I’ve got to admit I’ve never heard of James Baldwin until running into his essays on Amazon. The Fire Next Time includes two essays written in a letter-esque form. Baldwin’s essays heavily cover racism but also delve into religion and sexuality.
The first letter, titled My Dungeon Shook, is rather short. It’s brevity magnifies Baldwin’s passionate language. On reading I was immediately taken into the work by the following sentence.
Well, he (the addressee’s grandfather) is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed hat white people said about him.
The cliche of “bottom of the heart” only detracts from the statement a bit. The sentence is otherwise powerful. The wording provides ease to the reader in imagining the character of the grandfather. He believed what others said about him; he was a utterly defeated man. This speaks of the viciousness of racism of the time, too.
Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear.
A powerful and all-to-true statement. It also echoes to the quote above. I’ve noticed, as a reader, I’ve a tendency to like brief profound statements to those that are trying to be complicated. There is a palpable impact in brevity that reminds me of the reason I enjoy Hemingway.
The next letter was titled Down At the Cross. It is a deep mediation on both blackness and religion. It is a sprawling letter that details the life of Baldwin. To be honest, this essay didn’t do as much for me because I’ve never been particularly religious. In fact, at the time of writing, I align myself closely with Agnostics and therefor have little to no stake in religion.
Just before and then during the Second World War, many of my friends fled into the service, all to be changed there, and rarely for the better, many to be ruined, and many to die.
If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.
The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.
If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others —do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.
I’ve chosen the above quotes to showcase the conciseness and impact of Baldwin’s passion. They don’t serve as examples of analysis but an example, instead, of the power of economy.
If you have a book recommendation, any genre and any length, feel free to leave it in the comments!