One Never forgets What They are Taught
James Baldwin, an African American author born in Harlem, was raised by his violent step-father, David. His father was a lay preacher who hated whites and felt that “all whites would be judged as they deserve” by a “vengeful God” (Klinkowitz and Pritchard, p.1999). Usually, the father’s anger was directed toward his son through violence.Baldwin’s history, in part, aids him in his insight of racism within the family. He understands that racists are not born, but rather racists’ attitudes and behaviors are learned in the early stages of childhood. Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man is a perfect example of his capability to analyze the growth of a innocent child to a racist.
Every child is born with innocence. During the flashback to Jesse’s childhood, where he witnesses the mutilation and torture of a blackman, Jesse’s innocence is apparent. Jesse has a black friend named Otis who he hasn’t seen for a few days. When he asks his father where Otis is, the father replies, “I reckon Otis’s folks was afrad to let him show himself this morning”(Baldwin, p. 2006). Jesse naturally responds, “But Otis ain’t do nothing.” His father explains, “We just wanna make sure Otis don’t do nothing, and you tell him what your Daddy said”(Baldwin, p. 2006). This statement implies that because Otis is black, he is eventually going to do something wrong. The father has subconsciously put negative thoughts inside of Jesse’s head. Baldwin’s own father also acted in this way when he stereotyped all whites as being bad and claimed they would be punished by a vengeful God.
In the midst of all the commotion, Jesse is unable to sleep the night before the lynching. Within another flashback to that night, Jesse feels a strong need to have his mother close to him but “he knew his father would not like this”(Baldwin, p. 2006). “He wanted to call his mother” and becomes very frustrated and angry with his father because the father is the reason that he could not got to his mother. He knows that they are going to have intercourse and this bothers him. “He heard his mother’s moan, his father’s sigh; he gritted his teeth”(Baldwin, p. 2006). Sigmund Freud’s Edipus Complex explains Jesse’s reaction. The Edipus Complex is a son’s sexual longing for his mother. Jesse becomes jealous and “his father’s breathing seemed to fill the world”(Baldwin, p. 2006). As result of the longing for the mother, a resentment toward the father arises because the father has the mother all to himself. Jesse, in this situation, would like to replace the father so that he may experience the mother in a sexual manner.Jesse does not shake this feeling until he replaces the longing of his mother with a clossnes to the father, a common effect of the Edipus complex.
Jesse’s innocence disappears completely during the flashback of the day of the lynching. The father is getting Jesse excited about the violence to come as he assures him, “We’re going on a picnic. You won’t ever forget this picnic”(Baldwin, p. 2007), Jesse replies, “Are we going to see the bad nigger?”(Baldwin, p. 2007). He uses the adjective bad, revealing the influence of the father ‘s previous comments about the black man. They arrive at the lynching and Jesse’s father shows concern toward how Jesse is feeling, “you all right?”(Baldwin, p. 2009). Then, the father “reached down suddenly and sat Jesse on his shoulders,” making Jesse feel like he was bonding with his father. He felt secure. They watched the relentless burning of the negro together and Jesse last thought of innocence arouse, “What did the man do?”(Baldwin, p. 2010). After asking himself he looked to his mother and felt, “she was more beautiful than he had ever seen her before” and “he began to feel a joy he had never felt before”(Baldwin, p. 2010). After the Negro genitals were mutilated he was left to slowly die, the father looked to Jesse with peaceful eyes and said, “Well, I told you, you wasn’t ever going to forget this picnic”(Baldwin, p.2010). It is as this moment that Freud’s Edipus complex is once again displayed. The bonding and identification felt by Jesse toward the father has replaced the longing for the mother. “Jesse loved his father more than he had ever loved him”(Baldwin, p. 2010). He feels like a man because, “his father had carried throught a mighty test, had revealed to him a great secret which would be the key to his life forever.” He subconsciously traded his innocence for closness to his father.
“There has surely been no black writer better able to imagine whit experience, to speack in various tones of differents kinds and behaviors of people or places other than his own”(Klinkowtiz and Pritchard, p. 1999). Going to Meet the Man allows readers to recongnize how a racist is built through ingnorance. Baldwin ends his story with Jesse in bed with his wife. The memories of the mutilation of the negro arise in his mind and he feels arrounsed. He turns to his wife and says, “Come on sugar, I’m going to do you like a nigger.” Jesse cannot recognize that these memories of the lynching have made him sexually arroused by violence. As a result, he has become a violent man with a disturbed idea of love, sex and blacks.