Thursday, April 8, 2010

James Baldwin's 'Going to Meet the Man'

I find that James Baldwin’s ‘Going to Meet the Man’ has several important themes that would be beneficial to point out and look further into. First of all, it demonstrates how humans are not born with racist thoughts, but that they arise during childhood, and from being exposed to racist behaviors and attitudes. The character Jesse was once an innocent child, who even was friends with another black child, but then was influenced by his father’s racist beliefs. His father made Jesse excited to witness the lynching of the black man, and made Jesse believe that black people are ‘bad’. Therefore, Jesse had a disliking for black people from very early in his lifetime, simply from the influences of others, and not because of any personal experience that would identify blacks as evil. I believe this is seen in racist individuals in today’s society as well. For example, an individual’s background and childhood environment seems to have a big impact on whether how racist one is. Usually, it is one’s parents who have the greatest impact on the individual, and therefore, will most likely have similar beliefs that their parents had, even if they are from past generations with past experiences. I believe this leads to another theme, which is the connection between a father and his son. Jesse, in wanting to feel connected and to be accepted by his father, was naturally open in believing anything his father had told him. This reminds me of Freud’s Oedipus Complex. Freud said that children have a sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex. In this instance, sons have a sexual longing for their mother, and when this cannot be achieved, an effect is a closeness to their father. Jesse’s sexual longing for his mother is shown in the following sentences: “He wanted to call his mother, but he knew his father wouldn’t like this. He heard his mother’s moan and his father’s sigh; he gritted his teeth. His father’s breathing seemed to fill the world” (p.1756). When he knows he can’t have her because of his father, there is resentment, and he wants to be connected and respected by his father.

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