The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin’s fourteen-year-old nephew. James bears a striking resemblance to his father, the author’s brother, and even exhibits, according to Baldwin, a similar personality: a tendency to act aggressively in order to not appear weak. This trait, Baldwin thinks, is quite possibly the inherited traces of James’s grandfather (Baldwin’s father), whom the boy never met. Baldwin warns James against becoming too much like his grandfather, who disastrously believed that he deserved the way white people treated him. Despite the few similarities between James and his grandfather, though, Baldwin believes that the boy’s contemporary outlook makes him well-positioned to avoid the kind of mistakes his grandfather made, remaining optimistic about the future even while warning his nephew that the world he lives in has been designed to keep him oppressed.

James Quotes in The Fire Next Time

The The Fire Next Time quotes below are all either spoken by James or refer to James. 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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I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), James, Baldwin’s Brother
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

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Well, you were born, here you came, something like fifteen years ago; and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me—you were a big baby, I was not—here you were, to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), James
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), James
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

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They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), James
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

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But these men are your brothers—your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), James
Related Symbols: The Nation
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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James Character Timeline in The Fire Next Time

The timeline below shows where the character James appears in The Fire Next Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
My Dungeon Shook
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin begins by telling his nephew James that he has tried to write this letter five times, but has torn up each... (full context)
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... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Baldwin remarks that he has known both his brother and James for the entirety of their lives. He watched his brother be carried in his father’s... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
...ideas, but he declares that he isn’t writing the letter to them—he’s writing it to James. And in doing so, he takes it upon himself to teach the young boy how... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Baldwin points out to James that, when James was born, his parents and grandmother had every reason to despair; they... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
James is destined to fail in America, Baldwin writes. The “innocent country” is designed to enforce... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Again, Baldwin stresses how important it is that James not believe what white people say about him. Any nasty belief they try to advance... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...black people aren’t inferior, but Baldwin says they rarely act on this belief. He tells James that if white Americans were to commit themselves to the task of eradicating inequality, they... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.” Baldwin reminds James that he comes from a long line of tough, brave people who “picked cotton and... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Ending the letter, Baldwin tells James that, as they both know, “the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one... (full context)