Who wrote this book and when?
This book was written in 1953 by James Baldwin.
Has there been a movie made out of it?
Only the good-old wannabe-a-big-movie made-for-tv-type movie. It was made in 1984, mostly in attempt to gain the same popularity as the recently released “Roots.”
Who are the main characters?
John Grimes- the son of a Baptist preacher in 1935 Harlem.
Gabriel Grimes – John’s stepfather, a very strict but hypocritical preacher.
Florence – Gabriel’s sister
Elizabeth Grimes – Gabriel’s second wife, John’s mother
Royal Grimes – John’s younger brother, the rebellious child
Elisha – the darling young leader of the Grimes’ church and John’s role model
Richard – the first love of Elizabeth and John’s biological father
Deborah – Florence’s good friend growing up and Gabriel’s former mistress
What’s it about?
This novel tells the story of John Grimes, an African American boy growing up in 1935. On the surface, it’s a coming of age story – John has always been told he’s going to grow up to be a preacher. But he sincerely believes he’s too evil to be touched by the Spirit. But this story is also about racial expectations, religious expectations, familial relationships, and gives in depth backgrounds into the characters and why they act they way they do. The first section tells about the day of John’s 14th birthday and his experiences. The second section tells the background of three of the major adults in John’s life – his aunt Florence, his mother, and his father. You learn the stories of their tragedies and sorrows, and how they met and have become a family despite their differences. The third section tells of John’s experience the night of his birthday at the local congregation.
Why is this book a classic?
This book is considered a classic because it not only depicts life in Harlem, but the life of the black spiritualist during the 1930’s. It is not solely depicted as spiritually fulfilling and joyful, but as harsh and unforgiving.
Why should I read this book?
Because of the honesty of the writing. All the characters are shown in their true state, both flawed and innocent. It combines many of the classic conflicts: father and son, racial tensions, coming-of-age angst, and spiritual crisis.
Has it won any awards?
James Baldwin didn’t win any awards specifically for this novel, but was awarded a great deal of awards for his influential writing in general – including one from “Playboy” magazine. No joking.
This is a very tough book to get through (at least for me), the first section is nearly written stream-of-consciousness, and there is so much imagery and symbolism it’s hard to keep a handle on the situation.
My personal thoughts:
I did not particularly enjoy reading this book. It seemed to go all over the plot map, giving no indication of what was symbolic, what was real, what was present, what was past – making it hard for me to follow. Plus the plot was such a lot crammed into a tiny little time space.