Write an essay on "Notes of a Native Son" by James Baldwin. Make a thesis statement and support it with evidence from the text. How does James Baldwin's story create a positive or negative in his...

Write an essay on "Notes of a Native Son" by James Baldwin.

Make a thesis statement and support it with evidence from the text. How does James Baldwin's story create a positive or negative in his mind?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although much of the focus of James Baldwin's essay is on the dispossession of Black Americans and the troubled aspects of the writer's relationship to his father, "Notes on a Native Son" works its way to a somewhat hopeful and certainly mature emotional conclusion.

Baldwin utilizes a binary of his own at the end of the essay that tends to complicate the notion of positive and negative. Instead the essay finishes with a thought on reconciliation that comes from accepting certain realities (i.e., individual people and social forces) and resolving to resist injustice at every turn.

Put one way, we can say that Baldwin's final statement is that we should align ourselves with our own sense of justice and stand firm in that affiliation, made strong in our determination. Put another way, Baldwin is advising himself: Stand up for what you believe in and you might be less exposed to the negative feelings that come from standing against that which you hate.

In exhorting himself to pursue a difficult path toward clear-eyed acceptance of "life as it is," Baldwin also insists that "one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as a common place but must fight them with all one's strength." If this is not absolutely positive it is nonetheless affirmative.

The injustices Baldwin mentions here are connected to issues of racial inequality. These issues are explored at length in the first half of the essay and are identified as a source of bitterness. A situation of unfair treatment is amplified in its acidity by the fact that Black soldiers were fighting at the time in World War II. Officially endorsed racial bias against Black Americans and a constant sense of oppression and danger in New York City ultimately lead to a riot when a Black soldier is shot by a white police officer.

Baldwin connects the feelings of bitterness and anger at work in the essay to both racial issues in America and to his father. The sense of dispossession is thus doubled. Black Americans are barred from fully participating in a real sense of being an integral part of the American citizenry, despite the patronage and patriotism so intricately tied up in the fact of military service. Baldwin, on an individual level, is similarly alienated from his father, experiencing mainly anger and resentment in the father-son relationship.

In the end, Baldwin unites these two threads and concludes that each demand an identical response. In doing so, Baldwin associates moral strength (and hope) with forgiveness and associates moral weakness with rancor and continued blame.

Baldwin suggests that, because "nothing is ever escaped," one must find a way to come to terms with the forces that challenge a person or that haunt a person.

"It was necessary to hold on to the things that mattered. The dead man mattered; blackness and whiteness did not matter; to believe they did was to acquiesce in one's own destruction. Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law."

The anger he felt so long toward his father is recognized as a limitation on the author's personal growth and this anger is connected to larger social issues that informed the social context of the day. The expansive view offered at the end of this anguished reflection is clearly not negative. It is affirmative in its promise of self-empowerment and freedom from haunting bitterness.

The conclusions connected directly to Baldwin's father function metaphorically as well.

"In the end, he is able to separate himself from his father and yet still cherish in a place in his heart the fact that he and his father will be forever joined" (eNotes).

Capable of looking with new eyes at his father, Baldwin is not necessarily forgetting everything he once felt and knew. Instead, he is taking a step away from the intensity of emotion that had limited his point of view. The same can be said for his conclusions on racial injustice.

In writing an essay on "Notes of a Native Son," you may want to examine the relationships between racial turmoil and the turmoil of the father-son relationship.

Look for ways that these two issues are utilized as parallels and identify how Baldwin pivots in his thoughts on his father in ways that serve to build to his conclusion about the need to take on an attitude of mature moral strength in opposing injustice.

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Notes of a Native Son

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