Rites Of Passage In Baldwin Essay, Research Paper
Maturity falls into two categories, physical maturity and psychological maturity. For most people, physical maturity occurs in any case, whereas only those who quest for self-identity achieve psychological maturity. James Baldwin depicts this kind of maturity in Go Tell It On The Mountain via the protagonist John Grimes. From a literal level, Baldwin develops the theme of rights of passage through the sub-themes of racism, religion, and paternalism and compares and contrasts them in order to illustrate John Grimes metamorphosis from a young boy to an adult within his society.
The sub-theme of religion deviates from the main theme, rights of passage. Baldwin performs this through John s experiences with religion. John s earliest memories bore semblances of a church, and a hurry and brightness of Sunday mornings (Baldwin 11). Thus, Baldwin creates the fact that religion plays an important part of John s life. In fact, the rest of John s life would become dominated by religion. Baldwin foreshadows this through a quote: Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father (Baldwin 11). John however must undergo a number of tests in order to become one of God s servants. In the beginning, John had a fierce hatred of God and his father. John s anger acts as a response to his father abusiveness; this anger erupts into such a fiery hatred that he hopes for the day when his father would be dying (Baldwin 21). In order for John to complete his rites of passage, he must forgive his father and thus accepts Christ s doctrine of love. Elijah aids John through his trial. He advises John to fall on your knees one day and ask him to help you pray (Baldwin 55). With this help and guidance, John found God more easily. John only achieves his salvation and religions acceptance at the end of the novel. In this scene, John experiences a vision in which he encounters an impasse of deciding to become saved or to become damned. John cries to the lord for help and for salvation. In a few moments, which seem like eternity for John, he cries, Take me through (Baldwin 204)! Through this last step of initiation, John becomes saved; he described this feeling as if his drifting soul was anchored in the love of God (Baldwin 204). In one way, John became more mature and aware of himself in the matters of religion.
Baldwin uses racism as a sub-theme of rights of passage. John Grimes portrays a typical African American in a white dominant society. Through this portrayal, Baldwin exposes the prejudice that a black man would experience. John s first encounter with this racism occurs when white boys stabbed his brother Roy. At that moment, John realizes that his race is ostracized by white society. When his mother says that Roy played in the wrong part of town, it further supported this realization. Furthermore, his father instructs John about his race s mistreatment. He verbalizes, It was white folks that tried to cut your brother s throat (Baldwin 45). This statement makes John thoughtful; he begins to understand that society contains many white people that hate the black race. John begins to diverge away from the downfall of internalized racism. This type of racism exists, according to Http://www.Pinkmonkey.com, when the kind of thinking produced by African Americans–or any group targeted by racism– believe the stereotypes about themselves and imagine that European Americans are superior.
Ultimately, John experiences a vision during a moment of prayer. In this vision, a voice calls out to John and reveals to him about the black curse . The voice then whispers sardonically, all niggers had come from the most undutiful of Noah s sons (Baldwin 197). John does not comply; instead he questions this curse and here, John s strength stands out. Through this passage, Baldwin makes evident John s rights to be African American. John shows signs of taking part in society as African American.
One last sub-theme that John must pass to achieve his rights of passage takes the form of patriarchy. John must conquer the right of his manhood through his family. This begins on the morning of his fourteenth birthday; upon awakening, he comes into contact with a feeling of rebellion. This rebellion comes about from the feelings he feel about his father and the way his father controls the family with an iron fist. Through the course of the novel, however, he undergoes a change that makes him further understand his family. One example of this occurs when John commences a dialogue with his mother in which he learns that his father beats him because he loves [him] (Baldwin 25). Although at first John does not comprehend this message, after some time, he begins to understand the role of his father. He realizes that his father is mean at times, but only to protect his family. This contributes to the ending of the novel in which John forgives his father. In addition, John also begins to realize the importance of his mother. Her love is exemplified in her recognizing of his birthday. Furthermore, when John s mother gives John his birthday present, John s heart broke and he wanted to put his head on her belly where the wet spot was and cry (Baldwin 31). These proceedings add to John s definition of his family. Through this definition, John earns his spot in his family and his spot as a man.
Baldwin also compares the three sub-themes in order to display the similarities of John s passage. The sub-theme of religion and patriarchy interrelate because it affects John on the microcosm level. After John completes his rites of passage for religion, he finds himself part of a larger community. According to Van Gennep, he identifies this as incorporation (97). His definition of rites of passage constitutes three rites: separation, transition, and incorporation. In the sub-theme of patriarchy, John also experiences incorporation because he becomes part of the family. On the macrocosm level, racism and religion exhibits signs of similarities. Upon facing racism, John creates his identity and therefore he separates from the foreclosure. The same also applies to religion; he undergoes authentic conversion. John leaves his current state to become part of the church. In addition, transition occurs in patriarchy and religion. Transition in patriarchy primarily takes the form of changing from an order-accepting child into an order-giving adult. In the field of religion, John transforms from residing in the pews to one commanding in the pulpit. Baldwin incorporates relating sub-themes in order to measure collectively John Grime s growth.
James Baldwin contrasts the sub-themes in effort to gauge the maturity in all aspects of John Grime s life. Referring back to Van Gessep s analysis of rites of passage, the analysis drawn can show that incorporation and separation exists as opposites. For example, in the sub-theme of religion, incorporation and separation occurs. John becomes part of the holy family but he must separate him from the sinful world. Religion also contrasts with racism. In religion, John accepts the doctrine of love; in contrast, racism causes John to comprehend the hate that his race encounters. The conflict, however, does not affect John much because one affects him on the micro level and the other on the macro level. Patriarchy provides much dissimilarity from racism. This takes place because although John can help control his family, he has no authority whatsoever about the topic of racism. By contrasting the sub-themes, Baldwin effectively describes the multitude of ways in which John progresses.
John begins a boy, and ends as a young man. The story does not take place for longer than a couple of days. However, Baldwin makes it evident that John completed his rites of passage. John Grimes now take part as an adult in his society. He has successfully achieved authentic conversion.
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