Go Tell It on the Mountain Essay - Critical Evaluation

James Baldwin

Critical Evaluation

In Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin writes in the tradition of the African American male authors before him, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright. Each of these authors wrote autobiographical works while communicating the rich experience of African American social life. Since the publication of Go Tell It on the Mountain, succeeding writers such as Eldridge Cleaver, Claude Brown, Nikki Giovanni, and Alice Walker have also emphasized personal perspectives and events while detailing the African American community’s social conditions, hopes, and difficulties. Each considers his or her own story to be a story of a community rather than an isolated event or an aberration. Each identifies himself or herself as a communal person.

Baldwin’s works are often termed “psychological realism.” Go Tell It on the Mountain successfully explores the emotional depths of all of its main characters. However, these explored emotions are surrounded by social aspects. People are seen as emotionally functional or dysfunctional as a result of the community to which they belong, the larger society in which it is placed, and the institutions to which they attempt to give allegiance or attempt to reject. The realism in Baldwin is never merely an apt description of the character’s feelings; it is always a detailed description of these feelings within a social context. That social context is a primary rationale for why people think, feel, behave, and live as they do. The psychological realism of the author is encompassed in a larger “social realism.”

There are two predominating social institutions in Go Tell It on the Mountain. The first is the African American church. The impact of distinctively African American religion is more than explicitly expressed in the Pentecostal rituals described by Baldwin. The event of salvation and attempted salvation through public confession is only an indicator of how important the religious...

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