Friday, April 4, 2008
Notes of a Native Son
It must seem like I have a lot of time on my hands because of the amount of books I am blogging this week. I just finished another book by Mr. James Baldwin called Notes of a Native Son. It's part of the autobiography/memoir kick I'm on.
Notes of a Native Son is composed of small autobiographical essays/sketches of Baldwin's life as an oppressed black homosexual male in Harlem, and also after his escape from oppression to France. I am just so blown away of the strength Baldwin has--to write in this breathtaking way about being a minority when bigotry and racial/homosexual hatred was at an all-time high (during the 1940s and 1950s).
When Baldwin speaks of becoming a writer, which was against which his father wanted of him, it speaks to me; his father wanted him to become a preacher. His thoughts on writers (very moving, in my opinion):
"Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent--which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important.
So that any writer, looking back over even so short a span of time as I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help is simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next--one is tempted to say that he moves from one disaster to the next. When one begins looking for influences one finds them by the score" (2).
As he also says, "the business of a writer is to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source," another great point about writers. Writers portray what they see. They react to their enviornment. They write their hurt/help situations, as mentioned above, that human experience that we all have, but they put it on paper perhaps to make sense of the experience or aid/inform the public in some way.
What do you think of his comments on writers?
In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin also describes Harlem beautifully, the destruction, decay, and suffering of the projects he lived in. He also describes France and how the American (and American minority) feels as a stranger there, not even a good escape from American oppression. He writes of his father, and his death, of the division between them because of his drive to write. He tells us an experience he had when he took bedsheets from his hotel in France where he was arrested for stealing. Now, in America that is acceptable, but this is an entirely different culture. The way he tells it is really interesting. He plays with words and uses them like a wonderful musician uses his instrument.
The most interesting part, to me, is "Stranger in the Village," where Baldwin describes his trips to a remote part of Switzerland where they had never encountered African Americans before. They gawk at him, grab his hair to see if it will melt in the son or if it is made of wire, they wonder if his face is painted on, etc. The reactions of people so sheltered from race, upon seeing something different, is just so interesting to me. It's crazy to see how some people react when it's so commonplace and acceptable among most in our society (not all; unfortunately racism is still present even after all these years. It's quite sad.)
As Baldwin writes, "People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them" (138). Well said.
Has anyone read the book or anything by Baldwin? Any comments on race or people being trapped in history? Anything on writers?