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Blues for Mister Charlie

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  845 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
In a small Southern town, a white man murders a black man, then throws his body in the weeds. With this act of violence--which is loosely based on the notorious 1955 killing of Emmett Till--James Baldwin launches an unsparing and at times agonizing probe of the wounds of race. For where once a white storekeeper could have shot a "boy" like Richard Henry with impunity, time ...more
Paperback, 121 pages
Published April 25th 1995 by Vintage Books (first published 1964)
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The Fire Next Time by James BaldwinAnother Country by James BaldwinGiovanni's Room by James BaldwinGo Tell It on the Mountain by James BaldwinNotes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Best of James Baldwin
9th out of 22 books — 45 voters
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Tin Pan Alley
23rd out of 41 books — 15 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,579)
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Yamini
Jul 08, 2015 Yamini rated it really liked it
A play inspired by the story of Emmett Till, I knew this would be a rough read but underestimated by just how much. For majority of the play, Baldwin had me convinced that the story wouldn’t play out the way Till’s story did but in the end, it shook me completely to realize just how indifferent the world really is.

In his introduction, Baldwin tells us:
The plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity: and this raging plague has the power to destroy every human relationship.

The play
...more
3Malik
May 15, 2009 3Malik rated it it was amazing
Malik Cooper
English Period 3
Banned Books Essay

Books that are banned from schools are books that are looked at by parents that complain about things that some of them have probably did. They are just too afraid to sit down with the child and talk to them about the different things in the world. So the child goes and gets books to read and learn on their own. If all the books get banned and we have parents afraid to sit down and talk about sex, drugs, and violence how will we learn? You can experi
...more
Kelly
Oct 10, 2011 Kelly rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
The 1955 murder of 14-year old African-American boy Emmett Till was brutal and shocking by any standards. After speaking to a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store, Till was kidnapped and taken to a barn where he was beaten and had his eye gouged out before ultimately being shot in the head and dumped in the Tallahatchie River.

Roy Bryant was acquitted of murder despite pretty much bragging all over town that he did it.

Blues for Mister Charlie changes the names, but is based on the events o
...more
Lisa
Mar 12, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing
i read this in one sitting. it's always a good sign when a book causes you to actually laugh, cry, guffaw, and such out loud. considering baldwin didn't really do drama (in the intro to my copy he writes that he never intended to do drama at all and actually hates the form), but he does a really great job with it. the setting and scene directions are great. i could visualize the stage set up while reading it and the physical set up added a lot to the action. wish i could have seen this performed ...more
Adam
Aug 08, 2015 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's been a very long time since I've read a play - despite my interest in many forms of storytelling, my familiarity with the format is pretty minimal beyond the high school standards. But in reading a good steady diet of James Baldwin since about March of this year, I inevitably had to cross into his playwriting.

This is a fine play, and I would love to see a production of it. My general impression of theater is a kind of over-the-top-ness - emotions getting over-emphasized, actors making too l
...more
Marsalis Mitchell
The book "Blues for Mister Charlie" by James Baldwin is a drama and play book. The setting is in Plague town, U.S.A. In Act one it starts off with Meridian Henry trying to get justice for his own son,Richard, death. Meridian seeks help from Parnell who is the editor of the local newspaper. Henry thinks it was Lyle a white store-owner. In act two Lyle finds out from Parnell, his best friend, that there is a warrant for his arrest. Parnell and Lyle break into an argument when he tells him that bla ...more
Anardo Miller
Oct 13, 2014 Anardo Miller rated it really liked it
Blues for Mister Charlie by James Baldwin is a play that's based on the murder of Emmett Till. Parnell, editor of the local newspaper, tells Meridian that Lyle Britten will be arrested for the murder of Richard.There used to be times where a white storekeeper could shoot a negro without any trouble, but not now, Lyle will be taken to court.
I liked how this play went through different time periods so often. It gave the play a sense of character. It was different and I think Baldwin did it effortl
...more
Maughn Gregory
Aug 19, 2010 Maughn Gregory rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
A bitter experience, reading this play. An ugly story (based on the case of Emmett Till), beautifully told. Baldwin portrays the disfigurement of race, sex, and Christianity in mid-20th-century America, and offers little hope for redemption.
Nikhil
Jun 16, 2014 Nikhil rated it liked it
Shelves: af-am, drama, american
The third act (the trial) felt forced. I understand it was supposed to illustrate the farcical nature of the trial, but it just came off as awkward. The first two acts, however, were quite good.

I wonder about this text's relationship with the Black Arts Movement. Baldwin was always peripheral to the movement, in no small part due to the homophobia present in writings by Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver. There are characters in the play straight out of the Black Power movement, with all the acc
...more
Yossie
This was a sad, painful read.

Ugh.

I closed the book and realised something about Baldwin's endings: there is no such thing as "closure." The story ends, in ways we, the readers, are uncomfortable with. We are left wondering.

What did Baldwin try to do with endings? Taste of reality?
Maybe this idea that in "real life," as in his writing, there isn't always a happy ending. The people - in 'real life' and in fiction - have to go on living in spite of the great tragedy that befalls them. They have to
...more
Harold Smithson (Suicide punishable by Death)
Anyone who has lived in a small town has met characters similar to those in this book: People you can talk to for days and yet find yourself still repeating the same points because they refuse to meet you halfway, instead opting to defend their worldview not through superior reasoning, but simply by writing off what you are saying. People familiar with this kind of person will also note that in Blues for Mister Charlie James Baldwin manages to perfectly capture the voice of these people, a remar ...more
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Micah
May 06, 2013 Micah rated it liked it
Feeling a little weird giving James Fucking Baldwin three stars, but I gotta. Some of the characters in this play felt flat and underdeveloped, especially the pastor, who is the father of the murdered young man. They feel less like human beings and more like vehicles through which Baldwin makes political points. The courtroom scenes felt rushed, and the presence of the supposed dialogue taking place outside the courtroom interspersed with what was actually taking place inside the courtroom was c ...more
Anna&Scott Stockdale/Guggenheimer
I love James Baldwin. Love. Propositioned to write a play, he initially refused, railing against the failures of modern drama to capture any truth. Convinced that the murder of Emmitt Till in 1955 created the need to discuss race further, he ultimately through his hat onto the stage. The result is astounding.

The play centers around two families that vaguely resemble the key players in the Till murder. Both the black family and the white family are on stage for the majority of the play, though th
...more
Darren Willis
Sep 25, 2012 Darren Willis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First published and produced in 1964, this is James Baldwin's second play.

It takes place in a rural town in the American South, where a young black student, Richard, has been murdered.

The story focuses on Richard, his friends and family in the town's black community, as well as the white community, including the murder suspect, a young shop owner named Lyle. One of the more interesting characters is Parnell, a white journalist who acts as sort of a bridge between the two communities, with frie
...more
Tracey
Oct 08, 2011 Tracey rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Tracey by: Professor Veronica Wilson-Tagoe
the first time i read this (mid-August), i knew that the play was loosely based on the killing of Emmett Till. before reading it again, the professor of a Contemporary African American Literature course i'm taking encouraged us to get familiar with the story behind Emmett Till's murder (which was never discussed in history classes when i was younger). this play shook my insides both times that i read it, but the second time, i find that i'm much angrier. i may have to read this a third time befo ...more
Yvette Porter Moore
Aug 11, 2014 Yvette Porter Moore rated it it was amazing
Baldwin's "Blues for Mister Charlie" is still very relevant after Fifty years when we as a society continue to deal with cases such as Trayvon Martin. Who has power and who gets justice?

Baldwin weaves a story around race, sexuality and justice.

There are so many summaries and reviews of this work of art. I suggest that everyone read because today we are repeating history, and in order to rid our society of injustice, we must know the history of it, and do something to affect change throughout ou
...more
Alison
Sep 14, 2014 Alison rated it it was amazing
WOW. I haven't read a play this good in a long time. The protagonists were reprehensible, the antagonists had their human moments... things just came together well. The only confusing thing was that sometimes the narration would jump straight into flashback, and it throws you off unless you're reading carefully, but by the time you get to Act 3 you get the hang of it, which is good because Act 3 is half action, half cathartic flashback.
Gaelan D'costa
Feb 01, 2009 Gaelan D'costa rated it it was ok
Shelves: plays, anti-racist
Like most of Baldwin's work I find his anti-intolerance stance admirable. The book did not catch my attention either as a play or a statement. Unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, which felt a bit more universal, this book doesn't escape the world it was set in.

I can respect the historical significance of this book, but to a twenty-first century whippersnapper for whom racial coexistance is not an opption but implied in existence, the issues it deals with are disrespectfully and --yes, naively-- discar
...more
Paul
Jul 04, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing
Blistering and scathing tale based in a passing way on the murder of Emmett Till. Baldwin is in peak form as he lays bear the problems of race relations at the time of the Civil Rights Movement. Sadly, as the Trayvon Martin case illustrates, we haven't advanced very far in that regard, making this play as relevant now as when Baldwin wrote it.
Salvatore
Mar 18, 2015 Salvatore rated it liked it
Sad read. Probably would be an O'Neill length of a drama staged. But Baldwin I think pulls off the questioning of memory and history ridiculously well - kinda like Stoppard.
Sarah
Jul 27, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Admittedly, I watched it performed, but I'm counting it!) Wow. Powerful. Also fascinating and heartbreaking to read today and realize how much has not changed.
Ketrina Childs
Jan 24, 2014 Ketrina Childs rated it it was amazing
Amazing play...I picked this play to perform a scene from it and was advised to read the whole thing. My scene partner and I read the whole thing in a day and was left speechless. A mist read for anyone...the language is a bit much so not ideal for anyone younger than high school.
India Braver
Mar 11, 2016 India Braver rated it really liked it
A poignant, moving play about race relations in small town America, where the characters are less archetypal than To Kill A Mockingbird.
Mike
Sep 06, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing
Another great Baldwin piece. He really is good. James Baldwin creates these characters with the feeling of being multidimensional without overstating their positions.
Ashley
Mar 07, 2014 Ashley rated it it was amazing
"If you're a Black man with a Black son, you have to forget about white people and concentrate on trying to save your child."
Stephen
May 22, 2012 Stephen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr. all signed a letter praising this 1964 play along with a couple of dozen others including Marlon Brando, Shelley Winters and Tennessee Williams. It's dated. It's difficult. By the very end I was interested but what an effort it was to get there. I would have rather read a non-fiction account of the Emmet Till case it's said to be based on. I did get a giggle out of the use of outdated slang (dig, swinging, "the man") but not so muc ...more
Jennifer Stoy
Some of the speeches just *got* me, especially Richard's last speech to Lyle. Highly recommended.
Allison West
May 05, 2015 Allison West rated it really liked it
This play is a little hard to read because it jumps around a lot, but it is a very relevant play for our world today.
Phillip
Jul 28, 2011 Phillip rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama
A really interesting play, which explores racism and violence by attempting to see inside a white supremacist's head. For me what's most fascinating about this play is the moral conflicts of the minor characters, particularly Juanita and Parnell. To me, the main conflict becomes something of a backdrop for their problems and their attempts at solutions. This isn't because of a problem with the way Baldwin has written the play, just that I happen to be more interested in the minor characters than ...more
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James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. The eldest of nine children, his stepfather was a minister. At age 14, Bal
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“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.” 5 likes
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