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History 206 Final Paper


Due in class Monday, Dec. 8

What is James Baldwin's vision of America? This is the question I would like you to answer in a 6- to 8-page essay on Baldwin's the Fire Next Time. This is not a research paper but rather one which you read and think about a single text, which in this case is an attempt to understand a deep division in American society at a particular moment in time.


The book was published in 1963, but the essays it contains were originally published in 1961 and 1962, during a transitional period for both the civil rights movement and for American society as a whole. To take this into account, you will need to have a clear knowledge of what gains the civil rights movement had achieved by this time and what challenges it still faced. (You may want to make an outline or  timeline that will lay this out explicitly.)


In your essay you may wish to consider the following questions, but these should fall within, not take the place of, your analysis of Baldwin's vision of America.
- What is Baldwin's idea of freedom? What are the obstacles--social and historical--that make freedom difficult to attain?
- Why does Baldwin feel that the status quo cannot be maintained?
- In what ways is he sympathetic to those in the church and to the young militants? In what ways isn't he?
- Is Baldwin optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Why?
- How are ideas of love, fear, and hypocrisy important to his argument?
- What paradoxes and contradictions does Baldwin perceive in American society, and how are these important to his ideas?
- What do you think Baldwin's purpose was in beginning the book with the short essay, the letter to his nephew, before presenting his longer essay?

Needless to say, you will doubtlessly be bringing your broad historical knowledge to your analysis, but all good essays will be grounded firmly in the book, using relevant quotations from the text to support your claims.

Bonus: To listen to James Baldwin interviewed by Studs Terkel, a well known radio disc jockey, in 1961, click here


The nitty gritty:
All papers should have a title and must be:
•    stapled
•    6-8 pages
•    typed
•    double-spaced
•    page numbered, with numbers on the top-right, except on the first page where they should be bottom-center or can be omitted altogether
•    proofread

Although all papers should have a title, a separate title page is NOT necessary. Please, don't hand in your paper in one of those silly plastic folders.

Finally, you are not expected to draw on any outside sources--this is a paper for you to develop your ideas, not someone else's--but in the event that you do, make sure you cite them.