Detailed explanations, analysis, and citation info for every important quote on LitCharts. The original text plus a side-by-side modern translation of every Shakespeare play. LitCharts From the creators of SparkNotes, something better. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. Download this LitChart! Themes All Themes. Symbols All Symbols. Theme Wheel.
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Themes and Colors Key. LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Notes of a Native Son , which you can use to track the themes throughout the work. Baldwin and his father had a difficult relationship. His father did not know exactly when he was born, but he knew that his mother was alive during slavery.
He was severely cruel and bitter, yet also charming. When he attempted to show his children affection, the children would inevitably freeze up in fright, only to be furiously punished. Active Themes.
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Inheritance, Tradition, and Belonging. He was committed to a mental hospital, where it was discovered that he had tuberculosis. Baldwin thus conveys the way in which trauma is passed through generations, even between people who—like Baldwin and his father—have very different experiences and dispositions. This passage contains a perfect example of the way in which racism can cause people to develop a self-destructive relationship to the world. The special attention of the white teacher is a positive opportunity for the young Baldwin to get ahead—yet his father is so distrustful of white people that he cannot imagine the situation as anything other than a threat.
He acted, as he always did, in a confident and self-assured manner, which caused his coworkers to treat him with intense hostility. Baldwin went to a self-service restaurant four times before being informed that black people were not served there, and that the wait staff had been waiting for him to realize this. The same thing happened to him at establishments all over the state, and he began to fear going outside.
Here Baldwin describes two parallel examples of the way in which racist societies force people to suppress their emotions.
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At the diner, the white wait staff are not forthcoming about the fact that they do not serve black people, suggesting that they are embarrassed and perhaps even sympathetic to Baldwin, but do not feel able to express this. Meanwhile, Baldwin and other black people harbor a destructive rage that they must suppress in order to function and survive.
Download it! Baldwin grabbed a nearby water mug and threw it in her face, before immediately running out of the restaurant.
His friend lingered outside the restaurant to send the police in the wrong direction. Afterward, Baldwin felt a sense of guilt toward his friend, as well as a shock at the realization that he could have been murdered and that he was prepared to murder someone himself. He experiences a sense of fury so powerful that it overwhelms practical considerations of his own safety—yet at the same time, he feels guilt toward his white friend and fear at the murderous rage living inside his own heart. These conflicts of emotion illustrate the extent to which racism alienates Baldwin from himself and causes him to lose control of his actions.source
Related Quotes with Explanations. As racial tensions rise, the residents of Harlem wait for a climactic event to take place; at the same time they are also waiting for the end of the war, and—in a broader sense—the progress toward racial equality for which black people have been waiting since their abduction to the United States. Progress vs. Baldwin visited his father only once during his illness. He had avoided seeing his father because he wanted to cling to the hatred he felt for him during his life.
The next morning, he was pronounced dead, and his baby was born shortly after. Clinging to his hatred of his father helps Baldwin avoid the pain of losing him, yet it prevents him from establishing a meaningful relationship with his father. Furthermore, Baldwin emphasizes that hatred is always self-destructive for the person who hates. His friend eventually found him a black shirt.
At the church , Baldwin reflected that his aunt, who fought with his father throughout his life, was one of the only people who had a real connection with him. During the eulogy, Baldwin notes that the preacher was not describing his father as he really was, but rather inviting the congregation to forgive his father, reminding them that they did not know the full truth of what he suffered. Vivian, I just want to thank you so much for posting this.
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