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Analysing The Racial Strife From “My Dungeon Shook”

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Give a brief discussion of Baldwin's "My Dungeon Shook" and how it helps us analyze the racial strife in the US.



The author James Baldwin in his writings “My dungeon Shock” elucidates that the American white society has unwittingly placed the Blacks or the Negros in a position so weak that they are not able to get far removed. James Baldwin has succeeded unlike other authors in restoring the personal essays to its place in the form of creative literature. Looking at the personal grievance from the narrow perspective of James Baldwin he has able to open a window for the world where he helps us analyze the racial strife in the US between the Americans and Africans. In his short essay “My Dungeon Shook” he plays a role of alarmist that is traditionally assigned to thinkers who are concerned for improving the human conditions. Baldwin tries to seek our attention towards those things which has to be improved in our society and to be celebrated. The narrowness of his vantage point is no assurance that he is right or wrong; nor does it negate the importance of what he is saying. The oppressed person is the best authority on his oppression.

The strife of racism in United States has forced every Negro to be a part of prolonged and pathetic war. He portrays in his writing that either he is at war against his oppression or is against the weaknesses in himself which frustrates him that he is not able to effectively participate in this war of racism. The saddest part of this war is that the Negroes in spite of being participant of this war of physical and mental survival for gaining basic human dignity are tactically removed from it. The Negroes are living with the illusion that they have been integrated. Thus the limitation and uniqueness of Baldwin’s writing is that in his essay he is addressing the attention of his audience from the war zone.

In the 20th century James Baldwin published two essays under the name ‘The Fire Next Time’ whose one million copies were sold and making Baldwin the most read America-African writer by ‘The New York Times’. Through this book Baldwin tries to share his thoughts on the social and racial justice happening in America between the Africand and Americans or in lay man language between Whites and Blacks. Baldwin after living 20 years in Europe, he was compelled to return to America to give his participation in the Civil Rights movement going in America. Through his book ‘The fire Next Time’ Baldwin offers a kind of plea, emphasizing that we the black and white deeply need each other to become a single nation.

In Baldwin’s book ‘The fire Next Time’, there is a short essay, ‘My Dungeon Shook’ which is a letter written from Baldwin to his nephew on the occasion of hundredth anniversary of Emancipation, which diagnosis the America’s racism and his nephew a prescription or one can a warning to his young nephew on his survival in such a diseased society. Baldwin has seen the America at its worst and he warns his nephew about the dangers a young black man may encounter. Besides giving warning to his nephew, Baldwin also challenges him to be catalyst of change.  Baldwin challenges the fate of blacks and white which is inextricably intertwined and America to fulfil its promise, that both black and white should acknowledge the need for each other. White Americans are actually not interested in sharing their rights and freedoms with Africans. Americans till today treat the Black as their slaves and give them low grade jobs and low living standards. The Americans are actually holding fast to principles which are not actually practised. Whites are just portraying that they are giving blacks the rights and equality but in actual that is wrong. The failure of Americans in practising their ideals has been proved in their steadfast refusal of giving values and respect to the lives of Black people. Baldwin aware his nephew that the American society has narrowly circumscribed his world because of which he cannot dream beyond the street corner of Harlem Ghetto.

Baldwin offers hope to all African Americans, but it comes with great responsibility. He maintains that because white America insists on its innocence, on the ideal image it has created of itself, it cannot initiate change. Baldwin observes that “these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” African Americans must force white America to examine itself. African Americans, Baldwin predicts, “can make America what America must become.” Neither white America nor black America, however, can find freedom or justice apart from each other. Their fates are necessarily and inextricably connected.



Alyse Crystal. “A Man beyond”. By such and such. Web, 10 Aug, 2012. <>

Bader Philip. African American authors. Web 1 Jan 2004. Web <>

John Henrik Clarke. “The Alienations of James Baldwin” Web <

Williams. James Baldwin. E notes. Web <>

Wanda Pose. “The racial strife between Africans and Americans”  Web 20 March 2008. <>


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