HW Discussion (due July 6th)

What were your impressions of James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son”? Which moment in the text (I’m thinking, for example, of moments when he so accurately describes the feeling a child toward a difficult parent, but there are so many) did you find the most powerful? Choose a passage and share your thoughts and a question.

10 thoughts on “HW Discussion (due July 6th)

  1. Alice Suazo

    Without doubt, this text is incredibly impactful as it finds a way to tightly connect emotions with an environment—or in this case a societal force. One of the most impactful quotes within the text is when Baldwin expressed, “I had told my mother that I did not want to see him because I hated him. But this was not true. It was only that I had hated him and I wanted to hold on to this hatred. I did not want to look on him as a ruin: it was not a ruin I had hated. I imagine that one of the reasons people their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” (Baldwin 737) When reading this quote, one can’t help but look back into one’s own personal stories and find those things or people one hates. In a sense, it prompts individuals to reevaluate their own sense of hatred towards the world. To be frank, I haven’t had a quote impact me this hard in a while, especially considering the familial context behind it. The way in which Baldwin reflects on his own emotions towards his dad, who he had hated so much throughout his lifetime, as he witnesses him slowly deteriorating is pretty heartbreaking. It can’t be helped how sentimental such a scene is considering his dad dies almost right after. From this quote, it is not certain whether Baldwin meant it as saying that “One doesn’t know the value of something until they don’t have it anymore.” or if it is simply him looking into his past experiences with his father—could be both. Though there is a lot to dissect in this quote, it is simply hard to pinpoint what values lie within it due to how shocking it may result at first read. Due to the striking nature of this quote, it is hard to really say what it refers to inherently, but it certainly evokes a strong feeling within the audience who reads this text. After all, in this quote, Baldwin is breaking down a feeling as strong and heavy as hate, which isn’t an easy emotion to touch upon. Only did he reflect on his own hatred when an event as big as his father’s death was taking place before his eyes.

    Would have Baldwin ever reflected on his feelings of hatred if he had visited his father in his early illness rather than his late illness? What are the possible effects of his father dying as he realized his true feelings?

  2. Midiam F Diaz (She/Her)

    I enjoyed reading James Baldwin’s “Notes of A Native Son” it was very deep and very descriptive of the social injustice that was going on at the time when he wrote this essay. The father whom he hated at the beginning, “I do not remember his children was ever glad to see him come home.” (Baldwin 730). He later grew to understand his father in a different light as he experienced his own injustice in New Jersey. When he wasn’t allowed to order food at the restaurants because he was black. All these years his father had warned him about such things, but it seemed as if he thought it, was an exaggeration. Ex from the text “When he died, I had been away from home for over a year. In that year I had time to become aware of the meaning of all my father’s bitter warnings, had discovered the secret of his proudly pursed lips and rigid carriage: I had discovered the weight of the white people in the world. I saw that this had been for my ancestors and now would be for me an awful thing to live with and that the bitterness which had helped to kill my father could also kill me.” (Baldwin 730). Baldwin saw the impact of the war and his migration as a great impact on his father’s life both mentally and physically and he was trying as hard as he could not walk down that path despite his encounters with racism.
    The most impactful passage was at the end when he had a memory of his father saying “But as for me and my house” my father said, “We will serve the lord” (Baldwin 742). It was a very deep passage to how he described his new meaning to it now. From his Christian upbringing, he would find these scriptures as stated in the passage specifically (Joshua 24.15) meaningless but now it made more sense to him. To accept or not to accept the injustice of the world? or stay free from hatred and despair and praise the Lord.

    Question: do you think Baldwin would have taken his father’s advice seriously if his father would have just opened up to him and maybe had better communication?

  3. Shahnewaz Khan

    In “Notes of a Native Son,” Baldwin talks about his father, who passed away in 1943. He goes into great detail about his father, who was born when his parents were still slaves. His father struggled to connect with his children, who feared him. It was determined at the end of the father’s life that he was mentally ill, which contributed to his worsening health. Baldwin recalls his father instilling in him a distrust of white people. While striving to oppose his father’s ideals, Baldwin embraced some of them. Baldwin also experienced racial intolerance when residing in New Jersey, when he was denied access to several restaurants because he was black. As a result, Baldwin responded angrily at times, expressing his rage at those who did not treat him with the same respect. Baldwin returned to Harlem a few days before his father died, and he mentions that his youngest sister was born only a few days afterwards. Riots erupted in Harlem on the day of the burial. The riots are described in great detail by Baldwin, which shows how the people in Harlem revolts against racism and poverty on a regular basis.

    He utilizes the dates of this murder, his sister’s birth, his own birthday, and the start of the riots to make meaningful insights about how public history and personal history intersect. All these events, according to Baldwin, are intricately linked. He mentions, “when his life had ended I began to wonder about that life and also, in a new way, to be apprehensive about my own” (Notes of a Native Son 729). His father’s death pushes him to acknowledge that, as much as he despised him, they were far more alike than he wanted to admit. Baldwin must confront the societal pressures that formed his own life as he investigates the origins of his father’s attitude. In other words, Baldwin’s evaluation of his father is brutally honest, reflecting both his hatred and affection for him. While Baldwin’s assessment of his father’s nature may appear harsh, it also shows how well he knew and understood him. Although Baldwin does not directly link his father’s actions to his own racial oppression, there is an obvious link between Baldwin’s assessment of the inner anguish and bitterness that all African Americans suffer and his father’s hostility, cruelty, and isolation from those around him.

    In addition, Baldwin’s time in New Jersey has also influenced his perceptions on racism. He discovers that whites do not recognize his humanity first and that his skin color determines how he is treated. He discovers that the hatred he bears in his heart is also a threat to his safety after exploring the limits of how society would tolerate him and getting himself into a dangerous situation. It makes him bold and unconcerned about his own safety. He expresses, “There is not a Negro alive who does not have this rage in his blood—one has the choice, merely, of living with it consciously or surrendering to it. As for me, this fever has recurred in me, and does, and will until the day I die” (Notes of a Native Son 733). In this instance, Baldwin’s conflicted feelings illustrate the inner pain that comes with being a black person in a racist culture. He recounts a rage that he characterizes as a disease and a fever. This rage causes him to lash out and put himself in risk when he went into a segregated restaurant and threw a water jug at the server and was nearly killed by the customers. According to Baldwin, this rage is a natural reaction to the stress the racism places on African Americans.

    Baldwin sees hatred as a negative, destructive (and especially self-destructive) force in general. Anger, on the other hand, may be good if it drives people to fight injustice.

    My question for the class is: In what way does Baldwin guide the reader to the essay’s conclusion?

  4. Eathan Wysoki

    The passage that was most significant was the passage where Baldwin describes his father’s beauty. “There was something else in him, buried in him, which lent him his tremendous power and, even, a rather crushing charm. It had something to do with his blackness, I think – he was very black – with his blackness and his beauty, and with the fact that he knew he was black but did not know that he was beautiful. He claimed to be proud of his blackness but it had also been the cause of much humiliation and it had fixed bleak boundaries to his life” (Baldwin 730).

    Though Baldwin did not have a good relationship with his father over the years, he still saw something beautiful in him. At the end of the day it is still his father. However, it wasn’t that Baldwin despised his father and the way he treated him and his sibling, but rather it was that he did not understand him and there was a lack of communication between them. As a kid it seems that Baldwin’s father was always against him and taking away his identity because he is black. On the contrary, Baldwin does not understand how a beautiful black man can close himself in so much. But as time progresses, Baldwin begins to understand the reality of what it meant to be black and became less naive of the situation.

    Because Baldwin never experience the extremities of slavery like his father did, Baldwin is portrayed as very naive to the idea of slavery. Throughout the story Baldwin continues to grow up and understand his father more and more. Baldwin tries to force his way in to society, but he is denied at the movie theater and the restaurant because the whites did not serve blacks. He becomes frustrated and even throws a mug at a white woman when she denies him service.

    At the end the reader understands that Baldwin comes to terms with who he is and understands his father. He comprehends that he needs to accept “life as it is”. This circles back to the passage in the beginning and it becomes clearer to Baldwin why his father, a beautiful black man, did not express his beautifulness to the rest of society. Its better to feel beautiful internally than try to prove to others you are beautiful externally.

    How does this story apply to situations of modern times including Asian hate and antisemitism against Jews? How do minorities who experience hate crimes need to hide their beauty similarly to how Baldwin’s father hid his beauty?

  5. Arpit Sharma (He/Him)

    I found the most powerful moment in the text to be when Baldwin describes his father’s death and how it made him think about his own life. He writes, “when his life had ended, I began to wonder about that life and also, in a new way, to be apprehensive about my own” (Notes of a Native Son 729). This moment struck me because it highlights how our perceptions of our parents can change as we grow older and gain more insight into their lives. It also made me think about how our lives are shaped by the events around us, both on a personal and public level. For instance, Baldwin’s father’s death pushed him to confront the societal pressures that formed his own life. In other words, it made him examine the origins of his father’s attitude and how it was shaped by racism. This moment was decisive because it showed how our past could influence our present in ways we may not even realize.

    Do you agree with Baldwin that anger can be a positive force if it drives people to fight injustice?

  6. Ali Butt (he/him)

    I found “Notes of a Native Son” fascinating and very deep. A few hours before the birth of his final child, Baldwin’s father passed away in 1943. A race riot broke out in Harlem following Baldwin’s father’s funeral, which occurred on his birthday. The sequence of events appeared to be intended to make fun of Baldwin’s lack of apocalyptic views, which stood in stark contrast to those of his father. Baldwin’s father and dad had a tense relationship. Although his father was unsure of the exact year of his birth, he was aware that his mother had lived through slavery. Baldwin considers New Orleans to be “one of the most terrible of towns,” and he was born there before relocating to the North in 1919. Baldwin’s father was proud and well-built. He was really bitter and harsh, but he was also endearing. His attempts to show affection to his kids always resulted in the kids freezing up in fear and getting harshly disciplined. Baldwin’s father struggled to establish relationships with others, and despite his best efforts to impress others, he was never successful. “I do not remember his children was ever glad to see him come home.” (Baldwin 730). This sentence described the feelings of a child toward one of his parents. Later on, the child understands his father in a different way due to his experience of injustice.

    Question: Do you think the father was a good father?

  7. Justin Cardeno

    Notes of a Native is an introspective work, exploring the realities of race relations, their negative impacts on oppressed communities, and how this repeats and weighs on the younger generation, whether they want it to or not. While Baldwin’s father initially just seems to be a sour and hateful old man, the reader explores along with Baldwin the rotten sides of reality for a person of color in segregated America, and realizes how a lifetime of oppression can grind down even the most optimistic into a state of chronic bitterness.
    An interesting excerpt was “To smash something is the ghettos’s chronic need. Most of the time it is the members of the ghetto who smash eachother, and themselves. But as long as the ghetto walls are standing there will always come a moment when these outlets do not work.”
    How does this passage translate to modern oppressed communities of color? What does that say of our supposed progress over the last 100 years?

  8. Anthony Funes-Quick

    As I read Baldwin’s “Notes of Native Son” I felt like the tone was gloomy and depressing. I found it interesting that so many significant life events occurred around the same time for the family. The moment that I found the most interesting and powerful was when Baldwin becomes aware of his own hatred, almost being the cause of his demise. Baldwin states, “I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart” (Baldwin 735). This passage seems to illustrate the impact prejudice can have on an individual. I was able to make the connection between the character Mrs. Auld from the Life of Frederick Douglass, and even the famous quote “T.H.U.G L.I.F. E” The Hate u Give Little Infants F*** Everybody. The impression the title gave me was that what made Baldwin a native son was the tension between all races.

    Question: Despite Baldwin’s frequent travels why do you think he might call himself a native son?

  9. Mohammed Dadsi

    I found this reading to be extremely powerful, as unlike anything weve read so far, this seems to have been written by being centered around the author’s profound emotion. James Baldwin had a very tough life. From his fathers seemingly never ending abuse and anger to the death of his father on the same day as his sibling being born to his fathers funeral being on his birthday to a race riot breaking out on his birthday and not to mention the racism that has had to endure his entire life, getting denied from restaurants and establishments strictly because of the color of his skin, everything that Baldwin has went through, shaped the way he thought about life and what he included in his writing. A passage that truly caught my eye was when the narrator stated “I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain” (Baldwin 737). When saying this, the narrator is seen relating his personal experiences to a good amount of the world. When people grow up around hate and are raised only knowing two emotions: hate and anger, they get comfortable with that. They deflect all other parts And feelings that come with what they went through because they go so good at feeling angry and hateful. No one wants to feel the pain that is associated with traumatic experiences. Most people would rather try for as long as possible to deflect that pain onto someone else. This can be seen in Baldwin’s father, ass he grew up much closer to slavery than Baldwin did, which most likely means he experienced extremely traumatic things in his early life, which shaped the way he acted towards his family later on in life.

    My question is: How did the way that his father acted around his children affect how Baldwin lived his life later on? Would it have been different if he had a better relationship with his father?

  10. Amir Mendoza

    In James Baldwin’s “Notes of A Native Son,” he talks about his relationship with his father and how in the narrative, Baldwin would have a love/hate relationship with his father. He didn’t speak much to his father, but after his father died he looks back and regrets not talking to him. I found his narrative very touching because after his father died, he started to understand why his father was the way he was and why his father raised him the way he did.
    The text I found very powerful was when a riot broke out in Harlem on Baldwin’s birthday. “To smash something is the ghetto’s chronic need. Most of the time it is the members of the ghetto who smash each other, and themselves. But as long as the ghetto walls are standing there will always come a moment when these outlets do not work.” (Baldwin 741) This is powerful because he talks about how everyone who was rioting Harlem because of a rumor that a black man got shot in the back by a white policeman. He writes how black people are destroying their own neighborhood. This reminds me of the riots that happened after the death of George Floyd. In the Bronx, people rioted and looted their own neighborhood instead which affected many people of color instead of affecting the white man.
    Question: Do you think James Baldwin’s father raised to be the man his father wanted?

Comments are closed.