How does Tish see the world? How does her perspective of the world change at the end of the novel?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout If Beale Street Could Talk, Tish remains one of the only positive characters. While many others buckle under the pressure and come to the belief that Fonny's trial will go horribly, Tish maintains her optimism. That being said, Tish's viewpoint of the world certainly changes by the novel's end. Much of her optimism comes from a general trusting nature. She depends on her loved ones to help her through her predicament, and, eventually, she depends on the wealthy white lawyer when nobody else around her seems to.

Her faith and optimism are tested relentlessly by her and Fonny's situation. At one point, Fonny's mother claims Tish is a vile seductress that is entirely to blame for Fonny's imprisonment. This causes a dramatic confrontation between the two families, forcing Tish to question the moral character of Fonny's mother. After understanding the difficulties that Fonny faces primarily because of his race, Tish begins to become aware that there are many people who cannot be trusted.

It should be noted, however, that while Tish becomes aware of the cruel and merciless nature of the world around her, her love and admiration for Fonny does not change. Through everything, she still sees him as courageous. When she visits him in prison to see that he had been roughed up, she comments, "He’s beautiful. They beat him up, but they didn’t beat him." Through this, it becomes clear that Tish has by no means descended into complete cynicism; she remains hopeful for Fonny and proud of him entirely—something that even the worst events cannot take away.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial