cover of book

Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin
by Trudier Harris
University of Tennessee Press, 1985
Paper: 978-0-87049-534-2 | Cloth: 978-0-87049-461-1
Library of Congress Classification PS3552.A45Z69 1985
Dewey Decimal Classification 813.54

In James Baldwin's fiction, according to Trudier Harris, black women are conceptually limited figures until their author ceases to measure them by standards of the community fundamentalist church. Harris analyzes works written over a thirty-year period to show how Baldwin's development of female character progresses through time.

Black women in the early fiction, responding to their elders as well as to religious influences, see their lives in terms of duty as wives, mothers, sisters, and lovers. Failure in any of these roles leads to guilt feelings and the expectation of damnation. In later works, Baldwin adopts a new point of view, acknowledging complex extenuating circumstances in lieu of pronouncing moral judgement. Female characters in works written at this stage eventually come to believe that the church affords no comfort.

Baldwin subsequently makes villains of some female churchgoers, and caring women who do not attend church become his most attractive characters. Still later in Baldwin's career, a woman who frees herself of guilt by moving completely beyond the church attains greater contentment than almost all of her counterparts in the earlier works.  
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