Going to Meet the Man
"There's no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it." The men and women in these eight short fictions grasp this truth on an elemental level, and their stories, as told by James Baldwin, detail the ingenious and often desperate ways in which they try to keep their head above water. It may be the heroin that a down-and-out jazz pianist uses to face the terror of pouring his life into an inanimate instrument. It may be the brittle piety of a father who can never forgive his son for his illegitimacy. Or it may be the screen of bigotry that a redneck deputy has raised to blunt the awful childhood memory of the day his parents took him to watch a black man being murdered by a gleeful mob. By turns haunting, heartbreaking, and horrifying--and informed throughout by Baldwin's uncanny knowledge of the wounds racism has left in both its victims and its perpetrators--Going to Meet the Man is a major work by one of our most important writers.
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Writer and playwright James Baldwin was born August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York. One of the 20th century's greatest writers, Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works. He was especially well known for his essays on the black experience in America. (This annotation contains an image)
How must Roy feel about the rockpile, based on how he wishes his gaze might acquire wings?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Based on the way the brothers speak to each other, what can the reader infer about their mother?
The sensory details, or imagery, here help the reader to imagine the rockpile. (This annotation contains a video)
Why would John look to see if his father is almost there?
You can infer, or make a guess based on evidence, from the fact that John looks at this happy mother and baby that he may not feel his mother loves him.
The imagery of the mother's vision has which of the following impacts on the reader?
Will Roy change, based on what has happened to him? If he does, that makes him a dynamic character. If not, he remains static, or unchanging.
Which of the following words is an antonym to the word "perdition"?
If you are having trouble following the language in the beginning of this piece, the church invites everyone, but mostly sinners go on this field trip.
Read between the lines: what is happening to all the boys?
When authors introduce characters, they use two types of characterization, direct and indirect. By telling the audience that Johnnie's mother is fearfully distracted, the author is employing direct characterization. (This annotation contains an image)
Just as Johnnie's mother is described directly, the reader must use indirect characterization to see how Johnnie's stepfather feels about him. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on indirect characterization, how does the deacon feel about his stepson, Johnnie?
Just as the boys compared the physical signs of growing up, now Johnnie experiences the emotional side of growing up. In fact, the difficulties of growing up may be a theme in this short story. This video may help you to identify other themes as they emerge. (This annotation contains a video)
What will happen to Johnnie when they get home, if Johnnie continues to speak disrespectfully to his stepfather?
Roy knows how to be polite to the faces of adults, but he is also the boy who swears behind their backs. (This annotation contains an image)
Why would David protest going to revival meetings?
David wonders about death. Being aware of your mortality is another step in growing up, and thus develops the theme. This event could also be a hint of what is to come, also known as foreshadowing.
What does Gabriel say about Johnnie, as he describes the boy as full of pride?
As the author gives human characteristics to the ship's gears, also known as personification, you should also feel a sense of foreboding. Who will this outing destroy?
When Gabriel asks to preach on Sunday, what does the author reveal about his character?
Through indirect characterization, we can see that David cares for Johnnie and supports him. Will this innocent love survive their growing up?
Describe in your own words what type of characterization the author employs here, as Father James is described as loud and filled with triumph. Be sure to give textual evidence to support your response.
The sensory details here serve to let you feel the elation of the parishioners.
Which character must have shouted "Testify"?
As Elisha thanks God for saving him before he was tempted by worldly things, he is speaking directly to Johnnie and David.
How does this description of the balance between the power of revelation and the power of nature help develop the theme of growing up?
This is not literal fire--this is figurative fire, or passion, that moves the congregation. (This annotation contains an image)
Why might Johnnie resist being saved?
Rather than feel swept up by the passion of the church, Johnnie is swept up by a passion of a different sort.
Who captivates Johnnie's interest?
At this moment, Johnnie suffers from an internal conflict. This video will help you determine just what an internal conflict is. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Sylvia's question to David about his salvation reveal about her character?
By describing the boat whistle as fretful and insistent, the author is again using personification. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is an accurate statement of theme in the highlighted sentence?
The Man Child
This story has a different set of characters than the first two.
The section about Jamie's birthday is a flashback. The below video might help you understand a little more, if you don't already know what a flashback is. (This annotation contains a video)
Explain how the sentences describing Eric's mother in her blue dress are part of a flashback.
This statement, where Jamie states he can do what he wants to his property, is key to understanding the ultimate tragedy of this story.
Eric's mother doesn't seem to like Jamie very much.
Which type of characterization is evident in the description of Eric's mother's laugh? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
The fact that this story is written from Eric's point of view is important here. Eric feels that Jamie and his father have always been exactly the same. What is Jamie saying here about what has changed with his relationship with his friend?
Read between the lines again here. Jamie accuses Eric's father of having three things: a wife, a child, and the land. Then he says that there was nothing to keep him there, and stresses that "all the things" were taken from him. Ask yourself: who might Eric's father truly be, since all of Eric's other siblings are all stillborn?
The buzzing most likely symbolizes
Jamie strikes at his dog because he cannot strike out against Eric's father.
Describe what Eric's father's look and what he says to his friend Jamie say about him as a character. Is this direct or indirect characterization?
We, the readers, know what Eric's father is saying: that Jamie acts childishly. This exchange is another reason the author's choice in using Eric as the narrator is interesting, because Eric does not understand the adult world around him.
Why does Eric's father say Jamie lost his land?
Throughout this story, Eric's father belittles Jamie. What will be the result of this?
How does Eric's point of view affect the story in the highlighted text?
Here is another example of personification, as Eric feels he is master of all that he surveys.
Why is the point of view so important in this story?
Although we will never know the truth, we know that Jamie has a heartfelt belief that he can do what he likes to what he sees as his. Based on all the evidence, including Eric's death, it is clear that Jamie believes he is Eric's true father. This makes the murder all the more horrifying.
When the narrator describes the motor cars as "screaming on the asphalt," he is using
This story is written in first person, which means that we cannot know exactly what Jules is saying. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is true because this story is written in first person?
Racial inequality is a central idea, or theme, in this short story. How will it affect Peter, the narrator?
Use evidence from the text to explain how Peter deals with racism in this section of the story?
At first Peter saw his race as something powerful, but this power caused an internal conflict, making Peter feel betrayed.
When Jules tells Peter to stay undercover, it means he is supposed to hide
Both "no room at the inn" and "the notorious son of man" are biblical allusions, or references, to Jesus.
How has racism affected Peter?
Authors often use similes to help readers gain deeper insight into the hearts of characters. Below is a brief explanation of the difference between similes and metaphors. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on context clues, why does Peter turn down the leading role in Native Son?
Ida wants Peter to realize that racism is more than just mistreatment of African Americans. How will Peter respond?
Why does Peter lash out at Ida?
The highlighted phrase repeats several times in the story. A repeating image, idea, or theme is called a motif. Will it repeat again? (This annotation contains an image)
The motif has changed to one of pity and terror. What does this change symbolize?
Peter feels he is better than the African Americans in Harlem.
Watch for references to darkness in this story. It is a motif. What theme will this motif support?
Here again is the darkness motif. Which of the following themes is supported by the motif of the light going out?
Here again is the darkness motif. The movies blind them to the hopeless reality of their lives.
What is the significance of seeing this boy in the shadows?
Even the boy realizes his life is hopeless.
Why would the narrator feel ice in his guts?
Although the narrator feels a sense of dread and sees only darkness, Sonny sees the light. Does this mean Sonny feels hope?
Which literary device is the author employing when the narrator describes the effect of the age difference?
Lenox Avenue has great significance to the Harlem Renaissance. This video clip dramatizes Langston Hughes's poem "Lenox Avenue: Midnight," reading the poem at the end. Be prepared to compare the clip to the story. (This annotation contains a video)
Compare and contrast the Lenox Avenue in the video clip with the Lenox Avenue described on this page.
This is the last time the narrator saw his mother alive. Why would he think that darkness was invading?
Explain how this description of the darkness motif helps develop the theme that the future is hopeless.
Although the narrator did not yet know it, his mother knew that the darkness could invade any of them.
Which two themes intersect in the way the narrator's Daddy felt?
Does the narrator fulfill the promise he made to his mother?
Based on the way the narrator describes jazz musicians, which of the following definitions is best for "good-time people"?
If Sonny thinks about his future grimly, then he sees that the future is hopeless, too.
Why would Sonny want to get out of Harlem?
How do the shadows add to the darkness motif?
Isabel and her family take away the only thing protecting Sonny from the darkness--music. This makes Sonny feel like he is metaphorically stripped naked.
How does the darkness connect Sonny and the narrator after Gracie's death?
Music saves them from the darkness, just as it did for Sonny.
When Sonny describes how heroin makes him feel, he compares the feeling to
Sonny has tried the navy, music, and heroin to avoid suffering. Have any of them worked?
Explain how this description of the terrible struggle within develops the theme of the hopeless of the future and the darkness motif.
Sonny has tried desperately to escape the darkness, but as it symbolizes the hopeless future, he cannot escape it.
What is the significance of the light from the bandstand?
Note the imagery as the author describes Sonny's internal conflict and the struggle between the forces of light and darkness.
What is the hope, the light, of the people?
The power of music is vividly clear here. It reminds the narrator that everyone has sorrow, and protects the people from that same sorrow.
This Morning, This Evening, So Soon
Setting, including time and place, is very important to understanding this story. Since the narrator "returned from [his] only visit to America," where are they now?
Why will the narrator and his family most likely travel to New York?
The narrator and his wife constitute a mixed race couple, something that was illegal in the 1960s in many places in the United States. How will their marriage affect the story?
What is one factor that contributes to Harriet and the narrator falling in love?
Although the narrator believes that Europeans are not racist because of his wife's attitudes, Harriet and Louisa have found hidden racism in the language.
Based on what Louisa says to her brother, what must have happened to their mother?
If the pair are visiting the Eiffel Tower, they must be in France. (This annotation contains an image)
How long does the narrator's family plan to be in America?
By mentioning his friend fighting in Algeria, the narrator gives us another clue about the setting. The Algerian War took place from 1954-1962, with Algiers fighting for its independence from France.
Because the bridge scene takes place on "one tremendous, April morning," we know that the setting is
There has been another flashback, this time to eight years ago, and another change in setting. Now we know why the narrator returned to America.
What does the boat trip help the narrator to discover about Americans?
The song "Strange Fruit" refers to African Americans lynched on a tree. Here's Billie Holiday singing the song. (This annotation contains a video)
In addition to the simile, what other literary device is the author employing when describing the city?
The love he feels for his fiance transforms the way he sees the world.
Why does the author choose to have this list of sounds in one sentence?
No longer describing the past, the narrator is back in Paris in the present.
How does the narrator see America?
The narrator wants to believe that African Americans can have dignity, much as the men from Algiers have dignity. Why would the narrator want so desperately for this dignity to be true?
Why does Vidal think the narrator is angry?
The punctuation and italics let us know that the author is using verbal irony here. It is not kindness that he received from white people. If you're not sure what verbal irony is, see this video clip below. (This annotation contains a video)
Explain the metaphor that the narrator uses here to explain life to Vidal.
The narrator sees his wife and the love she has for him as freedom from the racism of America.
How long will the narrator stay in America?
The difference between how the narrator is treated in Paris and how he was treated in America is stark.
Which literary device does the narrator use when describing the boy with a guitar? How does it add to the story?
It must be strange to have your own voice playing as you sit in the discotheque. (This annotation contains an image)
When Pete asks the narrator if he is scared, what is Pete implying?
Some philosophers suggest that only those things we see are real. Will the narrator be able to believe in Paris, when he is in the United States again?
What does indirect characterization reveal about the narrator as he calls Boona to join them?
If you don't know where Tunisia is, the below map will help. (This annotation contains an image)
Who does Pete accuse of stealing money?
It seems the narrator will give money to them to smooth things over. Why else would he be glad he has no dollars?
Who do you think the narrator should believe? Give evidence from the text to support your response.
What a terrible position to be in!
When the narrator describes Ada as an urchin, which literary device is he employing?
Imagine being in a strange city and accusing someone of theft. (This annotation contains an image)
Come Out the Wilderness
This title is a reference to a African American spiritual of the same name. If you've never heard the song, here it is below. (This annotation contains a video)
As Ruth worries about where Paul might be, she uses _______ to describe her bed becoming ashes and hot coals.
Ruth believes she is at peace with the fact that Paul is white and she is black, but at the same time she is convinced it is her race that causes Paul to treat her poorly.
Paul says he was reluctant to wake up Ruth because he thought she'd hit him with something. Why is he worried that Ruth will be upset?
Although Ruth is worried that Paul does not love her because of her race, it is possible that he is unkind because of her gender.
Ruth does not tell Paul what she is thinking. What does this reveal about their relationship?
Ruth says her life will go well as long as Paul is with her, but his reply foreshadows that he might break up with her.
Compare and contrast Ruth's workplace to her relationship with Paul.
Although she admires Paul's art, Ruth resents it, too.
Compare Paul to Ruth's brother. How are they similar?
Ruth blames her uncertainty on Paul's race.
Why does Mr. Davis use the word "ain't"?
Can you infer how Ruth feels about Paul if she thinks his staying makes her feel bitter?
Does Ruth respect Paul as an artist? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
Which type of irony is represented in Ruth asking, "Will you call me later?"
What in Ruth's past is the italicized text referring to?
Mr. Davis is implying with pride that they will drink alcohol at lunch every day. How would Alcoholics Anonymous feel about his plan? (This annotation contains an image)
What is Mr. Davis implying about his background when he describes how everyone drinks?
She sees Paul as someone who is a waste to be with--another condemnation of her relationship with him.
Why does Ruth have disdain for Mr. Davis?
The contrast between how Ruth felt about Paul and how she feels now could not be more stark.
Which literary device does Ruth use to describe disasters?
Even though race relations have improved, they are still not perfect.
Which literary device is Ruth using when she describes the blood beating in the boy's face? What does she mean?
Going to Meet the Man
This short story is full of racial slurs. Bear in mind that this story, unlike the others, is written from the point of view of a white man in the South. How do his cultural mores differ from that of the other narrators?
How does Jesse interpret the poverty of the African American community?
If the African Americans are coming to the courthouse to register, could it be to register to vote?
Based on the context of the story, the boy in the yard must be in
As in the past, the boy in the cell has no respect for Jesse.
Describe this hatred in your own words.
Perhaps on some level, they realize they have committed a crime. Why would they feel like they are accomplices?
When a story describes the past, which literary device is the author most likely using?
Jesse's father justifies the action that is to occur by saying that it will prevent crime.
What race do you think this crowd is and why?
The sense of suspense grows, as both young Jesse and we the readers do not know exactly what is to occur. This suspense foreshadows, or hints at, a pivotal event in Jesse's life.
What realization of Jesse's hints that life-changing moment is about to occur?
On some level, Jesse realizes that his life is about to change, because he does not dare to ask his parents about where the African Americans are.
What event is young Jesse watching?
It is not enough that they burn this man, but now they castrate him. The exaggeration, also known as hyperbole, cannot contain the horror of the situation.