Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Another Country is mainly about love—what it is, what stands in its way, and how these barriers may be overcome through suffering and empathy. When Vivaldo’s affair with Ida seems doomed, he reflects that love is another country about which he knows nothing. Both love and the lover are alien. After Vivaldo and Ida first make love, the narrator says that Ida’s face will now be more mysterious for him than that of any stranger: “Strangers’ faces hold no secrets because the imagination does not invest them with any. But the face of a lover is an unknown precisely because it is invested with so much of oneself.” Part of the bond between lovers is a desire to know the other that can never be satisfied. This desire, therefore, becomes more fundamental than the sexual desire that may have brought them together in the first place. Furthermore, the secrets in the beloved’s face come from oneself; they are invested in the beloved. Fulfillment in love seems to mean a mutual knowing and being known that reveals both self and beloved.

As the characters strive for love, they encounter many obstacles, but Baldwin foregrounds race, homosexuality, and gender. American racism is a major barrier to interracial love. The book’s white characters tend to think that when they love an African American, they have escaped or erased their own racism and that their love should undo all the beloved’s suffering from racism. Baldwin, though, shows both lovers...

(The entire section is 558 words.)