The passage of Exodus 20:5 discusses the inheritance of "the sins of the father laid upon the children," illustrating the idea that one generation's legacy is often placed on the shoulders of its offspring. Children must learn the ways of the world, that is, become prepared to exist in whatever reality they may be born into. James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son is analogous to this biblical ideology. In his narrative, Baldwin attempts to find the reasoning behind his father's ways to thereby discover an escape route for himself, because he wants anything but to become a man like his father: a man filled with misdirected anger.
[...] Even in the Harlem riots described by Baldwin, the rioters are depicted as mirror images, “each face having the same bitter shadow.” Baldwin seems to believe that it is bitterness, albeit warranted, that is causing the self-mutilating uproar of a nation of black individuals unaware of their own self-infliction. Since it is this bitterness and pride that Baldwin recognizes as the destroyer and grand limiter of men, he also wishes to reinforce and understanding in the reader of its nature, so perhaps the reader will understand the need for his proposed solution. [...]
[...] Baldwin's father was forced by a female relative to keep a picture of Armstrong on the wall, but later when she was in a sickly state, he refused to help her. He meant only to save his own face, to validate his pride. This pride led him to be a warrior not unlike Baldwin's analogy of a “tribal chieftain,” albeit a subdued one. Of course, the only warrior-like aspects of his personality shone through in his preaching and, most importantly, the raising of his children. [...]
[...] to link his pride with the dark tone of his skin, which Baldwin likens to an “African tribal chieftain,” referring both to his manner and his skin. His pride, however, seems to be almost defensive, an effort to erect a shield against the attitudes that “menaced” both himself and his children, one being Baldwin. Baldwin recognizes this protective attitude, but seems to feel it is self-defeating. However, regardless of his wish to escape his father's legacy, Baldwin is indeed his father's son. [...]
[...] Unfortunately, sometimes this wish to give birth to better, more prepared and powerful generations, as Baldwin describes, to create stronger antidote to this poison than one had found for oneself,” had the opposite effect and led to the creation of more bitter and defensive ideals. Baldwin realizes that the “unbelievable streets” were made that way by “Negroes and whites equally.” He recognizes that essentially, both races were continuing to contribute to the bitterness filling the air, and thereby allowing themselves to self-destruct. [...]
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