For this month's reading we chose two short stories by James Baldwin: “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” and “Sonny’s Blues.” Both are included in the collection Going to meet the Man (1965). Unfortunately, Daniel had to be absent this time, but we did get Mark Linsenmayer to join us!
For the first time in my life I felt that no force jeopardized my right, my power, to possess and to protect a woman; for the first time, the first time, felt that the woman was not, in her own eyes or in the eyes of the world, degraded by my presence.
So says the narrator in James Baldwin’s remarkable scrutiny of racism in “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon,” reminiscing about the moment he realized that he had truly fallen in love. His life in Paris has allowed him a freedom to live beyond the color of his skin, but now he is returning to the turmoil of the United States with his wife and son.
In our discussion of this beautiful short work, Mark pinpoints Baldwin’s examination of the psychological internalization of the degradation of racism, with Mary citing the abuse of the narrator’s sister and her friends by the police. Laura delves into the question of the “other” in society, while Cezary posits that racism today seems to be subsumed in discussions of different cultures. Nathan highlights Baldwin’s argument that our understanding and perspectives on racism are influenced by differing realities—which is Baldwin’s reply in the famous debate with William F. Buckley.
We then discuss ”Sonny’s Blue’s,” Baldwin’s story of family, responsibility, suffering, race, and freedom. The narrator’s younger brother, Sonny, is a brilliant musician who is just returning form a stint in prison for selling and using heroin. He moves in with the narrator and his family, and the brothers struggle to communicate. Sonny’s music finally offers them a way toward understanding and perhaps even a sort of freedom.
All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it … But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air … another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.