Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. Great northern city in whose borough of Manhattan most of the novel’s action unfolds. New York plays a determining role in the lives of the book’s eight principal characters. To the two southerners, it is a magnet that has drawn them from native surroundings that they regard as limiting and unsatisfactory in their search for a more stimulating life. Manhattan has also formed the novel’s two African American characters, Rufus Scott and his younger sister Ida, culturally and socially. The lone married couple of the novel, Richard and Cass Silenski, have most likely chosen to live in Manhattan because Richard is a writer who wishes to work amid the world of publishers and editors. Daniel Vivaldo Moore, another, but unsuccessful, writer, has a “stony affection” for New York, a city that offers him a chance to exercise his talent for friendship with its varied racial and ethnic types.

A young Frenchman named Yves persuades his male lover to return to Manhattan after a sojourn abroad, but because the former arrives, confident and hopeful, only at the end of the story, it is left to readers to imagine what the city will come to represent for him. For the others New York has proved a difficult place to live. One of the southerners leaves New York disenchanted after three years, while the other returns home, her mental health destroyed by her stormy relationship with Rufus, who thereafter commits suicide.

James Baldwin’s New York is a place where disparate and socially nonconforming people can develop intense relationships and discover exciting, if precarious, career opportunities,...

(The entire section is 677 words.)