Going to Meet the Man

by James Baldwin

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Student Question

What is the significance of James Baldwin's title "Going to Meet the Man"?

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There are a few ways to understand Baldwin's title. For instance, the adult Jesse, in his role as police officer, is quite literally "the man," or the authority in his town.

The "meeting" in the title can be understood as meaning "getting to know," and the story is in fact an account of how someone like Jesse can come to be. By "meeting" the "man," we come understand his complex psychosexual relationship to blacks, and the formative experience of the lynching and castration that marked him as a child. The result of this "meeting" for the reader is an understanding of the different pathologies that go into making someone like Jesse, and how the collective influence of these behaviors can serve to justify them and normalize them. In a way, the "man" of the title refers not just to Jesse, but to all white men like him.

The title can also be understood ironically. For instance, the "man" we are meeting, Jesse, has never changed much from the little boy that goes to the lynching; in a way, there is no "man" to meet, just an emotionally stunted adult who derives sexual pleasure from sadistic violence.

Another reading inverts the identity of the "man" itself. In this reading, the real "man" we are meeting is the person being tortured in the jail cell; even though the whites try to strip the blacks of their humanity, as at the lynching, these victims are the "man" we need to meet.

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