The Moral Landscape of Pre essay

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On the threshold of the Civil Rights movement, Baldwin would publish
Notes of a Native Son. Though 1953's Go Tell It On The Mountain would be
perhaps Baldwin's best known work, it is this explicitly referential
dialogic follow-up to Wright's
Native Son that would invoke some of the most compelling insights which
Baldwin would have to offer on the subject of American racism. This is,
indeed, a most effectively lucid examination from the perspective of a
deeply self-conscious writer enduring the twin marks in a nation of
virulent prejudice of being both African American and homosexual. The
result of this vantage is a set of essays that reaches accord with Wright's
conception of the socially devastating impact of segregation on the psyche,
conscience and real opportunity but also one that takes issue with the
brutality of Bigger, a decidedly negative image to be invoked of the black
man in America.
In his own personage and in that which he discusses, Baldwin proves a
counterpoint to the figure in Bigger. A sensitive and saddened respondent
to his circumstances, the 'native son' of this text is compelled by deep
sense of purpose to resist the implications that would instead cut the
character of Bigger Thomas down to something fairly inhuman. To this
point, we are given something of his psyche when he notes that "any writer
. . . feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a
conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent-which attitude certainly
has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the
world looks on his talent with such frightening indifference that the
artist is compelled to make his talent important." Baldwin, 4) Though in
an of itself this sentiment seems not to directly concern the speaker's
race, it does come to implicate the America in Baldwin's experience as a
cold and indifferent place. Where this turns a character such as Bigger
into a yet colder and more inherently cruel figure, it denotes a greater
need for self-assertion and sensitivity in Baldwin.
Quite to this idea we might concede to think of Baldwin as a moral
conscience and an ideological leader for the thinking, sensitive and
reasoning black American, whose existence was generally obscured. But for
Baldwin, this also would present a distinct challenge to his life and
ambitions, for as he sought to express himself against the odds generally
facing a writer, he did so also under the thumb of an America that hardly
sought the types of insights he wished to provide. As Baldwin would
report, "one writes out of one thing only-one's own experience. Everything
depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop,
sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of
the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is
art. The difficulty then, for me, of being a Negro writer was the fact
that I was, in effect, prohibited from examining my own experience too
closely by the tremendous demands the very real dangers of my social
situation." (Baldwin, 7) As to these dangers, they were certainly not
merely theoretically.
His history demonstrates Baldwin to have been actively involved in
the Civil Rights movement and to have cultivated friendships with Martin
Luther King, Malcolm X and Medger Evers alike. (Wikipedia, 1) To witness
each of these bold men assassinated for little more than the aggressive
moral imperative with which he pursued that which was right in the equality
of all races was to reinforce Baldwin's prescient belief in the danger of
his own declarations. And yet, he would posit the ambitions of an
intellectual 'native son,' somewhat directly drawing an ironic connotation
upon Wright's text. Perhaps this would denote something in the progress of
the Civil Rights movement-as opposed to America's own moral posturing-which
would become increasingly hostile when threaten with the deconstruction of
its immoral system. With the ideological thrust of thinkers like Baldwin
and his activist contemporaries though, the push for change would also
Thus, in 1957, the integration of public school in Little Rock,
Arkansas touched off a battle which would be waged between blacks and Civil
Rights advocates on one side, and the political establishment and its rabid
base of public support on the other side. The confrontation in which the
state's governor called in the National Guard to prevent the desegregation
of his school speaks directly to the methods which, only 50 years ago, were
at the disposal of racist policy-makers.
Indeed, at that time, "the legislative, executive, and judicial
department of the state government opposed the desegregation of Little Rock
schools by enacting laws, calling out troops, making statements vilifying
federal law and federal courts, and failing to utilize state law
enforcement agencies and judicial processes to maintain public peace."
(Gilliam, 62) A range of responses that suggest a high level of
institutional certainty in the moral rightness of maintaining such a
system, these were the manifestations of a broad base of public girding for
the standards of separation which had in many ways preserved the
expectations of white racial superiority in the south.
This speaks to the ways in which the moral situation had both been
altered by time and had in other regards remained unfortunately intact.
Indeed, for African Americans in the coming decades to follow, the Civil
Rights movement would be motivated the conditions and inequalities that had
created a figure like Wright's Bigger Thomas. The character's anger and
maladjustment would point to an untenable set of separate and unequal
living conditions that promoted massive disadvantage and a pointed
vulnerability to the conditions of violence, despair, resentment and moral
disregard that are demonstrated in the above-noted character.
Again, in returning to the narrative of Bigger's life, we are given a
startling demonstration of how extensively this condition has served to
remove the man from a sense of his own humanity. This circumstances of
Bigger's crimes, even if indirectly and through accidental misfortune,
resulted in the series of gruesome acts which ended with Bigger accused
guilty of rape and a pair of murders; of Mary and his alcoholic girlfriend
Bessie. Though Mary's death was not intentional, its circumstances would
prove unforgivable. If Bigger's malicious thoughts prior to the
manslaughter were not sufficient to illustrate the resentment derived of
his racial status, certainly the vindication he expresses thereafter
suggests his view of the act as being morally justified by sociological
conditions. Again, here is reinforced the point that in a morally bankrupt
social landscape, such behaviors become considerably more likely to occur.
And in the brutality with which they occur here, there is little denying
their connection to a sense of black Americans having been more generally
brutalized by an unequal social condition. Thus, after the gruesome
depiction of his decapitating Mary and concealing her body in the furnace,
Bigger contemplates his situation. Here, Wright tells that "he was
conscious of this quiet, warm, clean, rich house, this room with this bed
so soft, the wealthy white people moving in luxury to all sides of him,
whites, living in a smugness, a security, a certainty that he had never
known. The knowledge that he had killed a white girl they loved and
regarded as this symbol of beauty made him feel the equal of them, like a
man who had been somehow cheated, but had now evened the score." (Wright,
The idea expressed here once again enforces this concept that some
equality of moral action has been perpetrated, not simply justifying
Bigger's behavior, but even justifying the type of man that he has become.
His moral distortion was reflective of a morally distorted universe. This
sense of moral equalization would not last long as Bigger concocts a
loosely constructed plan to forge a kidnapping and levy ransom money from
the family. It does not take long, however, for Bigger's poorly conceived
attempts to cover his tracks to unravel, particularly when Mary's remains
surface. Bigger's flight and subsequent brutalization of his girlfriend
culminates in a violent gunfire exchange with police officers on the roof
of an abandoned building in Chicago's Black Belt.
His incarceration, trial and execution provide him with an
opportunity, however, to finally come to an understanding about his actions
in relation to the set of racial circumstances that had delivered him to
the world. Herein, he comes to understand that his divided identity had
moved him through life engaged in a constant struggle for moral resolution.
Rectification of the rift between the American in him and the black man in
him was perpetually evasive. Though there is redemption in the notion that
Bigger is forced face to face with the causes and the effects of his
actions, Wright does not flinch from doling out a harsh resolution. As
Bigger drifts helplessly from capture to execution, he laments over…[continue]

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