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A Commentary on James Baldwin's Writing from "going to Meet the Man"

Essay by   •  December 14, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,304 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,474 Views

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One thing that I like about Baldwin's writing is the relationship between character and plot development. In the stories that we've read so far, the major characters were all dynamic and had unique personalities from each other. He successfully creates a conscious and breath-taking environment that directly impacts the protagonists' thoughts, ideas and decisions. For example, Sonny's distinctive trait is his emotional vulnerability and introspection, while his brother is someone who has become emotionally stagnant and frozen by the pain in his life. Baldwin also makes great use of internal monologues. By doing so, he's able to illustrate the psychological and emotional depth that his characters have, and it further shows their evolution at every single turn of the story. He succeeds at making all the characters and their surroundings come alive. As a result, the stories left me formulating opinions about each protagonist. Some might be more interesting or appealing than others, but Baldwin motivates the audience to open their hearts and minds so that they can internalize the struggles and the triumphs of every protagonist. By the end of the each story, the reader can infer that the characters were not finished progressing (even after their awakenings), and could have continued to evolve had Baldwin chosen to keep writing.

Another positive quality of Baldwin's writing is his subtle intent to enlighten and teach the reader. His stories deal with human issues such as racism, poverty, drug abuse, interracial relationships, and loss of cultural identity. Since his stories are based in reality, they might be a little more difficult to absorb, considering the severity that some of those themes carry. However, he's able to present them while still remaining truthful and sensitive. It goes a long way in illustrating how much he cares. Another thing I like about Baldwin is that he doesn't waste any space on the page. His stories need to be read several times to fully comprehend them. Certain details and images that may seem miniscule at first will only make sense once the reader has researched them. One criticism about Baldwin's style is that he enjoys alternating between the past and present. It's jarring at first, and unless the reader is paying full attention, they might miss the switch. I guess this is good because it forces the reader to focus and concentrate as they read. To understand Baldwin, one needs to be entirely invested in the world he's creating.

To begin with, my favorite scene in "Sonny's Blues" is when the brothers are traveling via cab through the west side of Harlem, "So we drove along, between the green of the park and the stony, lifeless elegance of hotels...Those who got out always left something of themselves behind as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap..." (p. 94-95). The first thing I notice is the juxtaposition of the "lifeless elegance" of the hotels/apartment buildings and the "vivid, killing streets of our childhood". The narrator exhibits more passion towards the streets of his childhood, although it's something he's desperately trying to escape. This snapshot shows the economic disparity and violence that impoverished people have to confront. It shows the constant evolution of the surroundings that always seem to be unobtainable, while their environment seems to never change for the better. Although Sonny and his older brother moved away from this area a long time ago, part of their essence will always stay trapped. The narrator is still trapped because he teaches in a school with children who will eventually face the same pain and suffering that he and Sonny were forced to confront.

In my opinion, the "blues" in the title represents Sonny's ability to internalize the suffering of others (as well as his own) and capture it with his

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