Notes of a Native Son

by James Baldwin

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What does Baldwin realize about the impact of hatred on him?

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Baldwin gets to understand the source of his father’s bitterness when he moves away from home for some time. He “discovers the weight of white people in the world, and sees that this has been for his ancestors, and himself, an awful thing to live with and that the bitterness which has helped to kill his father could also kill him.” He discovers that hatred is a dangerous feeling that serves little purpose in life.

Baldwin recalls how hatred destroyed his father’s life. He recalls his father’s unintentional cruelty towards those he loved:

When he took one of his children on his knee to play, the child always became fretful and began to cry; when he tried to help one of his children with homework, the absolutely unabating tension which emanated from him caused their minds and tongues to become paralyzed.

He recalls how his father frequently admonished him for having white friends, telling him that “white people would do anything to keep a Negro down, that none of them could be trusted and that it was best to keep away from them.” He recalls the racism he experienced during the year he spent living and working in New Jersey, how his experiences opened his eyes to the inequalities and injustices in the society, and how at some point he really did hate white people. Towards the end of the essay, he says that “bitterness is folly,” that it is best to “hold on to the things that matter,” and that “hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated.”

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Baldwin realizes that hatred can destroy him.

The text tells us about Baldwin's fears. We are told that his father was a significant influence in his life. We also learn that Baldwin had an ambivalent relationship with his father. The latter was mercurial and often harsh in his treatment of his children.

It is only later in life that Baldwin begins to understand the cause of his father's rage. Despite his own encounter with racism, Baldwin rejects bitterness and hatred as solutions to his pain. He concludes that the "bitterness which had helped to kill my father could also kill me."

Baldwin believes that it is destructive to retain negative emotions in one's life. Even though he has been cruelly mistreated, Baldwin still maintains that "pure hatred" is both an "exhausting and self-destructive pose." He argues that hatred can only destroy the soul and prevent effective cultural change. Baldwin ends his treatise with a proclamation that he will never accept injustices as "commonplace" and that he will fight tirelessly to eradicate them.

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