James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son Essay example
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James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son" demonstrates his complex and unique relationship with his father. Baldwin's relationship with his father is very similar to most father-son relationships but the effect of racial discrimination on the lives of both, (the father and the son) makes it distinctive. At the outset, Baldwin accepts the fact that his father was only trying to look out for him, but deep down, he cannot help but feel that his father was imposing his thoughts and experiences on him. Baldwin's depiction of his relationship with his father while he was alive is full of loathing and detest for him and his ideologies, but as he matures, he discovers his father in himself. His father's hatred in relation to the white American…show more content…
The white world had shut the door on him and he finally conceded the burden of being black. Baldwin affirms, "I had discovered the weight of the white people in the world" (222). Baldwin realized that his father was not trying to pass along his racist beliefs. He was simply trying to save them from the agonizing conduct of the whites towards them. He found the reason behind the bitterness in his father. Baldwin also became aware that the bitterness, which he had once hated in his father, was now a part of him "The bitterness which had helped to kill my father could also kill me" (222). Baldwin did not want live a lonely life; the fear of becoming, what his father once was, dwelled in Baldwin. He realized that he had to free himself of the bitterness, before the bitterness distanced him from his family (like it had, for his father).
Baldwin felt torn between the feeling of hatred that he had always felt for his father and a gnawing feeling of guilt for not being able to understand the reason for his father's detached behavior. He emphasizes, "The moment I saw him I knew why I had put off this visit so long. I told my mother that I did not want to see him because I hated him. But this was not true. It was only that I had hated him and I wanted to hold onto this hatred" (230). Baldwin was afraid to admit that his hatred was meaningless; but that feeling of hate had resided in him for as long as he could remember. Baldwin was not sure if he
The funeral was held on Baldwin’s birthday, and he spent the day drinking whisky with a female friend and wondering what to wear because he did not own any black clothes. His friend eventually found him a black shirt. At the church, Baldwin reflected that his aunt, who fought with his father throughout his life, was one of the only people who had a real connection with him. During the eulogy, Baldwin notes that the preacher was not describing his father as he really was, but rather inviting the congregation to forgive his father, reminding them that they did not know the full truth of what he suffered. Someone began singing one of Baldwin’s father’s favorite songs, and suddenly Baldwin was transported to a memory of sitting on his father’s lap in church. He recalls that his father used to show off Baldwin’s singing voice to others when he was young. He remembers their fights, and the only time in which they “had really spoken to each other.” Just before Baldwin left home, his father asked him if he’d “rather write than preach,” and Baldwin replied, simply, “Yes.” Baldwin did not want to see his father’s body in the casket, but had no choice but to go and look. Baldwin felt that his father looked like any “old man dead,” and notes the strange proximity of the body to his newborn child.
This passage is a cathartic and redemptive moment in an otherwise bleak essay. Baldwin’s inability to find suitable clothes, his sense that the preacher is not being honest, and his reluctance to see his father’s body all create the impression that he is alienated from his father and from the process of mourning him. However, at the same time he experiences a sudden sense of connection to his father through the experience of hearing the song. This in turn leads him to remember their only moment of true communication. Although it is tragic that this moment was so fleeting, there is also beauty in the fact that Baldwin recalls it at all, alongside other happy memories of his father’s life. The presence of his father’s youngest child, a newborn baby, creates a sense of hope. Although Baldwin’s father is gone, part of him lives on through his children, who may experience some of the joy and freedom that he was denied.