Discussion Question – How does Baldwin “excavate and recreate history” in “My Dungeon Shook”? What tactic does he employ in this writing to link the changes in time? How do they serve to cast light on civil rights?
In this story Baldwin highlights how bring free at this point in time didn’t really mean free. He goes on to explain to James the nephew his history and what it meant and how it contributed to his strength and being great in the future. The tactic he used was explaining the difference in the white man and the black men and why they weren’t yet freed and how they could also be destroyed by believing whatever the white man said about them as being black. “ This innocent country set you down in a ghetto I which, in fact, it is intended that you should perish”(Trodd, Zoe, 2008). He goes on to say that anything that he should face is only because he was black and for no other reason, and because of this limits have been placed. He pinpoints that it was never intended for blacks to succeed and they were put in a position to accept and deal with mediocre things and living. At this time, Baldwin highlights that the way the culture of the blacks were set they were left to believe whatever the white men said about them because they had much influence over them. It wasn’t based on slavery at this point Baldwin states, but because white men felt that black men were inferior to them and the only way to keep them down or from excelling was to try and control them in many aspects of their emotional and environmental being. In relation to the civil rights Baldwin pin points integration and how black really become free amongst themselves and the whites. He says to accept them as your brother and with love regardless of their thoughts. He feels as if they don’t know any better and they go by what history has passed along but do not themselves understand it (Trodd, Zoe, 2008). Integration to him meant that they would not flee from reality and that this in relation to get the white Americans to see and accept who they are would change things. The blacks from this viewpoint were not free until the white men change their way of thinking and freed their minds of being superior to black men.
Trodd, Zoe. American Protest Literature. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.
In the beginning of the passage Baldwin is writing a letter to his nephew, namesake and his younger self. As he is describing James whom he is writing to he refers to him believing that he is really what the white world calls a nigger. He describes how the black people were in society but really not even recognized as society. They are a substandard race. “Your countrymen don’t know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives (Trodd, pg 344).” During this time families were happy when they had a baby yet scared to pieces of the life ahead for this child. Born black they are in a loveless world against the blacks therefore they had to love hard amongst one another.
“Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could do it and whom you could marry (Trodd, pg. 344).” Society looked at blacks as a group that would and could not ever succeed at anything in life. This is what whites had been taught. With the civil rights movement the blacks are free but have to also free themselves as far as integration. They have to step up and show they do have the right to be in society and be accepted by all as equal. He tells this young man that times have changed but the white man’s thinking has not. It is not their fault, they just do not understand because of what they have been taught. Baldwin is basically saying that the black man has been freed legally but until both the white and black peoples way of thinking changes they will never be completely free. It has to start somewhere.
Zinn, Zoe Trodd: John Stauffer: Howard. American Protest Literature. First Harvard University Press, 2008.