James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son”

Question 1: Look closely at the first paragraph in “Notes.” Baldwin immediately sets his personal story into a social context. Baldwin continues to do this throughout his essay. In what ways does this affect the reader’s understanding of Baldwin’s relationship to the world and his father?

1. From the time James Baldwin was born up until his father’s death, it was clear that the two did not get along. In fact, Baldwin mentions several times that he had even grown to hate his father. His father was described as being impatient, cruel, and judgmental, not only the people around him, but to his own children, causing the relationship between father and son to be strained. As Baldwin continues to write, you begin to see that the hate inside of him is beginning to affect his personality and his attitude to which he treats everyone around him. You can see his view of the world becoming darker and harsher, a result from the hate boiling in him. Baldwin even writes that at one point he felt compelled to murder a white girl just for being white.

However, by living in New Jersey and experiencing racism, prejudices and riots, Baldwin is able to understand why his father acted the way he did and how his personality had hardened over time. This new understanding brings on regret for Baldwin. Regret for not having a real relationship with his father before he passed and regret for the way things had ended between them. Knowing that the problems of the world are related to the destruction of a man and a relationship, Baldwin strives to get the story out and open up the eyes of the people and society.



  1. I agree with you. I feel that Baldwins hatred was a direct effect of his relationship with his father. It was his father who first told him about white people and how he should not trust them. Also I think after he left home and saw/understood what his father was talking about he felt remorseful because he understood where his father was coming from. I think he partially blamed the “white people” for his fathers shortcomings; because after just a few short years of being away from home he to had a lapse in judgement that could have had some severe results.

  2. You made an excellent point as to why Baldwin’s father attitude and perception of the world changed over time. The fact that his father had to constantly be surrounded by those who were demeaning him had to have enormous impact on his future self. I like how you mentioned that Baldwin finally realized and accepted his father when he experienced the same hatred. Perhaps this shows the immensity of racial hatred and how it can shape an individual.
    Awesome job!

  3. You picked up on great ideas on how the Baldwin related to the world and his father. The racism affected both of them and the reader sympathizes with them. You noted the social context of living in New Jersey, experiencing the terrible times prejudice and riots, that had hardened his father to not only him but everyone. You stated that it started to affect Baldwin himself, making change the type of person he was. When he realized this, it was concluded that he, “strives to get the story out and open up the eyes of the people and society.” I think that is a great point that would affect the readers understanding. Good job!

  4. It’s great how you picked out how society fueled his father’s hatred, and, therefore, fueled his relationship with his father. His father’s “disease” is what made him so angry and harmful toward his children. Baldwin didn’t see that until he left and experienced what his father had experienced. All in all, society is what made his father such a crazy man, but Baldwin finds out that it was not surprising that that happened. Good post!

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