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The Different Kinds of Journeys Depicted in James Baldwin’s Essay

James Baldwin can be considered as one of the most popular and well-loved Black American authors that has ever lived. Although he can be remembered as someone who have always traveled, he was still branded as a true American writer because he has never forgotten to look back and write about his experiences in the white America (“James Baldwin”). Baldwin who was born in Harlem in 1924, grew up as the oldest of the nine children from a very simple and humbled family. As a boy who grew up in poverty, Baldwin held on tight to his faith with the help of his father’s guidance and sermons as a preacher.

To him, his faith was one of his strongest arms against the cruel fates of life. And although he completely understood that time how difficult life could still get for him as a black American, he believed in himself and in his craft in expressing himself through written words. This indeed have been his greatest inspiration that pushed him to becoming the greatest and the most inspirational author as how he is known today. Baldwin became popular for his very inspiring stories that mostly delved on the spiritual aspect of living.

He would often refer to biblical scriptures and stories and would name his characters after biblical characters. One of his most popular works on this is the Go Tell it on the Mountains which starred a 14-year old John Grimes who has caught the sympathy and as well as the interest of a lot of readers. John Grimes, who can be seen as someone who is exactly like his author in real life seemed to has also gone through several challenging journeys as what Baldwin himself experienced. Physical Journeys

The beginning of the story starts by introducing the main protagonist, John Grimes who realizes that it is his fourteenth birthday. By this thought, a lot about John growing up was also introduced. This can be considered as one of his physical journeys. It can be observed that growing up seemed quite challenging for John. Now, he seem to understand things that he did not know about in the beginning; and at times, he seemed confused about his discoveries. He would also experience typical urges growing boys go through like sexual urges, and this would bother him a lot.

As told in the story, John was one time very guilty of having ‘sinned his hand’ or masturbated. This is well understood nowadays as a typical indication of puberty and adolescence. However, considering the position of Gabriel, John’s father in church and their very stern and authoritative spiritual beliefs, he sees this act as immoral and unacceptable. During this time when he seem to have been torn between his natural adolescent sexual urges and his religious beliefs, he “ watched in himself a transformation of which he could never speak” (Baldwin 18).

Just like typical adolescents, growing up may indeed be a journey. And as seen in John’s situation, it is indeed a process where in one would often times have a hard time in coping but at the same time it is also a journey that everybody has to go through first before becoming an ultimate individual. But aside from this kind of physical journey, another of this kind seemed to rose in the story when the cruel physical maltreatments to John and his mother, Elizabeth was revealed.

It is obvious since the beginning that Gabriel did not show much affection to John as a father. Although John would relate this to his usual forgetfulness of bringing his Holy Book, as it appears, his father’s bitter treatment to him roots from something else which is much deeper than his forgetfulness of bringing his bible. And towards the latter part of the novel it was revealed that this perceivable hatred and bitterness actually comes from John being a child of wedlock, which also reveals that Gabriel is just his step father.

Because of this, Gabriel’s anger on John’s existence was manifested through beatings and maltreatments that John tolerated as his way of submitting to his father – which he believed is one way of submitting to God as well. This can be considered as one of John’s most difficult journeys as this went on for a long time. For a period of time, he could not question the pain caused by his father since it would look like he is also questioning the authority of God- basing it from their religious beliefs. But aside from John, his mother, Elizabeth also suffered constant beatings.

Gabriel would hurt her from time to time whenever he remembers the shameful relationships Elizabeth had before which later on resulted to John’s birth. And just like John, his mother would also tolerate this kind of cruelty since they treat Gabriel with such a high regard considering his position in their church. Emotional Journeys John never really felt affection from his father. And because of the his frequent forgetfulness which “earned him the wrath of his father,” he felt more pain instead of companionship and support that is expected by a son from his father (5).

Because of this, he constantly envied his brother Roy who always appeared to him as his father’s favorite. Gabriel would always show his affection to Roy, that of which John have always yearned for. Aside from this, Gabriel always seemed to challenge John in different aspects. The story revealed that Gabriel never grew contented of John’s performance may it be at school or at his hobbies and interests. Also, he never seemed to look at John as a possible heir to his position in the church. These are despite the neighborhood’s high regard to John’s straight practices and satisfactory performance at school.

Although a lot of people looked at him with high impressions, it was still his father’s admiration and affection that he always yearned for. This reveals another of John’s most difficult journeys- the journey of going through an emotional challenge as an unaccepted son. However, if readers will look closely into Gabriel’s character, it can be seen that he himself has also been through a lot which made him the stern and authoritative figure that his family knew. Gabriel can be seen as a product of a very racist environment.

With so many issues about slavery, prejudice and discrimination around, he himself grew up in a state where in he never enjoyed the typical joys of a growing child. Hatred, animosity and hostility filled up his heart which carried on as he was growing old. And this can be attributed to the inescapable harsh realities that he had to go through as he was growing up. This can be seen as one root where all his cruelty come from. Because knowing that a person did not know any warm, friendly and loving environment in his life, it can be quite understandable that he would not show any warmth, friendliness and love as well.

This background of Gabriel can be considered as his emotional journey as well. Because although it was not at all good, he had no choice but to deal with it since it was inescapable during his time. Understanding this aspect of Gabriel’s background may shed some light in understanding why he cannot show any affection to people who cause him bitterness. Spiritual Journeys While growing up “everyone has always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father” (3). This is despite the fact that John and his father’s relationship was not at all good and in harmony.

While John was growing up he was taught in church that by following his father, he is also following God. Having this in mind, he tolerated every blow and every punch that his father relentlessly gives on him even though at times his heart could barely take it anymore. This was one of the challenges that John had to go through in his very challenging spiritual journey. In his awareness, it was taught that their church is the best and the highest when it comes to spirituality and morality. With this, he believed that everything that is preached inside that church is true.

However, several of these preaching came in contradiction and in question with his own experiences. As he tolerates the painful blows and the bitter treatments from his father, John questions if God- whom his father suppose to resembles- will also let his children suffer in pain the way he does. Also he often questions people’s practice of going to church looking so respectable when he himself could see all of them sin everyday. Aside from this, his spiritual beliefs also conflicted with his natural urges during the time he got sexually stimulated and decided to masturbate.

In the back of his mind he questions how such a pleasurable act can be so sinful when it is one’s natural body asking for it. Thus, John’s spiritual journey can be seen to be more about confusion and questions that make the whole concept of religion a blur for him; that although he believes there is a god, the rules and limitations that this god’s church imposes on people seems to be in conflict with what naturally feels right and appropriate for him. That although he painfully suffers from his father’s hands, he could not fight back since it would seem like fighting the lord.

Critical and Analytical Response to Baldwin’s Work In real life, it will appear that these abovementioned journeys of the characters, John, Elizabeth and Gabriel are being experienced by real people as well. And in looking closer to the characters, it may also seem that most of these things were experienced by James Baldwin himself. As a black American, Baldwin also went through several times of being discriminated as a black. There have definitely been times when he felt how it was to be maltreated because of his color.

Also, Baldwin might have also gone through the same confusions as what John went through while he was growing up. And just like the main protagonist, Baldwin might probably have questioned a lot of things about his religion as well. Indeed, this novel appears to be a partial reflection of Baldwin’s life. That despite his confusions and inner conflicts, he remained faithful to his beliefs and to his ability which pushed him to survive even the toughest of times. The command of language as well as the organization of thoughts were impeccable in this work of Baldwin.

The dialogues may often seem like real words being enunciated loudly by the characters themselves that strike really hard into the readers’ hearts. Also, Baldwin has this ability of knowing the softest parts of people’s heart and putting a slight pinch on them through the things in his novel where people can easily relate to. His strong faith religious views can be clearly seen to have had impacts on how well-molded his characters have become and how influential they were able to become in the eyes of the readers.

And as it seems, only an author who have been most challenged about the things he writes about can be the most effective and inspiring. What the story actually explains is that in a person’s life, he or she may go through several journeys. Some of these journeys may appear very easy to go through while some may be very difficult to cope with. In John’s life, he may have had several confusions, questions and inner conflicts. He may have had emotional challenges and physical disturbances and traumas.

But what held him together was his strong faith to the Supreme Being who guides him and to his own abilities to survive and be the best person that he could be. Just like him, his mother and father have had difficult journeys too, but the common stronghold among the three of them are their strong faiths. That although Gabriel has his own emotional issues, his being a preacher at least kept him on the right moral direction. And that although Elizabeth has been emotionally and physically tortured as well, his faith was also what kept her strong for her children.

That despite identity, emotional and physical crises, spiritual strength will always get people through. Truly, having been able to present these kinds of images and sending this kind of message through a novel, Baldwin deserves the title of being one the most inspirational American authors. Works Cited Baldwin, James. Go Tell it on the Mountain. New York: Random House, Inc. , 1995. (pp. 5, 18) “James Baldwin: The Author. ” American Masters. Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. 22 July 2009. <http://www. pbs. org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/james-baldwin/about-the-author/59/>.


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