Going to Meet the Man

by James Baldwin

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Student Question

What is the general message about life or human nature in Going to Meet the Man and how does it relate to the present?

Quick answer:

The general message about life or human nature that James Baldwin wants to share in Going to Meet the Man is that race and sexuality are inextricably connected to violence. The main character, Jesse, is a white police officer who confuses his memories of violent attacks against African American men with his current role in controlling civil rights demonstrations and sexual domination of his wife.

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Author James Baldwin explores the intimate connections among sexuality, violence, and race in US society. The author communicates a powerful message about life—especially but not exclusively in the 1960s—as he shows how ideas about sexual domination and racial domination are manifested through violence. By using a white police officer as the main character, Baldwin explicitly connects state-sanctioned violence with individual actions rather than treating personal choices as anomalies that go against social norms.

The action takes place in a bedroom but includes vivid images of public spectacles. Jesse, the police officer, wakes up in a confused mental state. Lying in bed with his wife, part of his mind is on his activities in what he sees as maintaining the peace. He is involved in restricting the demonstrations that African Americans are conducting as part of their quest for equal rights. He opposes both the activities and the goals. In Jesse’s mind, his legal right to conduct violent repression is connected with his memories of seeing other white men castrate a Black man.

Jesse further mixes up present and past by asserting his domination of his wife. Violent thoughts are apparently a necessary condition of his sexual arousal, and he seems to believe he has unrestricted rights of sexual access to his wife.

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