even said, “The beast which Giovanni awakened in me would never go to sleep again; but one day I would not be with Giovanni anymore”. (Giovanni’s Room 111) The feeling came within David that Giovanni had terrorized him- the feeling, which was instilled in him in the past.

This feeling of terror made David fear and hate Giovanni equally as he loved him. Giovanni’s Room is a story of David and the story starts with David standing near the window of the apartment of a building in France and he began to think how his past life affected his presence. And then he began his story on his varied aspects of his relationships with a person named Giovanni, how he met Hella and how he asked her to marry him and how Hella went to France, leaving him behind in the company of homosexuals.

But before moving forward in telling him about his experience with Giovanni, he tell us about his relationship with Joey who was at one time of his life was his best friend and how he entered into intimate relation with Joey. “Joey raised his head as I lowered mine and we kissed, as it were, by accident. ”(Giovanni’s Room 13) And then he made rash decision of leaving Giovanni and spent his time with Hella. When Giovanni was sentenced to guillotine, he realized his mistake and he started reflecting within him about his deeds that caused sufferings to others.

As much The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room are different thematically and in plot construction, they are similar in analytical display of characters and situations and in story telling technique. The Fire Next Time is the sketch of Baldwin’s own struggle with the society at large and with the Christian religious doctrines at the time when the Black Power movement was in full swing and the Islamic nations were offering different ways to the people to come out of their racial subjugation.

He was facing, in other words, challenges from the cultural changes, and he explained by giving the example of his childhood friend. He says, “My best friend in high school was a Jew. He came to our house once, and afterward my father asked, as he asked about everyone, “Is he a Christian” – by which he meant “Is he saved? ”…I said coldly, “No. He’s Jewish. ” (The Fire Next Time 37) This made his father slap him on his face and this incident made young James gained the knowledge that “all those sermons and tears and all that repentance and rejoicing had changed nothing.

” (The Fire Next Time 37) This was Baldwin’s dilemma and he struggled with it throughout. In a similar way, Giovanni’s Room displayed the personal struggle of protagonist with the society but within himself too. Homosexuals had no options for them and they had to live with how they are- their way of survival. Here Baldwin pierces inside the character of David and in a complex situation he finds himself. In the same way, Baldwin finds himself in a society full of hypocrisy. Racism as in The Fire Next Time can also be seen in Giovanni’s Room, though hidden behind the lucid accounts of homosexuals.

As he himself said on the first page, “The only point in the book where David signals anything resembling whiteness and its inherent privilege is on the first page, “My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past. ” (Giovanni’s Room 7) There is certain element of whiteness in his judgment of whites. The Fire Next Time and the Giovanni’s Room are the pictures of complexities and the psychological dramas of the real life and situations of so called extreme marginalized part of community.

They take us into the journey of their lives bringing them into the vicissitude the various dimensions of our society and in this way both are similar showing writer’s understanding towards the characters.


Annenberg Media. “Author and Literary Works” Internet. Available: http://www. learner. org/channel/workshops/hslit/session3/aw/work2. html#t3, February 21, 2008 Baldwin, James. “The Fire Next Time. ” N. Y: Dial Press, 1963. Baldwin, James. “Giovanni’s Room. ” N. Y: Dial Press, 1956

His struggle is certainly one that faces many today. In a global culture, the options for facing cultural challenges are many and, thus, many are struggling to find a place to belong and a standpoint from which to engage and critique the cultural forces of our time. Baldwin’s openness is refreshing and his struggle must be heard. The focus here will not be upon Baldwin’s Christianity in relation to black power and the Nation of Islam but rather his personal struggle to come to terms with his own faith given the Church’s role in the history of

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