If Beale Street Could Talk Quotes
by James Baldwin

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The Sahara is never empty; these corridors are never empty. If you cross the Sahara, and you fall, by and by vultures circle around you, smelling, sensing your death. . . . The poor are always crossing the Sahara. And the lawyers and bondsmen and all that crowd circle around the poor, exactly like vultures. Of course, they’re not any richer than the poor, really, that’s why they’ve turned into vultures, scavengers . . .

At the beginning of If Beale Street Could Talk, Tish visits Fonny in jail to tell him that she is pregnant with his child. On her way out of the prison, she compares the hallways to the Sahara desert and reflects on the relationship between poverty and justice in her community. The way she sees it, those with power are always waiting for poor people to fall and for their spirits to break so that they can take advantage of them. This, in a way, is what has happened to Fonny: he has been falsely accused of rape simiply because a police officer hated him. Tish, however, is determined to not let Fonny’s spirit break, and she visits him often to encourage him.

You got to think about that baby. You got to hold on to that baby, don’t care what else happens or don’t happen. . . . And the rest of us, well, we going to hold on to you. And we going to get Fonny out. . . . And that baby be the best thing that ever happened to Fonny. He needs that baby. It going to give him a whole lot of courage. 

Though Tish is nervous to tell her family that she is pregnant, her family embraces her pregnancy with joy. In this quote, Tish’s mother, Sharon, tells her that the best thing she can do to help Fonny is to focus on bringing her baby into the world safely. While her family members and Fonny’s father can raise money and help build his case, Tish is the only one who can give Fonny the hope and strength he needs to survive the harsh and violent prison environment. The thought of being reunited with Tish and raising their baby together is what allows Fonny to remain unbroken by the corrupt justice system.

I look as though I just can’t make it, she looks like can’t nothing stop her. If you look helpless, people react to you in one way and if you look strong, or just come on strong, people react to you in another way, and, since you don’t see what they see, this can be very painful. 

Reflecting on her childhood growing up with her sister, Ernestine, Tish analyzes Ernestine’s strong and confident demeanor. Unlike Tish, she can “walk straight ahead into anything”: Ernestine displays this confidence throughout the novel as she tenaciously defends and fights for her sister and Fonny. In encouraging Tish to “unbow [her] head” after announcing her pregnancy to her family, fighting back...

(The entire section is 760 words.)