Baldwin/Wright/Hurston

Baldwin/Wright:

James Baldwin, to say the least, is quite opinionated in his views on the protest novel. First and foremost, he completely dismisses the idea of anything related to a protest novel on behalf of human rights. There is a possibility of achievement in his views regarding humans, stating that “he is not, after all, merely a member of a Society or a Group or a deplorable conundrum to be explained by Science. He is — and how old fashioned the words sound! — something more than that, something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable” (Baldwin 15). The complexity of the human makes it difficult to transfer over any concrete ideas/symbolisms/what-have-you into any type of literature. To write simply of protest makes it almost silly because it not only stereotypes the writer, but it also places him/her into a tight, limited writing sphere.

When I finished reading Baldwin, I was more than curious to see what Wright had to say about Negro Literature (especially since there was supposed to be a heated debate between these two fellas). What I found in “Blueprint for Negro Literature” was too much of a master plan. Wright writes too manually in relation to the Negro’s responsibility in White society. He writes in a fashion which is very related to the Lenin and other leaders of the Communist Party. Wright focuses the importance of the masses to rise up, and when speaking of Negro writers, he states that “two separate cultures sprang up: one for the Negro masses, crude, instinctive, unwritten, and unrecognized; and the other the sons and daughters of a rising Negro bourgeoisie, bloodless, petulant, mannered, and neurotic” (Wright 3).

In direct conflict with Baldwin, Wright states that “every short story, novel, poem, and play should carry within its lines, implied or explicit, a sense of the oppression of the Negro people, the danger of war, of fascism, of the threatened destruction of culture and civilization; and too, the faith and necessity to build a new world” (Wright 4).  It is here that I couldn’t help but side with Baldwin argument. While Wright has a pretty steady case, he does not take into consideration the reality. The masses rising up could be possible, of course, but how long will that endeavor take? Baldwin remains loyal to the present. While one focuses on the realism, the other moves more towards hopefulness. Hopefully the masses will rise against the injustices, but as Baldwin so boldly states “our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only to do what is infinitely more difficult — that is, accept it”.

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Hurston:

Why is folklore so important to the Negro community? And while trying to figure out it’s importance, one must also take into consideration the ways in which this folklore is received and given to the public. While the Uncle Remus stories were quite popular for a long period of time, those tales were studied by the White man. In her introduction to “Mules and Men”, Zora Neal Hurston states that “we smile and tell him or her something that satisfies the white person because, knowing so little about us, he doesn’t know what he is missing”. Do her experiences in Florida make the African American folkore collected any better or worse than those of Joel Chandler Harris?

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6 responses to “Baldwin/Wright/Hurston

  1. Leah

    I was slightly disappointed by Wright’s Blueprint. It felt exactly like a blue print – an outline, a rigid set of rules one must follow, but there wasn’t a real means of accomplishing the goals he desires. Instead, it put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Negro writers without offering insight as to how Negro writers can reach the desired dream. Obviously a mixture of Baldwin and Wright would be required in order for Negro writers to write about their goals and dreams, while at the same time inspiring other Negroes to do the same. I think Baldwin’s statement: “our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only to do what is infinitely more difficult — that is, accept it” needs a little Wright behind it. I think Negroes can accept and embrace their differences and position in life, however, I think it is always important for people to strive for something better. Without the desire Wright speaks of, progress can never be made.

  2. I didn’t agree with either Balwin’s or Wright’s approach to Negro writing. I felt that on Baldwin’s end he felt like Wright was simply continuing the tradition of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, claiming that he fed into this idea of whiteness and the need for the black community to presume themselves to need to be washed as “white as snow” as the white man’s religion (according to Baldwin) teaches. I felt like his argument was interesting because he seemed to place a high value of HOW a protest novel should be written, more so than WHY. His views to me seemed narrow-minded because he comes up with this idea of an exact way of writing Negro literature and how it should really be representative of the times in which the author is living in, which I think is more irrelevant than not. When a book is read over a 50 year period for example it’s sustainability is the fact that it can be related to 50 different years rather than the moment in which the author wrote, and what his intentions necessarily were. Now Wright, my problem with him is the fact that he manages to spew his communist beliefs shamelessly in his writing. His blueprint–rightfully called so–explores not just Negro writing but writing about the Working Class. He seems more hung up on his communist believes than actually emancipating the minds of Negro people. Neither approach is appealing to me because they are both extreme approaches to the same problem or how and why we should write and/or read Negro literature.

  3. darise15

    The denial of life is the failure of the protest novel, says Baldwin. He argues that Wright fails in denying the beauty of life through his portrayal of young, black Bigger Thomas. I agree that Wright fails in presenting any beauty of the black experience — Native Son offers little hope and presents life largely from a perspective of fear. I think that Wright does succeed, however, in examining critical social issues and gets down to looking at why Bigger lives in fear of white society and why he surrenders to violence. Baldwin acknowledges that this kind of examination is the aim of the protest novel — “to bring greater freedom to the oppressed.”

    Freedom comes with having a voice. Hurston notes the “feather bed resistance” black people often use just to satisfy a white person. I think this resistance to speak or to tell one’s story fosters oppression. She says “knowing so little about us, he doesn’t know what he is missing.” I think there is a direct correlation between knowledge and freedom. Hurston, then, is protesting silence, which I believe, she argues as continuing the legacy of oppression.

  4. josephtruscello

    Baldwin asserts that Bigger Thomas’ fears, his belief that he is sub-human, and the fact that he feels constrained are some of the primary reasons why Native Son is “a compliment of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy.” So does Baldwin mean to say that any person who has this kind of low self-esteem is also lacking in humanity? I agree with Aubrea that Wright’s infusion of communist thought does hinder his work, but does the fact that Bigger has fears and social incapacities make him inhuman? The question of Bigger’s believability is still very interesting to me. Baldwin asserts that the fury omnipresent in Native Son takes away from its truth. But isn’t rage something that human’s feel? Isn’t fear? Is it the kind of fear that Bigger feels that Baldwin cannot come to terms with? What makes Bigger’s fear false? Is it the fact that it is fused with Wright’s own political intentions? If so, it seems that for Baldwin any kind of intention, beyond that of representation, is false. I understand this, but does Go Tell it on the Mountain embody this? Do Baldwin’s characters embody the humanity of which he speaks? They might. I’m honestly not sure. Though, it seems that Baldwin does have some intentions with regard to his articulation of religion. And would those intentions falsify his work?

  5. Sabrina

    Wright asks, “Shall Negro writing be for the lives and consciousness of the Negro masses, moulding those lives and consciousness toward new goals, or shall it continue begging the question of the Negroes’ humanity?” In Wright’s opinion these are the questions which illustrate the current separation of black culture into that of “the Negro masses, crude, instinctive….and the sons and daughters of a rising Negro bourgeoisies, bloodless petulant, mannered.” Wright seeks to unite the black community in some way through writing, but he leaves no middle ground (except that of the worker) where one group would not have to be lifted up or lowered. White culture is not solely to be blamed; Wright himself creates this hierarchy. Neither Baldwin nor Wright are comfortable with accepting the multiplicity of black experience and writing. They have put themselves into the “thrust and counter-thrust” that Baldwin laments. By seeking to place black cultural expression into some sort of homogenous whole, both authors are stripping writers of the possibilities of hitting their various audiences where they are in life, not where Baldwin or Wright would like them to be.

  6. Jonathan

    Despite the criticisms, and deserved ones at that, I felt the most connection with Wright’s piece. First of all, it was extremely well organized and extremely convincing. I thought that this “Blueprint” transcended the Communist doctrine and spoke eloquently on several important and vital subjects. “Negro writers must live onthe heights of their time and weave their subject manner into artistic patterns and suffuse these patterns with their will to live.” This line nicely summarizes Wright’s ultimate motivation. Not simply Communist revolution or artistic “realignment,” but a call to action and a call for a resurgance of artistic expression. I thought the blueprint was organized, relevant and poignant.

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