Experience and Memory in Notes of a Native Son

One particular part of Baldwin’s Notes of a Native that stood out too me was the anger that would show through at certain parts of the narrative. Baldwin’s experiences growing up in Harlem during the Jim Crow era is extremely important in regards to how it is reflected in his writing. In Smith & Watson’s Reading Autobiography, experience is defined as “already an interpretation of the past and of our place in culturally and historically specific present”(31). After reading segments of David Shields’s Reality Hunger, I could not help but think back to Baldwin’s narrative. While I would not go so far as to say, “Anything processed by memory is fiction,” I do find the idea that “it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen”(60). Baldwin’s explanation of the “Negro problem” as being the result of neither class being able to look back on the history, in my mind represents and almost national experience. I find that any of his memories pertaining to his father are also subject to Smith & Watson’s conception of “experience.” When Baldwin reflects on the time when he returned to see his very ill father, he says “it was only that had hated him and I wanted to hold on to this hatred.” I think that this reflects the notion of memory is subject to time. Baldwin goes on to explain that he didn’t want to see his father in a state of ruin because “it was not the ruin I hated”(101). Another scene that delivers an interesting interpretation when looked at through the experience glass is the Princeton dinner scene. With out questioning whether or not he never realized that he had not been served his three previous trips, and that he accidentally took someone else’s food thinking it was is, I think it is still interesting to read the passage within the contexts of memory and experience.

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