In James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk, the protagonists Tish and Fonny decide to get married. Soon after they commit to each other, he comes to her family’s home to speak with her parents. When her father, Joseph, presses him, Fonny admits that he is both telling him of their plans and asking her father’s permission. Aware of what is on Joseph’s mind, he completes his sentence, indicating he knows he has no certain future.
The two men go into another room, leaving Tish with her mother, Sharon, and her sister, Ernestine. Sharon is concerned about the emotional commitment between the couple. She asks Tish if she is sure that she loves Fonny, and Tish counters by asking why her mother is asking that question.
Ernestine then breaks the tension with a joke, saying that her mother had secretly hoped that Tish would marry Governor Rockefeller.
It is at this point that Tish admits that, although her sister obviously exaggerated with the most extreme example she could think of, her mother’s wish that her daughter would find some security in her marriage has evaporated. Fonny has a job, working for a moving company, but in his heart he is an artist. His dream to succeed through his art is unlikely to be realized.
The irony of this exchange is that none of them could have predict how truly insecure the lives of Tish and her unborn child—the future generation—would become. The reader, however, had known this since the first chapter, as Tish does not learn she is pregnant until after Fonny is unjustly convicted and incarcerated. She tells him then that her mother and sister will take care of her.