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American Protest Literature Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Mar 25th, 2019

The literary work that will be focused on will be “the fire next time” which is a book written by James Baldwin in 1963.

The book contains two essays which include “My Dungeon Shook-Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary Emancipation” which discusses the central role of race in American history written in the form of a letter addressed to Baldwin’s 14-year old nephew and the second “Down at The Cross- Letter from a Region of My Mind” which deals with the relationship between race and religion based on Baldwin’s personal experiences with Christianity and Islam when he was young.

These two essays were used by Baldwin to provide a more extensive meaning of the Negro Problem or racial tensions that existed in America during the 1960s.

The purpose of this assessment will be to determine whether this book qualifies to be identified as a piece of protest literature and the various areas the author has chosen which represent protest literature.

American protest literature is referred to as a form of literary work that has been written to create some form of awareness within a society that has been subjected to various forms of injustice.

This type of literature is meant to highlight the struggle of these communities so that they can be able to overcome the atrocities and abuses they have been subjected to over certain durations of time. Baldwin’s book qualifies for protest literature because it addresses issues to do with American history and also Christianity and the Islamic faith.

The first few pages of the book focus on the first essay where Baldwin writes a dedicatory letter to his 14 year old nephew and namesake James. Baldwin basically advises his nephew on how to deal with the racist society of America in which he was born.

The letter basically offers some form of evaluation on the situation of blacks in America after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed to give the African American society freedom from the white oppressors. Baldwin basically addresses his nephew by pointing out that much of the difficulties the Negro community experienced in the white dominant country were known to the various members of the black society.

The letter represents some form of protest writing where he tells his nephew that he believes the Negros (as they were known then) had to take the high road when showing the white Americans how to live a good and proper life (Baldwin 4-6).

In his letter, Baldwin talks about the Negro community of America at times terming them as ignorant and also innocent to the actions of the white American society. He generally describes this community to be one that is strong to the various adversities and brutalities inflicted on them by the white Americans.

He also describes them as having an unassailable resilience since they were able to overcome the most terrifying odds to achieve freedom from slavery and racial discrimination which had been directed towards them for a considerable length of time by the white society.

This letter is basically meant to reaffirm the importance of the Negro community to Baldwin’s nephew despite the actions of the various members of the community (Baldwin 6-8).

Baldwin (9) tells his nephew not to lose faith in his community as a result of their actions against those who sought to defeat their existence in the white society.

In the last part of the essay, Baldwin (8-10) talks about how the African American community has been able to overcome the imposed values and belief systems of the white society where they have for example defeated the intention of spelling their names properly and also practising their religion.

This reflects protest writing as the writer speaks of how the Negro community was empowered to refuse any form of racial discrimination and slavery imposed on them by the white man. He addresses the aspect of integration by saying that the white society members should accept them as they are and stop fleeing from the reality of the social situation in America (10).

In the second part of the book titled “Down at the Cross” Baldwin focuses on religious and race matters by assessing his own background as a Christian minister during his teenage years. In the very first parts of this section, he recounts his religious experiences as a fourteen year old boy by offering an insight into the religion of the Negros (16).

He talks about how he joined the church to escape from the brutality and atrocities committed against his fellow brothers because the church offered him some apparent form of safety from the dangers that were in the street.

His escape to the church was also attributed to the moral decay that was being experienced in the Black community of that time. He describes how prostitution had become a problem especially in the place called the Avenue where all the socially immoral members of the black community headed to engage in immoral behaviour (Baldwin 17).

In the second part of the “Down at the Cross” essay, Baldwin dismisses religion especially that practiced by the African Americans to be one that is not taken seriously because they have failed to live up to the ideals that were taught by Jesus in the Bible.

He views it to be more of an escapist religion where the African Americans engage in worship to demonstrate their innocence to the racial discrimination they are being subjected to.

The Christian Negros failed to practice the principles of faith, hope, love and charity especially when they began to castigate the other members of society who did not observe Christian practices. Their religion was more dramatic and unreserved when compared to that of the white American society (Baldwin 15-22).

Baldwin also talks about the Muslim movement which was beginning to rise within the African American community where he tries to come to terms with the religion of Islam, Prophet Mohammed and other important religious leaders of the Islamic religion (46).

Baldwin in his assessment of the Islamic faith focused on Elijah Muhammad (47) who was an African American religious leader during the 1960s. Muhammad led the Nation of Islam from 1934 to 1975 where he taught his African American followers on the ways of Islam.

Elijah viewed Christianity as the white man’s rationale for oppressing the Negros because the basic foundation of the African American religion was founded on white Christianity (Baldwin 44-50).

Baldwin criticised Elijah’s teachings because they were mostly centred on racial hatred that was not any better from the racial hatred the white people directed towards the African American society.

Elijah saw the Christian religion as an extension of white rule and racial discrimination against black people. He believed that God was black and that he should have been addressed as Allah, the chosen one who has been selected to end the white devil’s domination in the African American society (Baldwin 49).

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. The fire next time. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

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