James Arthur Baldwin is a great African American writer. His first novel “Go Tell it on the Mountain” was published in 1953. His most famous book “Fire Next Time” was published in 1963. “My Dungeon Shook: A Letter to My Nephew” is one of the two essays of the book “Fire Next Time”. The two essays are written in the form of personal letters.
Baldwin uses words as the sea uses
waves. This essay was written on the 100th anniversary of the
Emancipation in 1963. It was in the year 1863 that Abraham Lincoln abolished
slavery in America by passing the Emancipation Proclamation.
This essay is in the form of a letter written to
Baldwin’s nephew James. Baldwin tells his nephew that his grandfather was very
soft at heart, but pretended to be very tough. He was so innocent that he
blindly believed whatever the whites told him. They told him that he was a
“nigger” and he believed it. “nigger” is the most dirty and vulgar name given
to a human being. The grandfather thought of himself a cursed dirty slave and
worked for the Whites. Thus the grandfather destroyed himself. This is why
he had a terrible life and he was defeated long before he died.
The blacks were brought from
in ships and forced them to work as slaves in farms and homes of the whites.
They silently suffered the cruelties of the whites for centuries. These
miserable living conditions of the blacks are narrated by Charles Dickens in
his famous novels. The black children were born in the slums of the cities and
they are sent to orphanages and workhouses. For the whites, a black is a
worthless human being and he must live and perish in a ghetto.
Referring to the birth of his nephew James,
Baldwin says that on the day when his nephew was born,
they all trembled with fear because of the sufferings the child will have to
undergo in his life. But they were not sad. Instead they were thrilled with joy
because a boy was born to them. One more soldier was born to the black
community to fight the cruelties of the whites. So they loved him, gave him
too much love to strengthen him in order to face the hardships, the
imprisonments, the humiliations and other innumerable sufferings and thus the
blacks survived. Baldwin says that if the
blacks had not loved each other none of them would have survived.
According to James Baldwin, the white Americans are afraid of the strength and capacity of the Blacks to dominate the whites in all fields of life, such as sports and games, literature etc. This is why they gave the blacks the symbols of life such as ‘nigger’, ‘ghetto’ and ask them to be slaves of the whites. For many centuries the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, and worked for him as his slave, but with the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation Law, slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln. It was a rude shock to the innocent white men. This ‘terrible law” upset their identity and now they lost their identity. They are no longer masters and the blacks are no longer slaves. It is a terrible paradox for the whites..
Baldwin explains this shock of the whites in beautiful
phrases.” In one morning they woke up and shocked to see “the sun shines and
stars aflame”. The Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery for ever in
It resulted in the loss of their identity. They thought of themselves
superior as long as the slaves are there. Now slavery is abolished and they
lost their identity as masters. Therefore USA Baldwin
advises his nephew to accept the whites as his brothers with love. Thus Baldwin gives a new meaning to the word ‘ integration, ’which
Referring to the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, the President of America on 1st January 1863, James Baldwin says that all the blacks in
could not believe at first the happiest news in their lives that slavery has
been abolished. They are no longer ‘nigger’. They have become human beings with
dignity and equality. On hearing this glad news an unknown black poet sang
praising God Almighty for His love and cried “Free at last, free at last, thank
God Almighty, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off”. This is called “Old
Negro Spiritual”. James Baldwin reminds his nephew of his great lineage that he
has come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since
Homer. The poem titled “Old Negro spiritual” itself shows the amazing poetic
talent of the blacks. America
more than a hundred years
and two different Acts to grant the blacks their legitimate civil rights. They
are the Emancipation Proclamation passed in the year 1863 and Civil Rights Act
passed in 1964. America