What is the interpretation of Juanita's flashback from James Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie?

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In the first act of Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie, Juanita's extended flashback introduces Richard as a character to the stage (and as a "live" presence in the narrative). Before her flashback, Richard's death was the subject of nearly all the dialogue. Juanita's flashback takes the story back in time to depict Richard's life. 

Richard is arguably the most important character in the play - symbolically and narratively, so the character exposition focused on Richard in Juanita's flashback is important. Richard is allowed to speak for himself in this section of the play. 

After reading the play, the notion that Richard "speaks for himself" and speaks up for himself is clearly central to the play's concerns with race, racism and equal protection under the law. 

It is Richard who represents the "hard line" or extreme attitude of vigilant racial pride and bitterness too. This attitude is juxtaposed to the apologetic position of Parnell and, for a time, Richard's father Meridian. Richard refuses to adopt a live and let live position because he feels he is not allowed the same generosity of spirit from the Caucasians of his town that is expected of him. 

When told that he can't reasonably believe that all the world's suffering is caused by "white folks," Richard replies:

"I can't? Don't tell me I can't. I'm going to treat everyone of them as though they were responsible for all the crimes that ever happened in the history of the world - oh, yes! They're responsible for all the misery I've ever seen, and that's good enough for me."

We should note that Richard's attitude, while extreme, functions as a counterpoint to extremity of the attitudes held by many white characters depicted in the play. 

Aside from expressing Richard's political position, the flashback also shows that Richard is a vulnerable person who has suffered but who can give and accept love. He is not a single-note character, but is rather a complex and often troubled person prepared to take act on his beliefs. 

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