Baldwin, James (Vol. 2)

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Last Updated on June 25, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3109

Baldwin, James 1924–

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Baldwin, a Black American novelist, essayist, and playwright, is best known for his novel Another Country. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

James Baldwin's Another Country is a novel about love and hate, and more about hate than love. In its totality and with all due allowance for occasional weaknesses in the writing, it is one of the most powerful novels of our time. The complexities of love have seldom been explored more subtly or at greater depth, and perhaps the power of hate has never been communicated with a more terrifying force.

Granville Hicks, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1962 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, July 7, 1962; used with permission), July 7, 1962.

James Baldwin [is] unquestionably one of the most brilliant young writers in America today. A mad reality confronts all our writers today. But it is more mad—and possibly even more maddening—for Baldwin, a Negro, who, because of his brilliance, his eloquence, his honesty, his courage, his superb intelligence, has become a spokesman, in a sense a captive spokesman, for his people and, as well, a kind of minister without portfolio for both black and white on black-and-white relations….

If Go Tell It on the Mountain is his most free, most creative book, Notes of a Native Son is his most natural and graceful one. So much of the essays derives from the novel, or the other way round. The pattern has not yet been fixed, the pressures have not yet multiplied. It is a portrait of the author not in search of a theme. All thought flows, all is grace, because Baldwin is writing solely from himself, from an inner necessity, which generates a variety of approaches and an affluence of themes and variations. It is a most satisfactory book of essays, new, contemporary, tempered and exhilarating. If there are mysteries in the collection, they are good mysteries, that is, rewarding, and the dominant clarities require them….

Nobody Knows My Name is a rare and great book, yet one senses in it a kind of tragedy—not flaw, but tragedy. Society has somehow got hold of him in the wrong sort of way. Some subtle deflection has set in. The essays correspond to a part of himself only. He is engaged profoundly, yet partially. There are, one feels, enormities in Baldwin that are not engaged—curiosity, mysticism, bawdiness, laughter, poetry (dark and haunted), tenderness. Is he doing, metaphorically, what Lenin did, refusing to listen to Beethoven because it made him gentle? In order to be most effective must one become monolithic, steel, Stalin?

Harvey Breit, "James Baldwin and Two Footnotes" (© 1963 by Nona Balakian and Charles Simmons; reprinted by permission of Doubleday & Co., Inc.), in The Creative Present: Notes on Contemporary American Fiction, edited by Nona Balakian and Charles Simmons, Doubleday, 1963, pp. 5-23.

James Baldwin's most valuable quality as a writer is authenticity…. Baldwin is a very conscious artist in all his fiction. Represented experience must have a meaning. And he applies all his skill and intelligence to making sure that the shock and pain of this meaning will not be lost on the reader. His people are lonely, frustrated, fearful, often angry, and above all lovelorn. They reach out for the security of love like a drowning swimmer trying to grab a spar from the wreckage to keep himself afloat in the wide, wide ocean. Most of them have a vision of a better land, a better life, but their moments of happiness are always precarious and the surrender to love costs not less than catastrophe. As soon as they are old enough to have a sense of themselves becoming adults (if they live that long), his children, at least the gifted ones, must construct a strategy for finding and then trying to maintain their identities. In expressing the strain and...

(The entire section contains 3109 words.)

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