James Baldwin: The Dark Realities of Racial Ferment in America


Muzafar Ahmad Bhat


Racism;Racial Ferment in America;Racism in USA;blacks in USA;James Baldwin;Dark Realities;of black life;black inferiority;black writer


African-American literature from approximately 1940 to the mid-1970 was primarily a masculinist enterprise dominated by Richard Wright’s protest novel and Ralph Ellison’s literary pluralism. It can be surmised that along with Alice Walker, re-discovery of Zora Neale Hurston and the pastoral tradition, the last two decades have witnessed an explosion of writing by black women and the recuperation of a black female literary history that dramatizes a specifically urban sensibility suggested by the novels of, among others, Nela Larsen, Ann Petry, and, of course. Toni Morrison. In the process, Baldwin’s novels have been relegated to the archives of the unread, cast aside in favour of the lapidary, famously polemical essays. The novels, however, despite their poor critical reception, are interesting because they rarely capitulate to the urge for a simplified rhetoric that characterizes the essays of the early 1970s, persistently retaining the unresolved tension and complexity of a writer- a gay black writer no less-divided between his role as a popular spokesman for the race and his role as an artist whose imaginative life encompasses aesthetic standards that may alienate a popular audience. The novel form partially liberated Baldwin from the pressures that, he felt as an essayist answerable to frequently hostile audience, both black and white. Baldwin’s work, moreover, suggests a cultural space where the trend in black literary history to polarize itself along gender lines might be reversed.

James Baldwin displays the nature of his own specifically artistic quest, which includes the search for the real, and the development of his personality as an artist. He impresses the readers by his powerful, moving and ennobling account of the nature and development of his extraordinary soul. He describes his struggle against the perverted human contexts in which he grew up. His experiences vividly explain what sources of strengths were needed to protect his own individuality, innate talents, and his humanity from dissipation and degeneration. His dilemma was essentially that which has always faced that artist who is also, consciously or not, committed to a specific social problem. Baldwin endeavours through his art to express the enduring truth of human experience. The quest for the real takes its birth in a drive which pushes one into the depth of ordinary, everyday occurrences and opens out to the extra-ordinary dimensions of life, it unveils the real, which is to be found in and through the essential core of one’s experience.

Baldwin aimed at demonstrating a certain competence in dealing artistically with the raw material of his experiences: his commitment was to see his aesthetic and social responsibilities as constituting a whole that does not discard the meaning of his experience and his desire to express this in an artistically satisfying way. To him the development of a purposeful public voice was as essential as the formulation of an artistic vision of life. With his experiences Baldwin accomplished the artistic freedom while creating order out of disorder to create an artistic platform for himself.

As an artist Baldwin followed his own bruised past and tradition and actualised upon him the art of using one’s past artistically. The inability to face one’s history means a lack of maturity and Baldwin is of the view that the black is ill-treated in America because history is written in the colour of his skin. This is the central fact in the history of America. No matter how much he must suffer in America, no matter how much he fears and hates the torture rouse into which he is cast, Baldwin realizes that, he must live in America. It is only after his return from Europe then he makes his odyssey to the south that he is able to appreciate the positive results, the strength and beauty of the people who have suffered slavery and the most appalling social and economic inequalities.


  • Introduction
  • Transcending the nondescript definitions of Self image
  • Conclusion


April 24, 2021

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