The Fire Next Time

The Nation Symbol Analysis

The Nation Symbol Icon

When Baldwin discusses “the nation,” he is often literally referring to the United States of America, but, over the course of the book, the term “nation” comes to take on a deeper significance: Baldwin uses the term to refer to how he believes things could or should be between white and black people in America, rather than referring to the “nation” as it presently is. Baldwin calls attention to the fact that African-Americans are perhaps the only people in the world who cannot be said to truly belong to a nation, for the country they’re supposed to be part of utterly rejects them; “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.” In this way, it becomes clear that the word “nation”—insofar as it relates to America—ought to be synonymous with the idea of racial unity. Furthermore, Baldwin argues that if America were to become the nation it should be—one in which a person’s race no longer dictates their power—then America would become the powerful example to the rest of the world that it should be. Thus, Baldwin’s ideal “nation” is one in which Americans of all races are equal and able to love one another, and this unity is spread across the globe.

The Nation Quotes in The Fire Next Time

The The Fire Next Time quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Nation. 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

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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Down At The Cross Quotes

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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The Nation Symbol Timeline in The Fire Next Time

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Nation 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
...oppression that America has inflicted upon his brother, calling this a “crime” and accusing his country and “countrymen” of “destroying hundreds of thousands of lives” and remaining unwilling to admit or... (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 is black, and Baldwin... (full context)
Down At The Cross
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...present.” Because of the way he had been brought up in a Christian household and nation, Baldwin believed his attraction to these girls rendered him evil and depraved, a feeling that... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
...taught early in their lives to hate themselves because white people supposedly hold all the nation’s power and superiority. (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...of oppression, as early missionaries spreading the religion used Christian ideology to justify conquering other nations. These missionaries believed that conquest was an intrinsically good and pious endeavor; he calls this... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...Baldwin demonstrates the injured moral positioning of the Christian church, since Germany was a Christian nation. “The fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority,”... (full context)
History and Religion Theme Icon
...“return ‘the so-called Negro’ to Islam, to separate the chosen of Allah from this doomed nation.” According to the Nation of Islam, there was a time long, long ago when black... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...land. Baldwin couldn’t disagree with this, thinking that everybody other than African Americans has a nation. Only “the so-called American Negro” is “trapped, disinherited, and despised, in a nation that has... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...deciding that this redistribution of land would alienate white people and maroon them between nonwhite nations. He writes that, if he were Muslim, he would certainly strive for this and wouldn’t... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...fear, since America was eager to stop the USSR from spreading communism to various African nations. Of course, the United States’s pandering to non-American blacks was the ultimate insult to African-Americans... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
In a car provided by the 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... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...have to recognize and accept the fact that “the Negro has been formed by this nation, for better or for worse.” (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...freedom. Again, he argues that this decision was only made in order to “woo” African nations during the Cold War in the hopes that they wouldn’t join the USSR. He writes... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
...precipitated by 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... (full context)
Authority and Oppression Theme Icon
History and Religion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
...black and white—to come together like “lovers.” He encourages black people to force their white countrymen into consciousness regarding race and, in the end, themselves. If America is capable of banding... (full context)