Notes of a Native Son

By james baldwin, notes of a native son summary and analysis of notes of a native son.

This 1955 essay describes parallel events that occur in the summer of 1943. On July 29th, James Baldwin ’s stepfather David Baldwin dies of tuberculosis-related complications in the Long Island mental hospital where he had been committed for paranoid schizophrenia. The day of his father’s (as he calls him) funeral, a race riot breaks out in Harlem. The same day is also Baldwin’s 19th birthday. “ Notes of a Native Son ” centers on the coincidence of these events.

In the essay, Baldwin uses the memorable metaphor of “a wilderness of smashed plate glass” to describe what Harlem looked like after the riot. With camera-like accuracy, he describes the cereal, sardines, milk, bed sheets, and other objects littering the streets. The scene is apocalyptic, like the Christian apocalypse that Baldwin’s father, a preacher, believed in but in which Baldwin never had faith.

Mediating on his father’s death, Baldwin outlines the differences between them. The first is a generational difference: David Balwin’s mother was born during slavery while David grew up in New Orleans as part of the first generation of free black men. He migrated to the North in 1919. He was a handsome man, Baldwin notes, with a power and charm stemming from his blackness and beauty. Yet David Baldwin had difficulty communicating with other people. He was both bitter and proud, a quality which James Baldwin says he shares. The secret behind his father’s bitterness was “the weight of white people in the world.” Baldwin says that this bitterness ultimately killed his father and could kill him as well. His father was literally sick, as well. Paranoia that his family was going to poison him at mealtime led them to seek psychiatric help. Realizing that his father was clinically paranoid helped Baldwin give meaning to his father’s harshness, but did not make it easy to forgive him.

Baldwin and his father had differences of opinion. When Baldwin was 9 or 10, a white school teacher took an interest in him. She gave him books and took him out to see plays. The first time she came to pick him up at home, his father was skeptical and did not understand what she wanted. Eventually, this teacher became a friend of the family, offering support in hard times, but Baldwin’s father remained suspicious. He told Baldwin that white people may act nicely sometimes, but they “would do anything to keep a Negro down.” The best thing to do, he would tell his son, is to have as little to do with them as possible. Baldwin rejected this perspective then, but the following anecdote in the essay shows how Baldwin came to understand his father’s bitterness and suspicion.

The year of his father’s death, Baldwin worked in a defense plant in New Jersey. This was during the Second World War. Most of the people working in the plant were Southerners, both black and white. Though Baldwin knew about the segregationist Jim Crow laws, he had grown up in New York and had never visited the South. Interacting with the Southerners made him realize more about what it means to be black in America: "I learned in New Jersey that to be a Negro meant, precisely, that one was never looked at but was simply at the mercy of the reflexes the color of one's skin caused in other people." Because there was still segregation, Baldwin’s experiences trying to go out in New Jersey reinforced this realization. When he went to a diner for a hamburger and coffee, the food never arrived. Eventually, he was told, “Negroes aren’t served here.” He went all over New Jersey and experienced the same thing. Yet the more he was kicked out, the more he tried anyway. The people in the community began to think he was crazy.

Describing that year in New Jersey, Baldwin describes himself as contracting “some dread, chronic disease” that manifested as a “blind fever, a pounding in the skull and fire in the bowels.” Once you have this disease, it is impossible to relax again for it will always come back. Though Baldwin does not specifically name the cause of this disease, it is a kind of rage caused by racism. He writes that “There is not a Negro alive who does not have this rage in his blood.” The only choice is whether or not to surrender to it.

To illustrate the effects of this “fever,” Baldwin describes an experience when a white friend from New York took him to a movie theater and a diner in Trenton, New Jersey. At the diner, ironically called the “American Diner,” Baldwin was told, “We don’t serve Negroes here.” He ran out into the street in a rage, imagining a massive crowd of white faces pushing against him, which he had the burning desire to “crush” as they were crushing him. He ends up in front of a fashionable restaurant and goes in despite knowing that they will not serve him. He sits down and is ignored. Eventually, a white waitress appears who looks scared of Baldwin and tells him somewhat apologetically that African Americans aren’t served at this establishment. He is filled with the urge to strike her. He picks up a water-jug from the table and throws towards her, but it smashes loudly into a mirror. Customers and workers began to beat him. He narrowly makes it outside where his friend is waiting for him, telling him to run to safety while he distracts the angry crowd.

In hindsight, Baldwin says, “I could not get over two facts [about this incident], both equally difficult for the imagination to grasp, and one was that I could have been murdered. But the other was that I had been ready to commit murder." This can be read as an example of the fever rage Baldwin describes previously. It is a kind of hatred in the heart.

Baldwin then moves into discussing his family and, from there, Harlem. Just as his father was slowly dying and his unborn baby sister was taking her time leaving her mother’s stomach, Harlem was also waiting for something in this period. In these early years of American involvement in WWII, black draftees were sent to the South for military training before being sent out overseas. Similarly, like Baldwin, many were sent to work in defense plants making military supplies. News of the terrible conditions for African Americans in defense plants and army camps in the South came back to family and friends in the North. People were angry and there were rumors of enormous growth in everyday violence in places like Harlem. Ministers, social workers, and politicians all began looking for a way to cool the anger. In Harlem, Baldwin recounts, there were police all over the place. News of violence put everyone on edge. Similarly, “small knots of people,” Harlem residents, began gathering in doorways and on corners. These unlikely groups combining elderly churchgoers and young “sleazy girls,” con-men and retirees, were not saying much of anything but were communicating, Baldwin says, without speaking.

Baldwin moves from the situation on the Harlem streets to his father’s funeral. The preacher’s eulogy makes his father sound kinder than he was, Baldwin thinks, but then he remembers times when he was young and his father was gentle with him. His father especially liked when young James sang in the church choir and began preaching as a teenager. A long passage discusses how hidden behind the harshness of black parents is a desire to teach children ways of surviving in a difficult world, which Baldwin describes as “poison.” Yet there was so little communication between Baldwin and his father that he never understood his motivations.

The night of the funeral, Baldwin celebrates his birthday with a friend in Manhattan. Elsewhere in the city, a black soldier fights with a white man over a black woman. The soldier is shot and though there were various rumors about exactly what happened, it is enough to finally set Harlem off. "The effect, in Harlem, of this particular legend was like the effect of a lit match in a tin of gasoline,” Baldwin writes, using a powerful simile. Though the riot did not actually cross beyond the ghetto line into white neighborhoods, the rioters were not going after the “white face” but rather “white power,” symbolized through white businesses in Harlem. Baldwin attempts to understand why this riot occurred, writing that “to smash something is the ghetto's chronic need.” Yet this smashing does not typically spread outside the neighborhood. The reason, Baldwin writes, is “the Negro's real relation to the white American.” This is a relationship far more complicated than simple hatred: “In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind—and the heart—that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose." Yet to love this white world is not easy either, it is too “ignorant” and “innocent.” The result is that one always has dueling impulses that contradict each other: “It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both white and black. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene." Neither is a viable option.

Baldwin ends by saying that the situation of race in America leads him to suggest two opposed ideas that one must hold in one’s mind at the same time. The first is that life and people are flawed. But does this mean one must simply accept injustice? This leads Baldwin to the second idea, that one must never be complacent about injustice but must fight it. And fighting it begins with keeping hatred and despair out of one's heart.

This essay is the central piece of Notes of a Native Son , to which it lends its name. The piece powerfully moves between different topics and themes, from Baldwin’s father’s death to Baldwin's relationship with his father to the Harlem riots. He uses the coincidence in dates between this death, the birth of his sister, his own birthday, and the outbreak of the riots to make subtle points about how public history and personal history overlap. For example, the lack of communication between Baldwin and his father is juxtaposed with the silent communication that exists between residents of Harlem as tensions in the neighborhoods rise.

Similarly, historical events intimately shape personal life. One reason for the distance between Baldwin and his father is the distance between the periods in which they grew up. Baldwin’s father was the first in his family to be born in a time without slavery. He was part of the Great Migration, a mass movement of African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s from the South to the cities of the North. Historical events also shape Baldwin’s life. US involvement in WWII leads up to work in the New Jersey defense plant, where he encounters a specifically Southern and Jim Crow style of discrimination.

Another important theme of the essay is how racism affects one’s psychological or inner life. Baldwin contrasts his father’s bitterness and rage at the white world with his own approach, one which tries to avoid hatred but inevitably falls into it. Like the virus that Baldwin describes in relation to the night he almost killed or got killed in New Jersey, once an African American catches this sickness of the heart it is impossible to be fully cured. The essay ends with Baldwin’s attempt to find his way out between two contradictory ideas: accepting things as they are or never being complacent with injustice. This way of looking at the world overlaps with W. E. B. Du Bois's idea of black 'double-consciousness,’ which describes how African Americans see themselves with the eyes of a society that despises them. Though Baldwin ends the essay determined not to let hate destroy him, he knows that love is no simple answer either.

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Notes of a Native Son Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for Notes of a Native Son is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

Note of a Native Son by James

This is really asking for your opinion. I don't know what meant something to you. It is a personal question.

In what month and year do the events of the essay take place?

Notes of a Native Son is a collection of essays written and published by the African-American author James Baldwin. Your question depends on which essay you are referring to.

What is the author’s goal in this book? And what kind of effect does he want his book to have in the world?

Baldwin believes that one cannot understand America without understanding race. Yet this does not only mean looking at the experiences of African Americans, though this is crucial. Baldwin argues that the racial system in America (the history of...

Study Guide for Notes of a Native Son

Notes of a Native Son study guide contains a biography of James Baldwin, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • About Notes of a Native Son
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Essays for Notes of a Native Son

Notes of a Native Son essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin.

  • The Identity Crisis in James Baldwin’s Nonfiction and in Giovanni’s Room (1956)

Lesson Plan for Notes of a Native Son

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notes on a native son essay

“Notes of a Native Son ” (1995) is an essay by writer and public intellectual James Baldwin . Baldwin was known for his unabashedly honest and controversial critiques on race relations in America and Europe. “Notes of a Native Son” follows Baldwin’s reflection on his relationship with his father among the racial tension and resulting riots in Harlem, New York City.

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“Notes of a Native Son”: James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born on August 2nd, 1924. He grew up poor, the oldest of nine children, in Harlem, and worked part-time to help provide for the family. Very little is known about his relationship with his mother, but he referred to her as loving and caring. David Baldwin was actually his stepfather, and James never knew his biological father. He refers to his stepfather as his father.

Notes of a native son, James Baldwin sitting on a statue, Vaia

Baldwin’s relationship with his father was always tense. James lived a life his father resented and warned against. He read books, liked to watch movies, and had white friends. He hardly spoke with his father, and “Notes of a Native Son ” is his attempt to reflect upon and give meaning to his relationship with his father.

“Notes of a Native Son”: Essay

The essay “Notes of a Native Son” was published in Notes of a Native Son (1955), a collection of essays originally published in various magazines and literary journals. The collection describes the burgeoning era of the Civil Rights movement through the autobiographical perspective of James Baldwin. “Notes of a Native Son” is an autobiographical essay organized into three parts and follows a narrative arc. Part one is an introduction, part two builds action, and part three has a climax followed by a conclusion.

“Notes of a Native Son” moves between societal observations by Baldwin to inner dialogues and reflections on his relationship with society and others, especially his late father. He’s paranoid he will inherit his father's bitterness and distrusting nature. He also fears the destruction that comes from hatred. He wrote it as a social commentary, intending his audience to be any American, white or Black, but especially young Black men like himself.

“Notes of a Native Son”: Summary

On July 29th, 1943, Baldwin’s father dies, and his last daughter, Baldwin’s sister, is born. Race riots have broken out in Detroit, Michigan, and Harlem, New York. On August 3rd, his father’s funeral was held, which was also Baldwin’s nineteenth birthday.

Baldwin and his family drive through the aftermath of the Harlem riots to Long Island. He reflects on his father’s world view, that an apocalypse is coming, and the surrounding destruction seems to confirm it. He had always disagreed with his father, but now with his father's death, and his own birthday, Baldwin begins to consider the meaning of his father’s life, and its relation to his own.

Baldwin and his father hardly ever spoke. There is little information he has about his father. His paternal grandmother was born into slavery. His father was part of the first generation of free Black people, and his exact age is unknown. Consequently, Baldwin is part of a generation that never experienced the Jim Crow South.

Notes of a native son, train station with Colored sign, Vaia

Baldwin’s father was handsome and proud, yet severe and cruel to his children. His children would tense up in his presence. He struggled to connect with other people, and was very unsuccessful in life. He was incredibly bitter, and Baldwin fears he has inherited that bitterness.

Baldwin had grown up in Harlem, in a predominantly Black community. Before his father’s death, he had spent a year in New Jersey, living among white and Black people. It was the first time in his life that he experienced the immense weight and power of white society and racism. Now he has begun to see the relevance in his father’s repeated warnings.

His father had struggled with mental illness, but no one knew that until he was committed to a mental hospital, where they learned he had tuberculosis and would die soon. His paranoia led him to insulate the family against their neighbors. He did not trust anyone and refused help despite the poverty and struggle to feed nine children.

Welfare workers and debt collectors were the only white people who came to their home. Their mother handled the visits, as his father was “vindictively” polite. Baldwin writes his first play, and his white teacher takes him to see a Broadway show, which his mother supports but his father reluctantly allows. When his father is laid off, the teacher continues to help the family, yet he never trusts her. He warns Baldwin that he can never trust any of his white friends.

Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin and Marlon Brando, Vaia

His year in New Jersey exposed him to racism. Baldwin always conducted himself confidently, and this created tension with his coworkers at his factory job. It took four visits to a self-service restaurant to realize he wasn’t supposed to dine there. The repeated indignities ignite a rage in him, and it boils over at a restaurant he enters angrily. The frightened waitress’s reflexive answer leads him to throw a water glass at her. She dodges, and he runs out, barely missing violent patrons and the police, thanks to misdirection from his white friend.

Baldwin returns home to Harlem and notes that unusual combinations of people seem to be waiting for something everywhere. It’s 1943, and World War II is in full swing. Black soldiers are writing home and making the news about the racist and brutal treatment they receive during training down South. Baldwin, with his aunt, visits his father for the first time in the hospital, and the last time while he’s alive. They’re both distraught at the sight of him looking frail and shrunken, hanging on life support. The next day his father dies, and his last child, Baldwin’s sister, is born that evening .

Baldwin spends the morning of the funeral with a friend. She helps him find black clothes to wear. He arrives to the funeral slightly drunk. He reflects on the sermon that describes his father in opposing, flattering terms. Someone begins to sing his father’s favorite song, and he is transported to a childhood memory of sitting on his father’s knee. His father used to show off Baldwin’s singing ability when he was in the church choir. He remembers the one conversation he and his father had in which it was confirmed that Baldwin would rather write than be a preacher.

Notes of a native son, Harlem club atlanta Vaia

While Baldwin tries to celebrate his birthday, he hears gossip about an altercation between a Black soldier and a white police officer. The incident ignites the Harlem race riots, which do not cross into white neighborhoods but target and destroy white businesses in Harlem. He hates to see the destruction and feels anger towards the white and Black people who caused it. He concludes that being a Black man means living a paradox. One feels intense rage and bitterness towards the oppression of racism, yet they cannot let it consume them. It’s important to fight injustice everywhere. The fight begins within, and one must resist “hatred and despair.” He laments his father isn’t around to help provide him with some answers. 1

“Notes of a Native Son”: Analysis

The essay is a reflection of Baldwin’s relationship with his father and his attempt to make it a meaningful one. Below are the major recurring themes that appear throughout his reflection.

Intergenerational Trauma

Baldwin is concerned that he will become bitter and hateful like his father. He fears he has inherited his father's paranoia. He’s the first generation that has lived a life outside the Jim Crow South. The abuse and trauma of slavery is alive in his father. He’s cruel to his children and overly protective. His life has shown him that white people are not to be trusted. Even their immediate neighbors, and those who try to help, are rejected.

Sense of Belonging

Throughout the essay, Baldwin exists in a constant state of tension. He does not feel comfortable at home with his father. He mentions how his father's presence would paralyze his children with fear. When he returns home for his father’s funeral, he feels disconnected from the people in his neighborhood. Harlem feels strange, with unusual combinations of people waiting on steps and corners. He spends the morning before the funeral drinking with a friend instead of being with his family. When he passes through the aftermath of the riots, he feels frustration towards the destruction.

Truth versus Delusion

Baldwin grapples with the dichotomy between what people want to believe, and what is reality. During his father's eulogy, he feels the preacher gives an inaccurate description of his father. He’s described as kindly and generous, and Baldwin experienced the opposite.

Notes of a native son, British book cover, Vaia

His father’s paranoia created a hostile world. Even when people tried to help, his father was distrustful. Baldwin sees the painful reality of his father when he’s on his deathbed. His father’s death helps Baldwin through his own delusions. He didn’t believe his father’s dire warnings about the white world. Despite what Baldwin thought about himself, he had to learn the hard truth that as a Black man, he was not treated based on his character but his superficial traits.

The Self-destruction of Hatred

The mental and physical illness that Baldwin’s father experienced symbolize the all-consuming power of the hatred he felt towards the world. The physical destruction of Harlem from the riots mostly hurt the Black residents. Baldwin empathizes with the rage but recognizes that if he acts out in anger, it will only bring destruction to himself and others. He concludes he must live with that anger, but fight injustice whenever he can.

“Notes of a Native Son”: Quotes

Baldwin recognizes that hate is an internal conflict.

I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Only an individual can choose to resolve the bitterness within themselves. He saw his father gradually consumed by hate and died with it. Hardly any friends came to his father’s funeral. When Baldwin realizes the destructive power of hatred, he concludes it is easier to externalize this hatred towards others than doing the difficult task of confronting pain and trauma within.

Their legs, somehow, seem exposed so that it is at once incredible and terribly clear that their legs are all they have to hold them up.”

"Their legs" refers to Baldwin watching children go up to view his father's casket. Baldwin felt that no one should be forced to see his father’s corpse. The children have little say in the matter. Reflecting on his childhood, he remembers how helpless children are against the whims of adults. His family dealt with repeated abuses from his father. Essentially, they have no choice but to tolerate it until they have the ability and options to decide otherwise.

To smash something is the ghetto’s chronic need.”

Baldwin acknowledges that every Black person has a boiling rage within. It results from the repeated abuses and indignities from the oppression of racism. The need to destroy something comes from the powerlessness they feel against white supremacy. When an injustice occurs, such as the shooting of the Black soldier by the white police officer, the rage needs an outlet which resulted in the Harlem riots. He experiences this personally at the restaurant when he throws a glass of water at a waitress, after being told one too many times that he cannot be served because he is Black.

Notes of a Native Son - Key takeaways

  • "Notes of a Native Son" is an essay written by James Baldwin
  • In the essay, Baldwin reflects on his relationship with his father, or lack thereof.
  • His father suffered from mental illness, and Baldwin is concerned he will inherit it.
  • Baldwin draws parallels between his relationship with his father and his standing as a Black man in a white world.
  • Baldwin concludes that he cannot let himself be consumed by hatred, and must do whatever he can to fight injustice.

1 Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son (1955).

  • Fig. 1 - James Baldwin ( by Allan Warren ( is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (
  • Fig. 5 - Notes of a Native Son ( by Charles Gorham is licensed by CC BY 2.0 (

Frequently Asked Questions about Notes of a Native Son

--> how is james baldwin's “notes of a native son” organized.

James Baldwin's “Notes of a Native Son” is organized into three sections.

--> What is “Notes of a Native Son” about?

“Notes of a Native Son” is a reflection on Baldwin's relationship with his late father.

--> What does Baldwin talk about in “Notes of a Native Son?”

In “Notes of a Native Son”, Baldwin talks about his relationship with his father, experiencing racism while living in New Jersey, and the race riots in Detroit and Harlem.

--> What is the genre of “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin?

“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin is an autobiographical essay.

--> Who is the intended audience of “Notes of a Native Son?”

“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin was written intending his audience to be any American, white or black, but especially young black men like himself.

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How is James Baldwin's “Notes of a Native Son” organized?

James Baldwin's “Notes of a Native Son” is organized into three sections.

What is “Notes of a Native Son” about?

“Notes of a Native Son” is a reflection on Baldwin's relationship with his late father.

What does Baldwin talk about in “Notes of a Native Son?”

In “Notes of a Native Son,” Baldwin talks about his relationship with his father, experiencing racism while living in New Jersey, and the race riots in Detroit and Harlem.

What is the genre of “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin?

“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin is an autobiographical essay.

Who is the intended audience of “Notes of a Native Son?”

“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin was written  intending his audience to be any American, white or Black, but especially young Black men like himself.


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notes on a native son essay

Notes of a Native Son

James baldwin, everything you need for every book you read..

Inheritance, Tradition, and Belonging Theme Icon

Inheritance, Tradition, and Belonging

Throughout the book, Baldwin explores the fraught senses of inheritance and belonging among African Americans. Baldwin argues that black Americans’ relationship to their own country and heritage is unlike that of any other people in the world because “his past was taken from him, almost literally, at one blow.” Because of the systematic erasure of African traditions and black family relationships during slavery (and in the decades after), African Americans have been denied a tie…

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Language, Narrative, and Truth

As a writer, Baldwin is preoccupied with the power of language and stories. He is particularly interested in the way in which language can be used to convey the truth lying beneath superficial and misleading ideas about the world. He argues that “Every legend… contains its residuum of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.” With this statement, Baldwin proposes that existing narratives can contain kernels of…

Language, Narrative, and Truth Theme Icon

Progress vs. Stagnation

Much of the book is colored by a sense of disappointment and resentment at how little progress has taken place in the world, despite the superficial appearance of change. Baldwin illustrates this idea with the French phrase: “ Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose ,” meaning “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This statement is crucial to understanding Baldwin’s view of progress and stagnation. He admits that there has…

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Prejudice, Dishonesty, and Delusion

Baldwin’s emphasis on expressing truth through language is a direct rejection of dishonesty and delusion, which he shows to be major components of the system of white supremacy. One example of this dishonesty comes in the form of derogatory myths and stereotypes about black people, which have been used to justify racist oppression. Baldwin critiques the ways in which these negative ideas can be present within cultural representations of black people, such as Richard Wright’s …

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Intimacy vs. Hatred

Many people believe that racism is solely a form of hatred, and that in racist societies white people exist in a relationship of alienation and hatred to racially oppressed peoples. However, in Notes of a Native Son Baldwin contends that intimacy is, in fact, also a part of racism, and that intimacy and hatred often coexist. One of Baldwin’s major arguments is that, rather than being a superfluous or compartmentalized group, African Americans are a…

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Reflective Entry: “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin Essay

Reading the “Notes of a Native Son” from a non-fiction book Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, it becomes obvious that the author tries to dwell upon many different points devoted to his father to make sure that if he speaks about the problem, if he splashes his feelings hatred and despair in relation to his father is going to disappear.

Even though these son’s relation to father is explained through the whole chapter, the main purpose of the discussion is the attempt of James Baldwin to understand the role of black people in formation of America as the country which we are able to see it now.

The chapter presents the story of a boy who was brought up in a society of black people and who was driven to New Jersey to get education. Reading some passages, it seemed impossible for people to behave that way. However, looking at the modern society when some people seem to be higher in range just because they think so, it is obvious that the history is really important.

James Baldwin tells about the cases when he came to New Jersey with the purpose to get education and where he could never think he would be treated as a slave who was unable to do what he wanted, who was unable to visit the places he wanted and who was banished for that society.

James Baldwin writes that no matter where he came he “was always being forced to leave, silently, or with mutual imprecations” (Baldwin, 1955, p. 93). The author says that such position of affairs affected him greatly and in some time he became afraid of walking in the street. Then, after being fired for several times, he began to think that there was something wrong with him particularly.

Returning to the problem of the place of the Afro-Americans in the life of America, it may be stated that the white supremacy during the 1940-1950 played an important role in the formation of the country. Many black people who wanted to study and wanted to work were rejected just because they were of different color.

The prejudiced relation to black people caused many African-American become “bitter” (Baldwin, 1955, p. 89). An attentive reader may notice that this word is repeated for several times. The author uses this word when he described the character of his father.

Therefore, it may be concluded that Baldwin’s father became that irritated, angry and bitter, as his son identifies him because he managed to come though all that attitude as his son experienced.

The theme of the chapter is the son’s remembering of his father, his actions and behavior, however, the main idea the author wants to deliver is hidden. The author wants to ask whether the role of the black people in American society that great that most of people still preoccupied with personal significance and others feel personal nonentity.

The question which should be asked is what is the place of African-Americans in the formation of the country? What would be if during the 1940-1950 black people were not discriminated? How would black and white live now if the process of white superiority were not completed? These are the questions which arose in mind while reading the chapter “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin.

Reference List

Baldwin, J. (1955). Notes of a Native Son. In J. Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (pp. 85-114). Boston: The Beacon Press.

  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2019, April 8). Reflective Entry: “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin.

"Reflective Entry: “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin." IvyPanda , 8 Apr. 2019,

IvyPanda . (2019) 'Reflective Entry: “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin'. 8 April.

IvyPanda . 2019. "Reflective Entry: “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin." April 8, 2019.

1. IvyPanda . "Reflective Entry: “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin." April 8, 2019.


IvyPanda . "Reflective Entry: “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin." April 8, 2019.

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Coming of Age — Literary Analysis Of James Baldwin’s Notes Of A Native Son


Literary Analysis of James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son

  • Categories: Coming of Age Literary Criticism

About this sample


Words: 1532 |

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Words: 1532 | Pages: 3 | 8 min read

Works Cited

  • Baldwin, James. Notes of a native son. No. 39. Beacon Press, 1984.
  • Baldwin, James. Notes of a native son. Royal Blind Society of New South Wales., 1998.
  • Seresin, Indiana. 'Notes of a Native Son Notes of a Native Son.' LitCharts.LitCharts LLC, 6 Jun 2017. Web. 8 May 2019
  • Margolies, Edward. 'Native Sons: A Critical Study of Twentieth-Century Negro American Authors.' (1968).

Should follow an “upside down” triangle format, meaning, the writer should start off broad and introduce the text and author or topic being discussed, and then get more specific to the thesis statement.

Provides a foundational overview, outlining the historical context and introducing key information that will be further explored in the essay, setting the stage for the argument to follow.

Cornerstone of the essay, presenting the central argument that will be elaborated upon and supported with evidence and analysis throughout the rest of the paper.

The topic sentence serves as the main point or focus of a paragraph in an essay, summarizing the key idea that will be discussed in that paragraph.

The body of each paragraph builds an argument in support of the topic sentence, citing information from sources as evidence.

After each piece of evidence is provided, the author should explain HOW and WHY the evidence supports the claim.

Should follow a right side up triangle format, meaning, specifics should be mentioned first such as restating the thesis, and then get more broad about the topic at hand. Lastly, leave the reader with something to think about and ponder once they are done reading.

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notes on a native son essay


Notes of a Native Son

43 pages • 1 hour read

James Baldwin

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Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Essay 9 Summary: “Equal in Paris”

“Equal in Paris” was originally published in Commentary in March 1955. In this essay, Baldwin recounts an episode from his time in Paris when he was arrested for receiving stolen goods. An American acquaintance stole a bedsheet from a hotel and gave it to Baldwin to use. Both Baldwin and his acquaintance were arrested and prosecuted for their crimes. The essay follows their extended stay in the French criminal justice system, as they were shuttled from one cell to another over the course of eight days. Eventually, Baldwin got word out of the prison to an American attorney for whom he had briefly worked previously. The attorney came to the prison and assured Baldwin that everything would be alright; he arranged for a lawyer to represent Baldwin and for character witnesses to appear at his trial. Baldwin and his friend were acquitted and released.

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