Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, according to writer William Styron, is “one of the great documents of the twentieth century.” It articulates the anger, frustration, and hope felt by African Americans during the 1960’s. The two essays composing this work were published in 1963, selling more than one million copies, making Baldwin—according to The New York Times—the widest read African American writer of his time. The book is Baldwin’s response to the social and racial injustice he witnessed in America. Having lived in Europe for almost twenty years, Baldwin felt compelled to return to America to participate in the Civil Rights movement. He offered The Fire Next Time as “a kind of plea” because “we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation.”
The first short essay, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation,” is Baldwin’s diagnosis of America’s racism as well as his prescription for his young nephew’s survival in such a diseased society. As a man who has seen America at its worst, Baldwin warns his nephew of the dangers threatening a young black man. He also offers him a challenge: to be a catalyst of change. Baldwin contends that the fates of black and white Americans are inextricably intertwined, that for America to fulfill its promise, both must acknowledge the need for the other. White America...
(The entire section is 1816 words.)
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