Notes of a Native Son Quotes

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Notes of a Native Son Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
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Notes of a Native Son Quotes Showing 1-30 of 107
“The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“I don't like people who like me because I'm a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one's own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.
I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“In overlooking, denying, evading this complexity--which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves--we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves. It is this power of revelation that is the business of the novelist, this journey toward a more vast reality which must take precedence over other claims.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent--which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“It was better not to judge the man who had gone down under an impossible burden. It was better to remember: Thou knowest this man's fall, but thou knowest not his wrassling.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger. I am not, really, a stranger any longer for any American alive. One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa. This fact faced, with all its implications, it can be seen that the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“Oedipus did not remember the thongs that bound his feet; nevertheless the marks they left testified to that doom toward which his feet were leading him. The man does not remember the hand that struck him, the darkness that frightened him, as a child; nevertheless, the hand and the darkness remain with him, indivisible from himself forever, part of the passion that drives him wherever he thinks to take flight.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“Yet one must also recognize that morality is based on ideas and that all ideas are dangerous—dangerous because ideas can only lead to action and where the action leads no man can say.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“In those days my mother was given to the exasperating and mysterious habit of having babies.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“Out of this incredible brutality, we get the myth of the happy darky and Gone With the Wind. And the North Americans appear to believe these legends, which they have created and which absolutely nothing in reality corroborates, until today. And when these legends are attacked, as is happening now—all over a globe which has never been and never will be White—my countrymen become childishly vindictive and unutterably dangerous. The”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“Wash me, cried the slave to his Maker, and I shall be whiter, whiter than snow!”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“I don’t think that the Negro problem in America can be even discussed coherently without bearing in mind its context; its context being the history, traditions, customs, the moral assumptions and preoccupations of the country; in short, the general social fabric. Appearances to the contrary, no one in America escapes its effects and everyone in America bears some responsibility for it.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“The black man in our midst carried murder in his heart, he wanted vengeance. We carried murder too, we wanted peace.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“This was not the man they had known, but they had scarcely expected to be confronted with him; this was, in a sense deeper than questions of fact, the man they had not known, and the man they had not known may have been the real one. The real man, whoever he had been, had suffered and now he was dead: this was all that was sure and all that mattered now.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“I learned in New Jersey that to be a Negro meant, precisely, that one was never looked at but was simply at the mercy of the reflexes the color of one’s skin caused in other people…That year in New Jersey lives in my mind as though it were the year during which, having an unsuspected predilection for it, I first contracted some dread, chronic disease, the unfailing symptom of which is a kind of blind fever, a pounding in the skull and fire in the bowels…There is not a Negro alive who does not have this rage in his blood–one has the choice, merely, of living with it consciously or surrendering to it. As for me, this fever has recurred in me, and does, and will until the day I die.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“Yet, if the American Negro has arrived at his identity by virtue of the absoluteness of his estrangement from his past, American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocence, of returning to a state in which black men do not exist. This is one of the greatest errors Americans can make. The identity they fought so hard to protect has, by virtue of that battle, undergone a change: Americans are as unlike any other white people in the world as it is possible to be. I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world-which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces in human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation which could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us, very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will--that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“In America, though, life seems to move faster than anywhere else on the globe and each generation is promised more than it will get: which creates, in each generation, a furious, bewildered rage, the rage of people who cannot find solid ground beneath their feet. Just”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“But that battered word, truth, having made its appearance here, confronts one immediately with a series of riddles and has, moreover, since so many gospels are preached, the unfortunate tendency to make one belligerent.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“...but no one was interested in the facts. They preferred the invention because this invention expressed and corroborated their hates and fears so perfectly.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“We cannot escape our origins, however hard we try, those origins which contain the key -could we but find it- to all we later become”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
“Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle.”
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

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