Notes of a Native Son

by James Baldwin

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What conclusion did Baldwin make about his relationship with his father?

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The ultimate conclusion that James Baldwin comes to about his father in Notes of a Native Son is that of acceptance and, perhaps quietly, forgiveness. Baldwin writes of his father early in the narrative and says that his father was an intimidating presence. He describes his father as someone who was incredibly hard. Baldwin notes at one point in the narrative that if his father picked up one of his younger siblings, they would start crying until they put him down. It was as though his father exuded some sort of emotional rigidity that was palpable in the household beyond its distance and abuse.

However, what is more important, perhaps, is the fact that Baldwin grew to understand his father better as he grew in age. Baldwin writes,

This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.

This quote in Notes of a Native Son, in my opinion, truly speaks to Baldwin’s quiet understanding of his father after he died. Malignant racism and a lifetime of hardness faced in the outside world made James Baldwin’s father hard in his heart. The abuse and cold distance that was given at home by Baldwin’s father was nothing more than a reflection of what had always been given to his father in the outside world. Notes of a Native Son is a tragedy in the systemic nature of how racial injustice metastases beyond sociological principle and into homes and intimate connections. Notes is also about a son’s understanding as he ages—that his father probably did the best he could.

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