Another Country Essay - Critical Evaluation

James Baldwin

Critical Evaluation

James Baldwin has been widely acclaimed as America’s greatest essayist as a result of his works Notes of a Native Son (1955) and The Fire Next Time (1963), among others. His novels also play a central role in American literary history. Like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) and Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country is an important landmark in the departure of African American literature from the tradition of the protest novel, best embodied by Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940). The chief feature of the protest novel is a critique of race relations; in contrast, the aforementioned novels make a critique of society that goes beyond a condemnation of racism. Another Country examines such issues as personal responsibility, the formation of identity, and the need for honest self-reflection. Moreover, one can argue that a chief clue to Baldwin’s interests in Another Country is contained in his early essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel” in Notes of a Native Son. Particularly illuminating to readers of Another Country is the part of the essay that contains an attack on Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin states that the main tragedy in the life of the protagonist, Bigger Thomas, is that he accepts racists’ labeling of him as subhuman, thus causing Baldwin to object that “the failure of the protest novel lies . . . in its insistence that it is his categorization alone that is real and cannot be transcended.” One could argue that in Another Country Rufus Scott’s similar acceptance of conventional, prejudiced views of him is exactly why he commits suicide at the end of the first part of the book. The focus on him in the early part of the book would lead many readers to believe that he is the main character of the novel. That he is not may be seen as a subtle commentary on Notes of a Native Son. Rufus’s death dramatizes Baldwin’s belief in the destructive and life-negating consequences of internalization, self-condemnation, and self-alienation as represented in such characters as Rufus and his literary ancestor, Bigger Thomas. Rufus’s death also jolts the reader into the realization that Another Country is not a protest novel, or the same kind of protest novel as Notes of a Native Son. Stylistically and thematically,...

(The entire section is 974 words.)