The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin Character Analysis

The Fire Next Time is written from the perspective of the author himself, James Baldwin, an African-American who was born into poverty in Harlem in 1924. Known as a writer of both literary and intellectual excellence, Baldwin was devoted to equality, love, and racial integration. Although The Fire Next Time is perhaps first and foremost a critical examination of race relations in the United States, it also draws on Baldwin’s immediate experiences, often evoking his closest relationships as a way of further exploring his ideas about American identity. In “My Dungeon Shook,” for example, he addresses his nephew, also named James. Later, in “Down At The Cross,” Baldwin gives an account of his complicated and embattled relationship with his stepfather, the Baptist preacher David Baldwin, conjuring this tension in order to illustrate his own first experiences with religion and the Christian church. In this way, Baldwin floats between autobiographical narration and an academic, argument-based style.

James Baldwin Quotes in The Fire Next Time

The The Fire Next Time quotes below are all either spoken by James Baldwin or refer to James Baldwin. 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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fLorem Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo conseq

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Fire Next Time quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deseruntLoremLorem ipsum dolor LorLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, su

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.Lorem ipsumLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit aniLoremLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adLorLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex

Down At The Cross Quotes

Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any of those people to treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that, or to seem to do it, which was (and is) good enough. There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Church
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Every Negro boy—in my situation during those years, at least—who reaches this point realizes, at once, profoundly, because he wants to live, that he stands in great peril and must find, with speed, a “thing,” a gimmick, to lift him out, to start him on his way. And it does not matter what the gimmick is. It was this last realization that terrified me and—since it revealed that the door opened on so many dangers—helped to hurl me into the church. And, by an unforeseeable paradox, it was my career in the church that turned out, precisely, to be my gimmick.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Church
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

I rushed home from school, to the church, to the altar, to be alone there, to commune with Jesus, my dearest Friend, who would never fail me, who knew all the secrets of my heart. Perhaps He did, but I didn’t, and the bargain we struck, actually, down there at the foot of the cross, was that He would never let me find out.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Church
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Perhaps we were, all of us—pimps, whores, racketeers, church members, and children—bound together by the nature of our oppression, the specific and peculiar complex of risks we had to run; if so, within these limits we sometimes achieved with each other a freedom that was close to love.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Church
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

We had the liquor the chicken, the music, and each other, and had no need to pretend to be what we were not. This is the freedom that one hears in some gospel songs, for example, and in jazz. In all jazz, and especially the blues, there is something tart and ironic, authoritative and double-edged. White Americans seem to feel that happy songs are happy and sad songs are sad, and that, God help us, is exactly the way most white Americans sing them—sounding, in both cases, so helplessly, defenselessly fatuous that one dare not speculate on the temperature of the deep freeze from which issue their brave and sexless little voices.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Church, The Nation
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.Lorem ipsum dolor Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi u

The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—this touchstone can be only oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes. And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it (is unaware of so much!), are historical and public attitudes. They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est LoLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

In the realm of power, Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty—necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels. This particular true faith, moreover, is more deeply concerned about the soul than it is about the body, to which fact the flesh (and the corpses) of countless infidels bears witness. It goes without saying, then, that whoever questions the authority of the true faith also contests the right of the nations that hold this faith to rule over him—contests, in short, their title to his land. The spreading of the Gospel, regardless of the motives or the integrity or the heroism of some of the missionaries, was an absolutely indispensable justification for the planting of the flag.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Church, The Nation
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

But the policemen were doing nothing now. Obviously, this was not because they had become more human but because they were under orders and because they were afraid. And indeed they were, and I was delighted to see it. There they stood, in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club or a fist or a gun. I might have pitied them if I had not found myself in their hands so often and discovered, through ugly experience, what they were like when they held the power and what they were like when you held the power.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

And all this is happening in the richest and freest country in the world, and in the middle of the twentieth century. The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Nation
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

For the horrors of the American Negro’s life there has been almost no language. The privacy of his experience, which is only beginning to be recognized in language, and which is denied or ignored in official and popular speech—hence the Negro idiom—lends credibility to any system that pretends to clarify it. And, in fact, the truth about the black man, as a historical entity and as a human being, has been hidden from him, deliberately and cruelly; the power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions. So every attempt is made to cut that black man down […]. Who, then, is to say with authority where the root of so much anguish and evil lies?

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

It is only “the so-called American Negro” who remains trapped, disinherited, and despised, in a nation that has kept him in bondage for nearly four hundred years and is still unable to recognize him as a human being. And the Black Muslims, along with many people who are not Muslims, no longer wish for a recognition so grudging and (should it ever be achieved) so tardy. Again, it cannot be denied that this point of view is abundantly justified by American Negro history. It is galling indeed to have stood so long, hat in hand, waiting for Americans to grow up enough to realize that you do not threaten them.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), Elijah Muhammad
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

It was very strange to stand with Elijah for those few moments, facing those vivid, violent, so problematical streets. I felt very close to him, and really wished to be able to love and honor him as a witness, an ally, and a father. I felt that I knew something of his pain and his fury, and, yes, even his beauty. Yet precisely because of the reality and the nature of those streets—because of what he conceived as his responsibility and what I took to be mine—we would always be strangers, and possibly, one day, enemies.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), Elijah Muhammad
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.LoreLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqu

How can one, however, dream of power in any other terms than in the symbols of power? The boy could see that freedom depended on the possession of land; he was persuaded that, in one way or another, Negroes must achieve this possession. In the meantime, he could walk the streets and fear nothing, because there were millions like him, coming soon, now, to power. He was held together, in short, by a dream—though it is just as well to remember that some dreams come true—and was united with his “brothers” on the basis of their color. Perhaps one cannot ask for more. People always seem to band together in accordance to a principle that has nothing to do with love, a principle that releases them from personal responsibility.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), Nation of Islam Driver
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

But in order to change a situation one has first to see it for what it is: in the present case, to accept the fact, whatever one does with it thereafter, that the Negro has been formed by this nation, for better or for worse, and does not belong to any other—not to Africa, and certainly not to Islam. The paradox—and a fearful paradox it is—is that the American Negro can have no future anywhere, on any continent, as long as he is unwilling to accept his past. To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker), Nation of Islam Driver
Related Symbols: The Nation
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be. One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself—that is to say, risking oneself. If one cannot risk oneself, then one is simply incapable of giving.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

In any event, the sloppy and fatuous nature of American good will can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems. These have been dealt with, when they have been dealt with at all, out of necessity, and in political terms, anyway, necessity means concessions made in order to stay on top.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Nation
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided. Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth. And I submit, then, that the racial tensions that menace Americans today have little to do with real antipathy—on the contrary, indeed—and are involved only symbolically with color.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit essLorem ipsum dolor Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

[…] this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful. I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering—enough is certainly as good as a feast—but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Get the entire The Fire Next Time LitChart as a printable PDF.
The fire next time.pdf.medium

James Baldwin Character Timeline in The Fire Next Time

The timeline below shows where the character James Baldwin 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... (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 to appear... (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... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Baldwin anticipates that the “innocents” reading this letter will call him “bitter” for putting for such... (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... (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 limitations upon him. This is because he... (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.... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
There are, of course, white people who know that black people aren’t inferior, but Baldwin says they rarely act on this belief. He tells James that if white Americans were... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Be that as it may, Baldwin reminds his nephew that even these ignorant white people are his brothers. If integration is... (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... (full context)
Down At The Cross
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
In the summer of his fourteenth year, Baldwin went through what he refers to as a “prolonged religious crisis.” He writes that he... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin feared the evil lurking within as well as the evil all around him. Suddenly he... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
As Baldwin’s peers all careened into adolescence, he noticed that the girls quickly developed a religious sense... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Slowly but surely, Baldwin’s male friends began to neglect the way they looked, often standing in small clusters in... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Baldwin recounts his own run-ins with “the man”: once, when he was downtown as a thirteen-year-old,... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
The church helped Baldwin avoid crime, which all of a sudden presented itself “not as a possibility but as... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...people may not believe that these are the conditions under which black people really live, Baldwin maintains that it is overwhelmingly clear for someone like him—who has experienced such oppression—that whites... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
As such, Baldwin began to see as a teenager that a life of crime would be harder to... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
...boy must invest himself in something is to avoid the perils of his racial situation. Baldwin bemoans the fact that “the awakening of one’s senses should lead to such a merciless... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin believes that when a black child is scolded, there is a “sudden, uncontrollable note of... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin says that he ignored his father’s fear by telling himself that the man was “very... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin didn’t join the church that his father preached in. Instead, he allowed his best friend... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
As the summer continued, Baldwin grew more and more afraid and felt increasingly guilty. One night, after a sermon, he... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
The universe, Baldwin maintains, consists of “other people.” When these people are constantly refusing to look at one... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
In a way, Baldwin really did feel saved by this experience. Finally, he felt free of all the guilt... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Despite the fact that he’d been “saved,” Baldwin quickly understood he wouldn’t last long in the church and that, in order to avoid... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
The fact that Baldwin was preaching at such a young age gave him an advantage over his father, which... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Being part of the church was an incredibly influential experience for Baldwin, who writes that he has never been able to fully let go of the music... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Baldwin marks the slow disintegration of his faith as coinciding with his blossoming interest in literature.... (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... (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 that point... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Over time, Baldwin’s restlessness in the church began to show. Because he didn’t feel truly saved, it started... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Meditating on the divisive nature of Christianity, Baldwin points out that, just as white people believe that black people are descended from Ham... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Nonetheless, Baldwin admits that the Christian church that he eventually left did indeed embody a rare joy... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Focusing his attention more specifically on the history of Christianity, Baldwin illustrates the fact that the church has long been an agent of oppression, as early... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
At this point, Baldwin trains his focus on another religious group: the Nation of Islam. He writes that he... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
...Allah, who told him that white power would end in ten to fifteen years. Although Baldwin doesn’t believe this himself, he makes a point of stating that this thinking is no... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Baldwin wonders why the massive audiences at these Nation of Islam speeches were suddenly willing to... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Evoking the Holocaust once again, Baldwin demonstrates the injured moral positioning of the Christian church, since Germany was a Christian nation.... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Baldwin examines the station of black Americans during World War II, illustrating the injustice of the... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin returns to his examination of the Nation of Islam. He considers Malcolm X—the movement’s second... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Arriving at Elijah Muhammad’s mansion—which doubled as the movement’s headquarters—Baldwin felt nervous. He was late, he was unsure how he felt about the Nation of... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Upon entering the mansion, Baldwin’s reservations deepened. Everyone present—and there was a sizeable group—treated him with respect, which he read... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
The dinner was filled with talk about power and about the “white devils.” Elijah told Baldwin that the reason Baldwin didn’t think all white people were devils was because he had... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
Yet again, Baldwin notes that there is nothing new about this sort of thinking: it is merely a... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
While having dinner with Elijah and his disciples, Baldwin found himself telling Elijah that he gave up religion for a reason and that he... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...that no set of people were ever fully respected without having possessed their own land. Baldwin couldn’t disagree with this, thinking that everybody other than African Americans has a nation. Only... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin hypothetically considers what would happen if black people were able to claim the “six or... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Further investigating the idea of separatism, Baldwin considers the notion of black pride, an attitude he says was once helplessly shouted into... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Leaving Elijah’s mansion, Baldwin felt as though he had failed some sort of test. Standing outside with the leader... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...Nation of Islam to take him to his next destination—to have drinks with several white friends—Baldwin continued the night’s conversation with a young dark man who insisted that African-Americans could prosper... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Although Baldwin was quickly able to identify the flaws in his driver’s logic, he admits that he... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...lead people of the Nation of Islam to think in such optimistic—and perhaps even unrealistic terms—Baldwin expresses that he wishes the Muslims had started a movement that could inspire disenfranchised African-Americans... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin takes up the question of where the Nation of Islam receives its money from, a... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Baldwin asserts that he is very committed to African-Americans gaining full freedom in the United States,... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Shifting away from the Nation of Islam, Baldwin suggests that there can be no hope for meaningful change in the life of African-Americans... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...well poised to “precipitate chaos and bring down the curtain on the American dream,” though Baldwin says they may never rise to power. This is partly due to the fact that... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...the American dream has rendered the United States an “unmitigated disaster” on the international stage. Baldwin points out that Russia’s main advantage over America is America’s own fraught racial history, which... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
White people in the United States, Baldwin writes, believe that they possess something intrinsically desirable, something that black people aspire to. This... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Baldwin says that it is for this reason that love is so important, as it has... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Baldwin implores Americans—both black and white—to come together like “lovers.” He encourages black people to force... (full context)