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Notes of a Native Son (Beacon Paperback) Paperback – July 9, 1984

4.6 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"He named for me the things you feel but couldn't utter. . . . Jimmy's essays articulated for the first time to white America what it meant to be American and a black American at the same time."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"A straight-from-the-shoulder writer, writing about the troubled problems of this troubled earth with an illuminating intensity."—Langston Hughes, The New York Times Book Review

“Written with bitter clarity and uncommon grace.” —Time

About the Author

James Baldwin (1924–1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, and one of America's foremost writers. His essays, such as “Notes of a Native Son” (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-twentieth-century America. A Harlem, New York, native, he primarily made his home in the south of France.
His novels include Giovanni’s Room (1956), about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country (1962), about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in much savage criticism from the black community. Going to Meet the Man (1965) and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968) provided powerful descriptions of American racism. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

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Product Details

  • Series: Beacon Paperback
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Reissue edition (July 9, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807064319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807064313
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The ten essays in this collection were originally published in Commentary, Partisan Review, Harper's, and other national periodicals during the late 1940s and early 1950s; Baldwin revised a few essays, arranged them by theme, and added "Autobiographical Notes" as a preface. They are among the most compelling, insightful pieces ever written on what it means to be an American and, in particular, what means to be a black American. "The story of the Negro in America is the story of America," Baldwin writes, "or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans. It is not a pretty story: the story of a people is never very pretty."

"Everybody's Protest Novel" and "Many Thousands Gone" both discuss the portrayal of blacks in American fiction (beginning with "Uncle Tom's Cabin") and contain harsh criticism of Richard Wright's "Native Son"--comments which permanently ended their tempestuous friendship. Baldwin next directs his ire (and wit) at the ridiculous stereotypes in the all-black film "Carmen Jones." These are not mere reviews, however; the strength of these three essays is Baldwin's ability to offer general comments about societal matters based on a few examples. The second essay is particularly noteworthy because Baldwin writes as if he, like most of his readers, were white. This technique allow him to imply that, on the one hand, as a native-born American, he can easily comprehend the view of the "dominant" culture, yet, on the other hand, the black experience is something white Americans will never understand--that the majority assumption is "that the black man, to become truly human and acceptable, must first become like us."

The next three essays offer social commentary.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title essay in Baldwin's important collection has been one of those pieces of writing that has been personally important throughout my personal and professional life. Baldwin combines his first experiences of racism with his memories of his strained relationship to his bitter father. The encounter with racism in a New Jersey restaurant where he is refused service leads Baldwin to a better understanding of his father's pain and his attempts to overcome his own.

The essay is beautifully written, artfully combining and complicating the different themes. I've used it regularly in my teaching, and regard it as one of the best pieces of twentieth-century American prose. While I'm not African American, the writing allows me at least partly to enter Baldwin's feelings about race. Equally moving for me, and I suspect for many readers, is the description of Baldwin's strained relationship to and eventual compassion for his father, and his attempts to overcome his own frustration and anger. This deeply honest and articulate essay and book is a must for anyone concerned with modern American writing and also seeking a deeper understanding of his or her own inner complexities.
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Format: Paperback
This is an absolutely wonderful book of essays about growing up, making a career, and being black in the US in the 1950-60s. Just the chapter on his step-father - an angry, brilliant, difficult man - is worth the price of admission. Beyond the black experience, everyone who has fought with a tough dad will empathise with Baldwin. Then there is a piece on living in France as a young writer, again it is unbelievably dense, funny, and moving, a true masterpiece of the genre of autobiographical essays. His style is so cool and clear, so icily brilliant, that any aspiring writer can study the style, as did I.

This book, in my opinion, has Baldwin's best work in it, of a quality that earns him a place in the literary canon. The essays really are far far better than any of his novels, in my opinion. While some of them are less than excellent journalistic pieces (A Fly in the Buttermilk about school integration), the best ones are, well, the best.

Warmly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I just finished James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son" yesterday. Published in 1955, it has lost none of its relevance on many levels, and one of these is his argument that the representations of African Americans in and through literature and in movies and the role in which devices such as the "protest novel" are used to assuage liberal guilt and really do not bring about true societal change and instead foster a false sense of understanding and identification that still maintains the "otherness" of the group whose problems or issues are addressed in the work. Baldwin sometime goes on tirades that are not always perhaps balanced but he interrogates issues so passionately and thoroughly and unconventionally that he really makes you think deeply about the gap between professed understanding and experienced reality.

I think of this because I teach many African American works of literature to predominantly non-African American students whose backgrounds vary in understanding of issues of race, class, etc. And there is also the issue of racism itself--not as a personal issue alone, for almost all Americans can repeat the platitudes and provide anecdotes as to why they are not racist--but few truly understand institutional racism. Their minds go blank when you make the shift in discourse and you can see it on many white people's faces. And so it is with many issues of social justice and oppression that do not conform to the conventional model of discourse.

I say this because it is actually a struggle to try and teach on these issues in all their complexity and basic reality, perhaps even more so now that Obama is president because this phenomena is misunderstood so deeply on many sides of the racial divide.
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