Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Another Country was controversial when it appeared in 1962. Though the novel sold well, reviews were mixed. Negative reviews tended to characterize the novel as a personal polemic excusing or even glorifying homosexuality and pushing Baldwin’s supposedly idiosyncratic racial agenda. Mixed reviews tended to praise strong scenes or important ideas but to criticize Baldwin’s art, accusing him of a weak plot, poorly realized characters, or too personal a tone. The most positive reviews tended to argue that the central themes of the novel were universal rather than personal and local. Granville Hicks characterized the novel as “explosive,” but not artless or out of control.

Another Country has come to seem less explosive and more perceptive, and Baldwin’s own opinion that it was perhaps his best novel is more clearly justifiable. In 1962, Baldwin’s depiction of the lives of New York artists was distant from the mainstream of U.S. culture, which was beginning to feel the explosive force of a televised Civil Rights movement. Baldwin assumes in his readers a willingness to accept homosexual and interracial love as good because they too are forms of love. One goal of the novel would seem to be to open readers up more fully to the possibilities for loving, and thereby, to humanize them. To present homosexuality and interracial (and extramarital) love affairs without explicit or even implicit moral condemnation seemed so sensational at the time that it was difficult for even the most perceptive readers to appreciate the seriousness of Baldwin’s purposes.