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In search of the fraternal: Salvific manhood and male intimacy in the novels of James Baldwin

Ernest L. Gibson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In his 1962 essay "The Creative Process," James Baldwin begins by stating, "Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone." By the 1960s, Baldwin knew all-too-well the state of black male subjectivity in an America fraught with social disharmony. His musings highlight that while the struggles of black manhood can be reduced to discussions of race, class, and/or sexuality, its fate is primarily governed by a subtler phenomenon, namely—this "state of being alone." Baldwin's consideration is a sort of self-dichotomization, as he is at once both artist and man, and while suggesting that the artist must cultivate "loneliness," he also recognizes the necessity for its avoidance. In this regard, James Baldwin as writer emerges as a critical recourse for James Baldwin as man, becomes the medium through which he, through himself and for himself, reaches a particular end. ^ This project examines the male emotion and vulnerability in the novels of James Baldwin. Within his novels, from Go Tell it on the Mountain to Just Above My Head, James Baldwin foregrounds male relationships in a way that exposes fraternal crises. This fraternal crisis, in one vein, points to this project as a theory of space, as it denotes an absence of male intimacy, a state of being where distance, disconnect, unwillingness and fear shape a symbolic space-in-between men. In another sense, it reflects how Baldwin's preoccupation with the state of being alone leads to his fictional pursuit of the fraternal, a metaphysical construction of spatial manhood detectable by intimacy: the vulnerable, emotional and physical closeness of men. Essentially, the search for the fraternal in Baldwin's fiction captures black manhood's cry for male intimacy in a world of isolation, rejection, and oppression while marking the redemptive power of male love through the emergence of salvific manhood.^

Subject Area

African American studies|Modern literature|Black studies|American literature|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Gibson, Ernest L., "In search of the fraternal: Salvific manhood and male intimacy in the novels of James Baldwin" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3518234.