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Despair in James Baldwin's 'Another Country'

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Introduction

'Then the discontented wanderer is thrown back on himself - if his life is to become bearable, only he can make it so. And, on that spring evening, walking up the long, dark, murmuring street toward the boulevard, Eric was in despair. He knew that he had to make a life, but he did not seem to have the tools' (Another Country, pp.213/4). Discuss the sources of discontentment AND/OR despair. The depiction of despair, in varying forms perhaps predominantly engendered in its purest form within the individual character's guilt as a fundamental essence of their characterisation. Guilt haunts the main character in Another Country; Rufus is tormented by the responsibility he assumes in the institutionalisation of Leona, thus contributing to his escalating mental despair. This is expressed in the present tense narrative penetrating his thoughts: 'He felt black, filthy, foolish. He wished he were miles away, or dead. He kept thinking of Leona; it came in waves, like the pain of a toothache or a festering wound' (Baldwin, p. ...read more.

Middle

93). In Another Country, Baldwin presents characters who are attempting to transcend social limitations in order to express, and establish, their self-identity. Through the characterisation of Rufus, Baldwin explores the destructive nature of social barriers on the 'self'; Rufus fails to overcome the racial and sexual limitations society imposes on self-expression and as a result, commits suicide due to his mounting despair and social isolation: 'Beneath them Rufus walked, one of the fallen - for the weight of this city was murderous...Entirely alone, and dying of it, he was part of an unprecedented multitude' (Baldwin, p. 14). The 'weight of this city' is metaphorical for the social limitations imposed, especially, upon people trying to define their own self-identity, leaving him 'entirely alone', resulting in his suicide. Rufus' awareness of society's explicit racial prejudices are expressed in the focalised narrative attached to Rufus: 'No one dared to look at Vivaldo, out with any girl whatever, the way the look at Rufus now...This was because Vivaldo was white' (Baldwin, p. ...read more.

Conclusion

of his despair; : 'We've all been up the same streets...Only we've been taught to lie so much, about so many things, that we hardly know where we are' (Baldwin, p. 59). Society's limitations have taught the characters to 'lie so much' to themselves - to focus on an illusion rather than reality - and therefore repress their true identity. Rufus cannot overcome the 'categorical barriers' imposed by society unlike Vivaldo who, by the end of the novel, has confronted his sexuality, leaving him feeling 'fantastically protected, liberated' (Baldwin, p. 379) in realising his 'self' and overcoming his discontenting ambiguous identity. In conclusion, through the characterisation of Rufus in Another Country, Baldwin explores the detrimental effects that social isolation, both self-imposed and socially imposed, together with self-denial and ambiguous or undefined self-identity has on individual expression, self-worth and ultimately the fate of the characters. The despair that results from the guilt and isolation presented in conjunction with the central characters is essential to the reader's understanding of the characterisation employed by Baldwin, and provides the central platform in which the demise of the characters is explored and understood. ...read more.

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