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James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk depicts the coming-of-age and first love of 19-year old Tish Rivers. Tish is in love with Fonny, a young man who's been incarcerated under false charges of rape. While Fonny awaits his trial, Tish discovers she is pregnant. She and her family pull all their resources together in order to secure for Fonny the best legal counsel they can.
Fonny's incarceration is a difficult burden for Tish. Nonetheless, her outlook on life is optimistic. Tish basically thinks the best of people and believes things will work out. This optimism comes from Tish's strong relationship with her family and community members. Living in a segregated community, Tish's daily interactions are limited to her family, neighbors, and close social networks. She feels safe within these networks, and has little interaction with the "outside" world.
However, Tish's view of the outside world turns sharply negative when she finds herself interacting with violent, racist white people in the criminal justice system. She resents that members of the justice system -- i.e. lawyers, judges, bondsmen, -- treat Fonny with a presumption of guilt. The more Tish interacts with the establishment on Fonny's behalf, the more incensed and appaled she becomes at the harsh realities of Jim Crow racism.
Ultimately, Tish finds a progressive white lawyer to represent Fonny; one renowned for his success as a criminal defense attorney. The lawyer is clearly sympathetic to Fonny and agrees to represent him for very little money. The novel ends on a hopeful note, as Fonny and Tish begin to anticipate Fonny's release from prison, and the birth of their child.
Tish's view of the world at the end of the novel is less naive and child-like than it was at the beginning. She maintains her hopeful optimism, but is also more deeply aware of the brutality, violence, and indignities of racial injustice in Southen Jim Crow culture. As an expecting mother, Tish carries with her the hope that her child will inhabit a safer, more just, and more peaceful world.
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