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If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin


The book throws light on the differences and similarities in social dynamics between the United States and African countries. Ending racial/ethnic segregation did not prevent the United States from being divided along ethnic and racial lines; it seemed that their link was worse rather than better after the Civil Rights Act was repealed. It represented terrible times in both American and New York history at the time (Harlem). It was published in 1974 as a work of fiction, and it was a love tale featuring people from many ethnic groups who were exposed to sexual stereotypes and racial discrimination and an environment in which their possibilities for happiness seemed to be almost nonexistent. Baldwin, in particular, is critical of the portrayal of African-American men and women in the media and on television.

The connection between sexuality, social status, gender, and race is at the heart of this novel’s investigation. Race and sexual stereotypes influence the formation of American identity, which causes a rift amongst the people of the nation. This thesis will focus on the portrayal of persons of mixed race in American literature, particularly in the nineteenth century. The essay will also seek and analyze the literary component that will aid in narrowing down the topic matter for debate, which will be of main relevance in the final product.

Element of Literature

Introducing his tale by informing the audience that love is powerful and may be used to unveil one’s inner self in contemporary American culture, James Baldwin sets the setting for his story. His view was that “love takes away the masks we believe we can’t live without, and the masks we know we can’t survive within” (Baldwin 1). According to him, love can remove the masks of prejudice and fear from the face of the earth and transform the planet. It is also said that African Americans wear masks to blend in with American culture, which is a kind of socialization. There is no need to wear a mask; you are not even required to engage in any interaction with others. Thus, in African American literature, the concept of concealing has emerged as a reoccurring theme across the genre. To put it simply, James Baldwin’s “If Beal Street Could Talk” shows the use of symbolism in the oral novel, the written novel, and the staged novel. A literary technique will be used as a consequence of this to investigate the subject of love in general.

Theme of Love

In the first instance, James Baldwin utilizes love messages and scenarios to criticize all sorts of racial injustice that African Americans are subjected to. One way to characterize love is to think of it as a strong emotional tie to something or someone. This is a major literary trope that has existed since the Middle Ages. Aside from it, the story is on two lovers who are challenged with a range of difficulties, including interpersonal conflict, the threat from family members, and several other social evils, among others (Levmore et al. 78). In Baldwin’s story, the only thing that can draw the characters out of their shells is love. According to Baldwin’s novel “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Fonny and Clementine’s relationship is presented as a heterosexual one (Leeming 98). He uses the notion of love to illustrate how sexual prejudice and racism are different in American society to illustrate his point. It is also used as a symbol to highlight the detrimental consequences on a person’s sense of self-respect and identity due to their actions.

In the words of Jacques Cabau, “According to popular thinking, the film “If Beale Could Talk” is above all “a celebration of love.” The limiting American system may be split open by love, rather than revolution,” writes the author (70). It is conceivable for two individuals or two countries to support one other in the same manner since love necessitates reciprocity. Despite this, community and togetherness may be crucial instruments in the battle against racism and sexual discrimination in the United States and in sustaining the country’s international reputation. Clementine and Fonny and the other characters in the story serve as the narrative’s protagonists. Indeed, they have a strong emotional attachment to one another, which will be critical in the future.

Baldwin used to love as a symbol of resistance and rejection for the whole American community rather than a metaphor for a single individual in his writing (Levmore et al. 98). There is a battle going on for Fonny and Clementine’s relationship, but there is a battle going on for the whole African-American community, as shown by the depiction of the Hunts and Rivers families. Love acts as a catalyst for self-discovery and self-identification, and it is this love that helps people find themselves. Baldwin asserts: “It’s natural for us to think of love in terms of its origin and conclusion. Love is a battle; love is a battle; love is a process of development and progress. Love is a fight ” (88). Most significantly, love evolves into strong emotions that enable individuals to express themselves; in other words, they can demonstrate who they are to one another. He also feels that the search for one’s real self should be an integral aspect of one’s quest for romantic fulfillment.

The conduct of the lovers and their reactions to unpleasant situations they face together might be indicative of their feelings for one another. Truly lasting love includes both the giver and the recipient in equal measure. Baldwin asserts: “a sentimental and highly old-fashioned method to express your feelings for someone. It legitimizes a kind of love that is seldom shown in fiction: the love between family members. This is the first time in contemporary literature that this type of love has been validated ” (Balwin 117). Told through the eyes of Clementine Rivers and Alonzo Hunt, often known as Clem and Tish and Fonny, the story revolves around them. As the two characters get older, the “Eros Love” between them becomes stronger and stronger. They were referred to as “Romeo and Juliet during their early years.” The action takes place in Harlem, a New York City district mostly inhabited by people of color with little financial resources (Leeming 132). Stated that Clementine needs Fonny more than anything else in the world, and she will go to any length to ensure that he remains in her life. The progression and growth of their relationship can be traced back to when they were youngsters and were the closest of friends to one.

Clementine showed his affection for his sweetheart even when he was not there, even though he was not present. In line with what many had expected, she seemed happier and less ignorant than anybody could have guessed. She described her knowledge of love and affection: “Now we knew that nobody loved us, or now we knew who did” (Baldwin 116). It was wrongly reported that Fonny was involved in a rape, and he was subsequently imprisoned and detained. As time passes, Clementine becomes concerned that giving birth on her own will be too tough for her to handle since she is expecting a child. With him now behind bars, I’m continually reminded of how much I miss him and how much I want the opportunity to see him once again (Baldwin 1). The bond between Fonny and Clementine was wonderful. The term “love” is considered a “religion” by certain scholars, but in Baldwin’s opinion, “love is a divine link” (Rottenberg 89). What happens between two people in a loving relationship has a hallowed air to it, almost as if it were sacred. Love is seen as a means of achieving liberty and providing protection from the devil. Fonny and Clementine, via their deeds, prove the relationship between knowledge, love, and freedom at the beginning of the story.

In the words of Baldwin, the two antagonists come from families with quite divergent perspectives on social mores and less. True to his word, Baldwin’s portrayal of a black family in his paintings as a Manichean symbol displays the notion of love. River’s family is linked with optimism, but Fonny’s family (the Hunts) is associated with evil sentiments. This is a significant distinction. Funny’s mother, Alice, and Fonny’s siblings are particularly linked with these unpleasant emotions. As a consequence of her upbringing, Clementine knows how to love, yet her lover’s partner’s family is in turmoil due to her upbringing. A disunited family is created and forced to coexist to highlight how the presence or absence of love between families may change and impact the black protagonist’s identity, and the author makes them live together in collaboration to demonstrate this.

His whole family adores Clem, while everyone in the household despises Fonny. A “filial family,” as shown in the narrative, refers to the love between members of a family unit, as seen in the story. In this context, a child’s love for their siblings and parents is referred to as filial love (Rottenberg 65). Furthermore, there is little doubt that Tish’s experience demonstrates that family love is much more strong than that of society. This is a remark she makes with full awareness of who loves her and who does not love her: “It was because we knew our father loved us […] the city didn’t” (Baldwin 142). At its core, the struggle between Clem’s love for society and her loyalty to her family demonstrates that society rejects her and that her only source of support is her extended family. Further, she claims that African Americans are seen by many as “exotic others” or outsiders and that they are not thought to be human because of their smiles, which depict Clem as a wild beast.

The Theme’s Importance and Implications

According to James Baldwin, the novel’s characters use love to express their true selves and the societal difficulties they are confronted with. On the contrary, love may be seen as a critical component in the battle against some critical social difficulties such as racism and ethnicity from a broader perspective. A character’s true personality, knowledge, and other humanitarian traits are revealed via love, which is the most important component (Leeming, 143). To defend the treatment of African Americans, the author uses a variety of symbols, some of which are graphic in nature. If there is a difference between a family’s love and society’s love, it may result in major societal issues.

The author uses a love story as a metaphor for the suffering of African-Americans living and working in the United States. Throughout his book, he used to love as a metaphor for the injustice and bigotry that African-Americans are subjected to. Consequently, the author’s desired message may be successfully communicated via the employment of this literary method. On the other hand, literature has a role to play in evaluating society and, as a result, in finding a solution to this predicament. As a result, it is acceptable to conclude that Baldwin’s approach to battling racism and prejudice was warranted.

Work Cited

Baldwin, James. If Beale Street Could Talk. Vintage: New York, 1974. Print.

Butler, Yoshinobu Hakutani Robert. The City in African-American Literature. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1995.

Cabau, Jacques. “Love Story in Harlem”. L’Express, November 17-23, 1975: 70.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction.1978, 2014. Retrieved from: Retrieved on 22 July 2018.

Leeming, David. James Baldwin: a biography. Simon and Schuster, 2015.

Levmore, Saul, and Martha Craven Nussbaum, eds. American Guy: Masculinity in American Law and Literature. Oxford University Press, USA, 2014.

Rottenberg, Catherine, ed. Black Harlem and the Jewish Lower East Side: Narratives Out of Time. SUNY Press, 2013.


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