Write a letter to James Baldwin telling him what you think of the power of his writing.
Dear Mister Baldwin,
This letter is hard to write. I have more questions to ask than I have comments to make… and not all of them for you. I don’t know if all my questions are answerable, but I will ask them regardless:
Why is it that certain things give certain people pleasure, whilst to others it brings them pain?
The weight of this question makes little sense without directly referring to your story Going to Meet the Man. I will be blunt; there is not a single thing I like about the story. In fact, I hate it. I was reading it on the bus and to all the other commuters, I must’ve appeared to have inhaled the most putrid stench imaginable; my face is an open book. I don’t know how to hide my emotions. The protagonist disgusts me – how can he, and his parents, and all the rest of the white-Americans present at the torture and death of the African-American man not simply commit the acts they did, but derive such pleasure from witnessing this monstrosity? How can the protagonist only be aroused once he contemplates events like these?
How can torture be linked to sexual pleasure?
The protagonist is only a young boy when he witnesses the terrible murder of the man. Yet he is not afraid of what he sees, nor does he feel any disgust. Rather, he feels a sense of awe and wonder, of pride in his parents and his people.
Does this mean that, by nature, we are more impressionable than we are morally sound?
This then leads me to question what morality is. From this story – which is not really a story, I suppose, but history, which is why I loathe it with every part of me – I can conclude that there is no universal set of morals, and they differ according to each culture, time, place, religion.
What baffled me in my second reading of this story was that the protagonist considered himself “a good man, a God-fearing man”. And yet, here he was breaking so many of the commandments, and dismissing the central message of his faith, which is to love…
I am sorry this letter has been so negative. Then again, I suppose my horrified reaction to your story is a positive thing; it has caused me to reflect not only on the past, but the present, and made me reassess my own treatment of humans, and how morally sound I currently am. Going to Meet the Man is as effective as it is horrible, Mister Baldwin, and I salute your severe delivery of a reality so different yet relatable to mine. Thank you for not shying away from exposing the harsh truth.