Date of Award

5-2017

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Derik Smith

Abstract

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, James Baldwin offered a critique of a corrupt church framework in a way that differed from other black writers and social activists of his time, particularly in how he deals with racial attitudes within the black church and white Christianity’s tendency to scapegoat black Americans. Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain, and his last work to deal with the church, The Amen Corner, show figures of power within the black church who have abused their positions and betrayed those under their authority. He exposes the failure of religious power figures to recognize love as a humanizing force rather than an apathetic, submissive sort of concept that perpetuates an abusive cycle. Through these figures, Baldwin shows that love necessitates confrontation of these religious power figures, resulting in their fall. This fall is necessary in order for love to be humanized (Baldwin removes God from the conversation as the source of this love) and for individuals to gain a greater awareness of their own humanity and need for love. Baldwin’s work suggests that this need is suppressed and denied by the church in a way that dehumanizes an already “monstrous” black community, a concept that has been placed on black men in particular by white America. In some ways Baldwin’s black church is analogous to white America’s Christian foundation, its patriarchy, and its persecution and monsterization of the “other,” driven by its misunderstanding of love. Therefore, Baldwin’s confrontation of religious, black figures of power also provides a confrontation of white America.

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