The Function of Love in Baldwin’s 'Another Country'


Term Paper, 2004

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Excerpt

Table of contents

Introduction.

Part I: How the lack of love leads to madness and death
Some stylistic and textual aspects
Analysis: Rufus and Leona
Conclusion Part I

Part II: Prospect for the other characters and their journey to Another Country
Cass and Richard – Eric and Yves – Vivaldo and Ida
The journey to Another Country and Conclusion

Bibliography

Introduction.

The novel Another Country,[1] published in 1962, was written by James Baldwin, an African-American writer, particularly well known for his social-critical essays. Another Country, as a fictional work, serves Baldwin to express several ideas formerly developed in his essay writing and so the novel covers a manifold spectrum of social issues, including race, sexuality and finally love. Love as a central topic in Baldwin’s Another Country has been analysed by several critics and even Baldwin admits candidly that the novel shows “the desperate searches” of its characters “for the self- knowledge and self-esteem – the identity – without which real love is impossible.”[2] But how do these themes work in the novel, what does such a love have to look like and what does it have to include for the individual to be “able to learn to see real human beings behind the categories, labels, and prejudices”[3] which are imposed by the loveless in a society. This essay undertakes an approximation to these questions mainly on the basis of the novel, considering some of Baldwins essays and works of critics such as Lorelei Cederstorm or David Leeming.

The first part will focus on an analysis of the relationship with which the novel starts and which can be regarded as a crucial guideline, a “negative touchstone”[4] for the further development and interpretation of the novel. In Part II a short overview of the other relationships of the novel is provided. By doing this, their connection with the first relationship will be illustrated, until finally it will be posible to suggest how the characters succeed or fail in the matter of love, which Baldwin conceives as “[…] a journey two people have to make with each other.”[5]

Part I: How the lack of love leads to madness and death.

Some stylistic and textual aspects.

A first structured, even if quite schematic approximation to the plot of Another Country, can be achieved by perceiving the novel as an inquiry on interpersonal relationships. Hence, within the division of the novel into three major parts – Easy Rider, Any Day Now and Toward Bethlehem – the first and the second one, which are relatively long, can be associated with a portrayal of several case studies and their development, whereas the rather short last one can be seen as a final part of revelations. Baldwin offers a wide range of stereotyped relationships shaped by the intermingling of distinct determinants, such as male/ female, black / white, homo-/ heterosexual. In addition, he elected his home town New York City – a metonomy for the entire multi-cultural and multi-ethnical country of the United States – as the appropriate setting.

The first relationship the reader is confronted with and which dominates a great deal of the first part of the book, is the one between Rufus Scott, a black jazz musician and Leona, a white southern woman. She flees from the South, to escape an insupportable marriage to a white man who constantly oppresses her until separating her from her only child. After their incidental meeting in a jazz bar where Rufus plays with his band, it takes only a first night and a day, they decide to stay together. Their relationship is dominated by violence and hate: Rufus, who is profoundly molded by his distorted attitude towards Whites, cannot give nor receive love. Leona is represented as a quite passive and debil female figure powerless to change the situation between them. Seven months pass during which their relationship reaches a dreadfull climax: “they fought each other with their hands and their voices and then with their bodies: and the one storm was like the other.”(50) As a consequence, Leona suffers a mental collapse, then institutionalized and taken back to the South by her family. Rufus cannot stand the guilt for being mainly responsible for Leona’s break-down. He becomes too overwhelmed by his troubles and the painful memories. Yet he cannot imagine a life without suffering. The first chapter ends dramatically as he selects suicide to find his final relief.

Also, this first chapter – dominated by the third person perspective focused on Rufus, the protagonist, and constructed by several retrospectives intermingled with views of the present time – introduces the other main characters and their backgrounds.

Vivaldo is a white Italian-American writer and Rufus’ best friend. After Rufus’ death he comes together with Ida, Rufus’ sister, who follows – so to speak – the path of her brother by aspiring to become a successful singer. Cass is an average white woman, the mother of two children and seemingly happy with a white Polish-American writer named Richard Silenski. The most important character of the story besides Rufus is Eric: a white Irish-American, homosexual actor from the South, who, after a short and failed relationship with Rufus, went to Paris.

The fragmented narrative style of the first chapter obviously emphazises Rufus’ bewilderment and confusion. During his aimless straying through the streets of Manhattan, he nostalgically recollects occassions of his past which include Leona, his family, but also his life in Harlem , his flight “to a boot camp in the South”(12) and the subsequent time in the Navy.

Analysis: Rufus and Leona.

The novel starts in media-res when Leona has already disappeared and Rufus finds himself “sitting in the movies”(9) after midnight. In the very first lines of the text, the degree of his terrible wretched and lost state can be identified in the unfortunate picture that “he was hungry, his mouth felt filthy, […] he was broke, […] he had nowhere to go.”(9) Also, his desperate and heartbroken state of having nothing left in life is underlined by the insertion of a line from a blues song, which will turn up once more shortly before Rufus kills himself: “You took the best, so why not take the rest?”(9)

To Baldwin the blues means one of the only ways Blacks can express their tragic history and present state as underdogs and excluded from US-socitety. The blues – a style of music evolved from southern African-American secular songs in colonial times – treats themes like “work, love, death, floods, lynchings” which for the black population in the United States can be summarized as “the Facts of Life” they have to cope with everyday. In one of his essays Baldwin directly refers to the blues as having certain Uses. Everyday, black artists like the blues singer Bessie Smith, whose melancholic and heartbroken lyrics colour almost every chapter of Another Country and shape its opinion of love, race, relationships and society, coped with the problems of her race by expressing them in songs. Black artists “watched with eyes wide open” what happened to them and their people and by “commenting on it, a little bit outside; they were accepting it” in order to make life more bearable, because for them – recognizing the unchangeable state of their situation – one thing about life is clear: “there is no way not to suffer.”[6]

In a long retrospect (13-40) Rufus remembers his first twenty-four hours with Leona. It illustrates Rufus’ desire for Leona and sets forward the determining tone of their relationship which is particularly shown in their first sexual encounter.

Although Rufus is not willing to get to know Leona in a deeper sense, because to him “all stories were trouble”(17) and his intuition tells him “to leave this poor little girl alone”(21), Rufus finally makes love to her. Far away from emotionally tender connotations, this sexual encounter is shaped by violence and hate. Hence, the description refers to the love act itself as a cursing (24) and to Leona as a “milk-white bitch”(24), an enemy who has to be defeated by a “weapon”(24). It is striking how Rufus harbours such an anger which shivers upon Leona. Since there is no motive for the assumption that Leona, apart from being white and coming from the South, has directly done something to provoke such an outburst of anger and with respect to “the patterns and symbols of his thoughts,”[7] it appears that Rufus does not perceive Leona as an individual being, but as the embodiment of his object of hate: the whole white -dominated society.

According to Baldwin, self-knowledge and self-esteem are necessary to make love possible, but the writer also says that “it is hard to become yourself, born black in a white society,”[8] which can be exemplyfied by Rufus. He is very sensitive to the world around him in which “[…] you got to fight with the landlord because the landord’s white ! You got to fight with the elevator boy because the motherfucker’s white. Any bum on the Bowery cab shit all over you, because maybe he can’t hear, can’t see, can’t fuck – but he’s white !”(62)

In one scene Rufus goes on a Sunday walk in the park with Leona and Vivaldo, the day after Rufus’ and Leona’s first encounter. Here, his relation to the “[…] world and its power to hate and destroy”(29) becomes mostly obvious. He tends to see only the hostility “[…] from the eyes of the passing people”(29) in an almost paranoid way and even Leona is aware of the despising glances of the people. As a white person, she never had to face the problem of being disdained by society, for such superficial reasons as ethnicity and skin-color, but as a woman she probably very well knows how Rufus feels, according to her past oppression by her husband. However, maybe similar like she tried to handle her marriage, she tries to compensate the situation by the excuse that the persons around “don’t know better,” because they “ain’t got nobody to be with”(31). Instead of finding satisfaction in this utterance, Rufus feels only more rejected and lonely.

Feeded with unsureness Rufus does not only feel alienated by the hostile white world, but enters also in a mental conflict by reflecting what his sister would think about his relationship to Leona: “You’d never even have looked at that girl, Rufus, if she’d been black. […] What’s the matter – you ashamed of being black?”(29) In his state of bewilderment, he believes that he cannot even expect positive feedback from his family for his choice to be together with Leona. He is lost, with no roots, stability and support for the love he may have for Leona.

Moreover, Rufus also loses confidence in his best friend Vivaldo. Now, he envies him for being white as he realizes that “[…] no one dared to look at Vivaldo, out with any girl whatever, the way they looked at Rufus now; nor would they ever look at the girl they looked at Leona. […] This was because Vivaldo was white.”(31)

[...]


[1] Baldwin, J. (1963) Another Country. New York: Dell.

[2] Description of a letter by Baldwin about Another Country in: Leeming, D. (1994) James Baldwin: A Biography, 200.

[3] ibid.

[4] Sylvander, C. W. (1980) James Baldwin, 53.

[5] Baldwin, J. and Niktom Ldt. (ed.) (1973) James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni: A Dialogue, 40.

[6] Baldwin, J. (without year): The Uses of the Blues. (retrieved from the Internet, complete reference see bibliography)

[7] Cederstorm, L. (1984): Love, Sex and Race in the Novels of James Baldwin, 179.

[8] Baldwin, J. and Niktom Ldt. (ed.) (1973) James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni: A Dialogue, 18.

Excerpt out of 19 pages

Details

Title
The Function of Love in Baldwin’s 'Another Country'
College
University of Tubingen
Grade
2,0
Author
Year
2004
Pages
19
Catalog Number
V127795
ISBN (eBook)
9783640349210
ISBN (Book)
9783640349593
File size
460 KB
Language
English
Tags
Function, Love, Baldwin’s, Another, Country
Quote paper
Sarah Poppel (Author), 2004, The Function of Love in Baldwin’s 'Another Country', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/127795

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