James Baldwin: Influences On His Writing Essay, Research Paper
By using realistic parallels to actual human qualities of his audience and himself, James Baldwin is able to add useful conflict to his plays. Baldwin enforces his plots through discovery of his characters and his own identity. He allows his audience to become part of the story by giving them reason to identify with his characters or himself.In order for a drama to be successfully written, it must contain conflict. For a play dealing with family to be victorious it must have either external conflict between characters and a cultural issue or internal conflict within the family as its main issue, or plot. For a play dealing with such issues as race or sexuality it must also include conflict, it might be incorporated through development of events that may have occurred in history. These events would serve to create a believable story or plot, and help the reader relate with the issues at hand.Baldwin incorporates an interpersonal struggle between characters in The Amen Corner, which helps create a powerful family drama that will relate to its audiences because of its honesty and real-life plot. “The Amen Corner, written in 1952, is a religious and highly personal play taken from the author’s experience within the church and examining the conflict between religious dogmatism and individual responsibility.” James’s stepfather, David Baldwin married his mother three years after James was born. He worked as a laborer in a New York factory and just barely supported his new family. His first son Samuel, who was nine years older than James received the majority of David’s love. Consequently, when Sam left home because of hatred toward his father James was left with a stepfather who blamed and hated him. James was left alone to care for his two brothers and five sisters as his mother worked at night cleaning office buildings.As a child growing up in a northern black ghetto, Baldwin was ugly and pathetic. He was ridiculed by his fellow classmates and made to feel regretful of his race by his friends and his stepfather. James was always a simple child with very little to express verbally due to the persecution he received at home. Partly to please his father and partly to escape from the solitude that his youth was bringing to his life, James, at the age of only fourteen became a pastor in a local church: The Firestone Pentecostal Assembly in Harlem.James’ stepfather, also a preacher for a local Baptist church grew more jealous and hateful toward his son as he threw himself farther into a relationship with God at such a young age. James began to associate with other members of the church, many of them not African Americans. This further angered his father.At the age of seventeen, James retreated from the church with much learned, mostly negative, about his feelings toward others. “This religious retreat of nearly three years made (Baldwin) understand his hate and his new need to wreak vengeance upon whites and even God.” After nearly six years of managing his junior high school and his high school’s newspapers and building upon his literary skills that he had always shown, James graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in January of 1942.Just one year later on the same date that James’ youngest sister Paula Marie was born, his unloved stepfather died of Tuberculosis in a Long Island hospital. With little emotional feeling toward his father’s death, James was left with many family duties as the oldest of the three brothers. “James Baldwin had to face the harsh reality of the world with courage in order to support a family of which he was very proud.” James’ family consisted of George, born in 1927; Barbara, born in 1929; Wilmer, born in 1930; David born in 1931; Gloria born in 1933; Ruth was born in 1935, and Elizabeth in 1937; Paula Maria, the youngest child was born in 1943.After graduating from high school and understanding that he would be the sole moneymaker for his family, Baldwin searched for work in the New York area. His work in a New Jersey Railroad factory brought about Notes of a Native Son. This was a very angry time in James’ life. He wrote about his rage toward whites when his rights and those of other blacks were denied. Working as a cook in a Greenwich Village restaurant, Baldwin was able to support his family and avoid the draft during World War II.In 1948, Baldwin left the United States for France. He confessed to Margaret Mead in 1971, “I left because I wanted to live”. Earlier that year, Baldwin’s close friend Eugene Worth had committed suicide due to his lack of faith living as an artist in New York. Baldwin related to Worth and the struggles that he faced. He knew that something needed to be done to jump-start his life and escape his death.Baldwin’s character and attitude changed during his first few years in Paris. He became a friend with Lucian Happersberger and through his harsh words in his essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” ended his long time relationship that he had had with Richard White.”This resounding literary debut was obvious proof that the young black writer from Harlem had already begun to reflect on himself in particular and on the black problem in general.” In France, he was able to turn around and write about issues he had faced in America, from a comfortable and objective distance. Living with Happersberger in the Swiss Alps during 1952, James wrote Go Tell it on the Mountain before returning to New York for his Brother David’s wedding. Back in Europe, Baldwin spent the next three years writing several works. He started Another Country, which would not become a published work until 1962, The Amen Corner, one of his three plays, and Giovanni’s Room, which upon his return to the States in 1956 made him better known to the public. That same year, Baldwin received the National Institute of Arts and Letters prize and a scholarship from the magazine Partisan Review. “In Paris, I began to see the sky for what seemed to be the first time. It was bourne in on me – and it did not make me feel melancholy – that this sky had been there before I was born and would be there when I was dead. And it was up to me, therefore, to make of my brief opportunity the most that could be made.” — James Baldwin”The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American” “After spending nearly eight and a half years in France in voluntary exile, Baldwin was in New York in order to understand America better as well as make it better understand him.” He had been trying to finish Another Country and felt that returning to its setting would help him better strengthen the story and its characters. Baldwin spent the next four years traveling and living between France and New York. He sot the refuge of France as a place to reflect and write in peace, yet always felt that in order to speak for all Americans, as he wanted his writing to do, he needed to live in the U.S. to be greater understood.During this time spent in America, James spent many months traveling to the South to study the persecution of the US’s Southern Blacks. It was from that moment that he became interested in the civil rights movement with a view to gaining some ideas for the advancement of blacks.The years to come were a time of vast growth in Baldwin’s life. He became a powerful spokesman for the black movements in the early 1960’s and earned many prestigious honors, including a subsidy from the Ford Foundation. This money allowed him to focus more on his work, and thus he became a popular figure in the eyes of blacks all over America. He wrote the second collection of essays, Nobody Knows My Name and began giving speeches and attending meetings. It is evident in his writing during these years that his attitude was changing. He was teaching himself how to listen and learn from others rather than close his emotions off. It was because of these new growths that America began to listen to Baldwin more and accept his offering of love rather than hatred. “Baldwin was becoming the spokesman for Blacks in particular and for America in general.” The last twenty years of his life, James Baldwin spent traveling and growing as a prominent figure in American history. He became a popular figure in the public eye. His goal was to make Americans better understand America.
“Baldwin wrote much about his childhood, and almost without exception his memory speaks of misery and confusion.” Baldwin wrote about everything from his childhood trials with his stepfather to his feelings on political issues. He dedicated a great deal of time toward the Civil Rights Movements, marching hand in hand with Martin Luther King. He was always ready to take part in nonviolent Civil Rights demonstrations during the war in Vietnam.As his years passed, it became harder for Baldwin to stay out of the public eye. His plays began to be produced, the media continued to report on his life, and the FBI even began surveillance on him and his life in New York.James continued to travel and pursue literary plans while living a hazardous life. He started to drink heavily, starve himself, and became addicted to cigarettes. On December 1, 1987, James Arthur Baldwin died from complications due to Cancer. “The story Baldwin tells repeatedly, in his novels, his stories, his writings for the theater, and in his essays, is of the attempt of a heroic innocent to achieve what Baldwin usually calls ‘identity’ – Identity is by all measure his favorite word, but on occasion the word is ‘manhood’ or ‘maturity’ – and the thwarting, then, of this hero by his society. The hero is prevented from entering the world.” — Harold BloomJames Baldwin James Baldwin uses the roles of Margaret, David, and Luke in his play The Amen Corner to show the interpersonal conflict that a family faces through being colored. In the play, Margaret deals with her personal dreams of balancing a religious status with a happy family. These two extremes in her life not only help build her character but also create a plot. ” I just want my man and my home and my children. But that’s all I wanted. That’s what I wanted! Sometimes- what we want -and what we ought to have -ain’t the same. Sometimes, the Lord, He take away what we want and give us what we need.” This is a style seen often within successful plays; it is because of this internal battle that Maggie is the protagonist. David, Margaret’s son, finds his conflict in his search for himself through his family and his music. He pleads to his mother in Act III, “-to find something to help me hide -to hide -from what I’m feeling. Mama, I want to be a man. It’s time you let me be a man.” His fight is internal as he grows up and realizes that his adult life is becoming more of a reality. He bases his dreams on the goals that he sees in Margaret and his father Luke. Luke’s conflict lies in the recognition that he gets from his family verses that from his professional career. He is not the protagonist in The Amen Corner, yet he does change and resolves his dreams in Baldwin’s play.Baldwin gives his characters genuine qualities that enable his reader to identify with them. This is important because it creates a physical existence in the play that can be compared to the conflicts that a reader might encounter. By creating characters with realistic dreams, inconsistencies, and flaws The Amen Corner will seem important in history and portray the issues that Baldwin wishes to highlight. This play finds the perfect median between its characters and its readers. David’s construction of manhood throughout the play parallels with many problems that we see in a young adult’s struggle to grow up. Although his problems are more localized, dealing mostly with music and religion, we can gather enough to understand his dreams and relate them to characters we see in ‘real-life’. David confesses, “-Things started happening inside of me which hadn’t ever happened before. It was terrible. It was wonderful. I started looking around this house, around this church -like I was seeing it for the first time.” Because Margaret struggles with being a mother, a wife, and a preacher, it is just as easy for an audience to relate to her. We see early in the play that she seems to be content with her position as a mother of the church and of a family. We later discover that things may not be as ideal as we are led to believe. Baldwin establishes these aspects in her life similarly to create realism in her character. Maggie’s problems are real enough, and fit into her simplified life well enough to allow the audience to connect with her as they would with themselves. Problems that we encounter as characters in life are relatively simple. Baldwin understands this and equips this cast with uncomplicated problems, as to allow our imaginations to improvise. “(Baldwin’s) career can be divided into two distinct thematic periods: 1) flight from self, quest for identity, and the sophisticated acceptance of one’s blackness; 2) apocalyptic vision of racial and sexual oppression. At the core of his fiction is an existentialist psychology; all identity emerges from the void.” — Robert Bone”The Novels of James Baldwin” Blues for Mr. Charlie attempts to portray the real issues of the black problem; The Fire Next Time paints a picture of the consequences of neglect. Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son emphasize the struggle involved with Baldwin’s (and all African American’s) struggle for identity – “to be a human specimen.” Go Tell It On The Mountain is extremely autobiographical, dealing with religious themes, and Going to Meet the Man demonstrates Baldwin’s desire to unify spiritual and cultural experiences. Finally, Another Country depicts the significance of human relationships, in all diverse manners. Baldwin uses The Amen Corner to express his own personal issues through his life. Specifically, through the character of David he shows how many of the conflicts that come about in this play also occurred in his life. This is yet another quality that brings out the realism in his stories; he can use his own life to prove how real his issues are. Baldwin spent many of his earlier years reflecting his own goals when it came to internal conflict between the church, himself, and his family. Just as David raced to find himself through musical and social activities, Baldwin discovered these problems, as he was becoming an adult. Baldwin grew up without his birth father and showed interest in the church and then later in music. He has tried to use his playwriting to discover himself and deal with issues that he has seen and lived in his lifetime; religion, racism, homosexuality, and jazz. An author is guaranteed to discover realistic qualities in their characters if they model them after real life people, as Baldwin has done with himself.James Baldwin is an author who uses his characters to edify his arguments. In The Amen Corner he molds David after himself in an autobiographical manner, as to add undeniable human qualities to the play and his plot. He uses his characters as tools to create a strong family drama and show the conflict that he feels is so important. By using these devices, he is able to allow his audience to identify with his cast and his plot of interpersonal conflict within a black family and his own identity. Bibliography Baldwin, James. The Amen Corner. Hatch & Shine. Black Theatre USA. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1996. Bloom, Harold. James Baldwin. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991. Gounard, Jean-Fran ois. The Racial Problem in the Works of Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Translated by Joseph J. Rodgers, Jr. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1992. Hay, Samuel A. African American Theatre: An Historical and Critical Analysis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Mead, Margaret. “A Rap on Race: How James Baldwin and I ‘talked’ a book.” Redbook, September, pp. 70-72, 75. 1971. Porter, Horace A. Stealing the Fire. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1989. Standley, Fred L. and Nancy V. Standley. James Baldwin: A Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1980. Troupe, Quincy. James Baldwin: The Legacy. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1989.