The Fire Next Time

Baldwin’s Father Character Analysis

James Baldwin’s stepfather, to whom he never refers by name, and with whom he had a contentious and even bitter relationship. As a teenager, Baldwin views his father as a relentless authority figure dominating his life. In an attempt to break out from his father’s control, Baldwin becomes a Youth Minister at a different church than the one his father preaches in. Though this is a slight, Baldwin’s father finally gives Baldwin space, allowing him to work on sermons and thus establish something of his own identity. However, the young author’s path to independence is somewhat ironically modeled on David’s, the very figure of authority he is trying to undermine.

Baldwin’s Father Quotes in The Fire Next Time

The The Fire Next Time quotes below are all either spoken by Baldwin’s Father or refer to Baldwin’s Father. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Fire Next Time published in 1992.
My Dungeon Shook Quotes

Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him. This is one of the reasons that he became so holy…You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), James, Baldwin’s Father
Related Symbols: The Church
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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Baldwin’s Father Character Timeline in The Fire Next Time

The timeline below shows where the character Baldwin’s Father appears in The Fire Next Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
My Dungeon Shook
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Drawing a comparison between James and Baldwin’s brother, Baldwin calls the boy and the boy’s father “tough,” “moody,” and quick to appear “truculent” (or aggressively self-assertive) in order to avoid being... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...James for the entirety of their lives. He watched his brother be carried in his father’s arms, has kissed him and spanked him, has watched him learn how to walk. Knowing... (full context)
Down At The Cross
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...His friends had started flocking to the streets to drink and do drugs, and his father believed that Baldwin was going to follow them. Meanwhile, girls he had known his entire... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...a sense—giving up, resigning to the fact that they would “rise no higher than their fathers.” It became clear that education was futile for them, so the boys started dropping out... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...church to take up his attention and time. In keeping with this—and to challenge his father, who was also a preacher—he decided to become a Young Minister. (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...that Baldwin was preaching at such a young age gave him an advantage over his father, which he leveraged as much as possible. For the first time, he had a valid... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Once, after Baldwin’s best friend—who was Jewish—came over to his house, his father asked whether or not the boy was “saved.” When Baldwin told his father that his... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Responding to his father’s slap, Baldwin said: “He’s a better Christian than you are,” and left the house. From... (full context)