Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 23

James Baldwin's Confrontation with Racist Terror in the American South: Sexual Mythology and Psychoneurosis in "Going to Meet

the Man" Author(s): Paul Griffith Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 32, No. 5 (May, 2002), pp. 506-527 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180950 . Accessed: 01/05/2012 21:10
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Sage Publications, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Black Studies.

http://www.jstor.org

JAMES BALDWIN'S CONFRONTATION WITH RACIST TERROR IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH Sexual Mythology and Psychoneurosis in "Going to Meet the Man"
PAULGRIFFITH
Lamar University

The memoryof Jesse, JamesBaldwin's protagonistin "Goingto Meet the Man,"channelsa flow of impressionsthatboth dramatizeshis psychic and sexual woundingandprovidesa useful perspectiveinto the distortedreality growing out of Southernhistoryof racistviolence. Baldwin's experiments with perspective,time handling,andrevealingreflecthis interestin style as expose of harmfuldelusions. His treatmentof point of view functions to analyze culture myths about sexuality that justify violent rape of Black women and castrationand live burningof Black men. Validatedas ethical norm,these myths serve as the altaron which the communitysacrifices its capacityfor self-examination.They supplythe energythatkeeps in motion claim, ironically,to be cycles of barbarityagainst which the perpetrators defending their enlightened selves. Inevitable, therefore, is the tragic humanityandwarpingof the social character. of individuals' undermining

James Baldwin's (1998b) "Going to Meet the Man," the title


story of his 1965 collection, is sustained by an impassioned politics. The narrative dramatizes racism as symptomatic of an inner disorder that reveals itself through the protagonist's sexual dysfunction, itself the malady of a defective mind. The story, filtered through Jesse's consciousness, communicates the perverted sense of reality that is a condition of what Baldwin called the "guilty imagination." Plotted here is the insidious and self-destructive working of guilt and repression on the mind, agency for the cripJOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES, Vol. 32 No. 5, May 2002 506-527 C 2002 Sage Publications

506

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 507

pling sense of personaland social unease thatmakesinevitablethe


racial crisis in America.

Baldwin (1972), tracing the literaryexpression of this disturbance, located a seminal strain in Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe, 1852). Stowe's (1852) novel, he stated,helps us understand how in America, "the formulacreatedby the necessity to find a lie more palatablethanthe truthhas been handeddown andmemorizedand persistsyet with a terriblepower"(p. 11). Respondingtoo to RichardWright's(1940) Native Son, Baldwinidentifieda similarproblem: namely,that
the storyof the "nigger" is inevitablyandrichlyto become involved with the force of life and legend, how each perpetuallyassumesthe guise of the other,creatingthatdense, many-sidedandshiftingreality which is the world we live in and the world we make. (p. 35)

Out of the disquieting "myths we perpetuate" about Blacks, Baldwin suggested, issue our lamentabletragedies. Baldwin's (1972) denunciationof racism as social disorganization and psychological disorderis made clear in Notes of a Native Son: "Theways in which the Negro has affectedthe Americanpsychology arebetrayedin ourpopularcultureand in our morality;in our estrangementfrom him is the depthof our estrangementfrom ourselves."He added, "Ourdehumanization of the Negro then is indivisible from our dehumanization of ourselves:the loss of our own identityis the price we pay for the annulmentof his" (pp. 1819). The charactersof the world depicted in "Going to Meet the Man"(Baldwin, 1998b) areunderan unholy amountof stressor in the grip of a debilitatinganxiety state. The prey of obsessions and tortured by forces they fail to understand, White individualsin this environmentreel underthe shock of macabrecircumstances,the ultimateresult of which is psychosis. In such a menacingworld,the Black man too is fatedto become "a social symbol, revelatory of social disease and prophetic of disaster"-a point Baldwin (1998a) furtherunderlinedin "Alas, Poor Richard":

508 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ MAY 2002

In most of the novels writtenby Negroes until today ... there is a greatspacewheresex oughtto be; andwhatusuallyfills this space is andcompulsivebecause the violence.... The violence is gratuitous root of that violence is never examined. The root is rage. It is the rage almost literallythe hurtof a man being castrated.... There is probablyno greater(or moremisleading)bodyof sexualmyths[italics added] in the world today than those which have proliferated aroundthe figure of the American Negro. This means that he is penalizedfor the guilty imaginationof the whitepeople who invest himwiththeirhates and longings,and is theprincipal targetof their sexual paranoia [italics added]. (p. 251) Proscribing the bigotry that emerges from and mirrors America's fear, confusion, and dishonesty, "Going to Meet the Man" attempts a more complex dramatization of the protest Baldwin (1964) staged also in Blues for Mr. Charlie (against Southern racist myths). In his narrative, rituals of social violence generated by communityengendered fantasies play themselves out also in terms of an intense psychological drama. To depict racism as a disabling neurosis, Baldwin orchestrated perspective and plot through flashbacks, achieving a structural logic and stylistic coherence that ought to be defended against Harry L. Jones's (1977) contention that the "ideological content tends to smother the narrative as narrative" (p. 145). Basically, Jones charged, Baldwin has difficulty rendering into art his explicit ideology on the relationship between White guilt and Black suffering. Consequently, Jones added, the story is "limited to the use of flashbacks as a means both of character development and of plot resolution" (p. 150). Certainly, racist brutality in the South roused Baldwin to a new aesthetic challenge. Remarkable were the outrages surrounding the lynching of Emmet Till, the acquittal of the accused, and his public acknowledgement of involvement in the murder. More direct were the acts of violent resistance to the Negro voter registration, a cause Baldwin embraced in 1963. Faced with this dismaying reality in America, Baldwin used his art to decry acts of racial terror. He questioned White supremacists' self-constituting ideals founded on criminal abuse of others: "I am aware that no man is a villain in his own eyes. Something in the man knows-must know what he is

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 509

doing is evil; but in orderto accept the knowledge the man would have to change"(Baldwin, 1964, p. xiv). Instead,Baldwin (1964) added, to stave off madness, the guilt-riddenperpetratorsclose theireyes, compulsivelyrepeattheircrimes, and enter "a spiritual darkness[italics added]." Jesse is shownto have internalized disturbinganxietiesbornout of such guilt. The malignant effects of his moral darkness are broughtto the fore so that those so bedeviled may confront the unquestioned but ultimately unsettling myths that have undermined their humanityand warpedthe social character. The flashbacktechnique,a crucialfunctionof the psychologicaldrama,contrary to Jones's (1977) claim, is consistent with the unifying functionof style (perspective)and structure within the (character) narrative. The reveries,via whichmost of the storyunfoldsretrospectively, dramatize the fragmentation in Jesse's mindeven while theyhelp to sustain narrative coherence. The story begins and ends in Jesse's nuptialbed wherehis temporary impotenceis explainedby his wife as a consequenceof his being tired.However,a signal of the graver psychological disturbance Jesse's manhoodis the stress frustrating that takes his mind back to the scene of sadistic brutality he unleashed earlier that day on the Black civil rights leader. Yet Jesse's anxiety evolves from a deeper pathological wound, the in whichhe remainstrapped, "nightmare" andthatis revealedwhen his mind slips into the 34-year-oldpast.' Here,he was initiatedinto the sex mythologythatnormalizedhatredandvalidatedsadisticrituals of terroristviolence against Blacks. His sexual frustration, therefore,reawakenshis memory of the castrationand burningof the Black man, called by Roger Whitlow (1988) a "primitivesex rite"(p. 197) by means of which he and otherparticipants released themselves in a communalorgasm. The presentoccurrencetakes Jesse back to the moment in the past by which his presentfailure was predetermined.The reverie explains the collective anxiety state that continues to live in him and that surfaces in the brutal crimes he commits and will continueto commit.2 Because Baldwin is interestedin the idea that social conditioning rather thaninnatenaturedeterminesthe individual'svalues and

510 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MAY 2002

attitudes, the ordering of Jesse's perceptions is significant. The perspectivalshift fromthe immediatepresentinto Jesse's pastlogically relates the effects and causes of Jesse's angst. Implicitis the extentto which the communitymakesimminentits own failurevia its perverseandpowerfuldesireto persistin fantasticcrimesmeant to perpetuateBlack exclusion. are symptomatic The brokentime surfaceswithin the narrative of the stress that tormentsthe protagonist'smind. This dramaof Jesse's bewildered self-consciousness plots the crisis of identity that inevitably overtakesthose persons who ignore the past. The deliberateeffortsof Jesse's fatherandthe rest of the communityto alchemize into propriety the abnormalityof the lynching3 are directly related to what Baldwin (1972) regardedas a concerted disinclinationamong Americansto face their history: whitesnorblacks,for neither of theNegroproblem In thecontext to lookback; desire own,havethefaintest reasons of their excellent and coherent, butI thinkthatthepastis all thatmakesthepresent forexactlyas longas we horrible thatthepastwill remain further, (p. 4) refuseto assessit honestly. Ourfailureto engage ourbrutalhistoryresponsibly,the narrative suggests, will forever endow that history with a lethal power to frustrateand destroy.In situationsremarkablefor their dramatic irony,Jesse's fatherrefuses to face up to this disturbingtruth.He jests awkwardlywith his wife before the lynching: thatnigger "When andlaughed. saidhisfather, lookallright," "You his life awayfornothhe throwed looksatyou,he'sgoingto swear And you." if hedon'tcomebacktohaunt be surprised ing.Wouldn't 1998b,p. 946) again.(Baldwin, he laughed by the Later,he tries to reassurehis son who is clearly traumatized murder: goingto forget "youwasn'tnever saidhisfather, I toldyou," "Well, facewasfull of sweat,his eyes werevery His father's this picnic." morethanhe had Jesselovedhis father At thatmoment peaceful.

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 511

ever loved him. He felt that his father had carriedhim througha mighty test, had revealedto him a great secret which would be the key to his life forever.(p. 949)

Both scenes convey the father'sdisturbance. The laughterand the sweat are signs of nervousdiscomfort;butalthoughthe evidence is his father'ssuffering. clear, the boy is incapableof understanding The uneasinessis an expressionand outcome of hiddenas well as socially manifested obsessive neuroses. Such a community that refuses to countenanceits own shameful acts will continue to be torturedby anxieties that stem from its history of unrequited brutality. The communityis agent of the evil thatit bringsdown on itself. The palpablepresence of evil the boy senses is associated with an uneasiness that refuses to be exorcized by the myths generatedto absolve suchhorrifyingconduct.The dramaof life envelopedin the gothic sphere surroundingthe lynching ritual is both tragic and absurd.The uninitiatedboy is appalledat the unusualhorrorof the deed thatrises froma fundamental betweenthe comdisproportion munity's rejection of the Black man's claim to manhood and the awfulness of the measurethey adoptto reject such a claim:
The man with the knife took the nigger's privatesin his hand, one hand, still smiling, as thoughhe were weighing them. In the cradle of the one white hand, the nigger's privatesseemed as remote as meat being weighed in the scales . . . and Jesse felt his scrotum tighten.... The white handstretchedthem, cradledthem, caressed them.Thenthe dying man'seyes looked straightinto Jesse's eyesit could not havebeen as long as a second,butit seemed longerthan a year.ThenJesse screamedas the knife flashed,firstup, thendown, cuttingthe dreadfulthing away,and the blood came roaringdown. Thenthe crowdrushedforward, tearingat thebody withtheirhands, with knives, with rocks, with stones, howling and cursing. (Baldwin, 1998b, p. 949)

Here Jesse is awakenedto not only what David Littlejohn(1965) called the community'sdiscovery"inthis barbaric anti-human rite a genuine primevalsatisfaction"(p. 480) but also his own debased inheritance.The implied bond between the dying man and the

512 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MAY 2002

fledgling youth suggests the tragic legacy of the grotesque rite. man,is deprivedof Shornof moralsensibility,he, like the castrated his humanity,of his vital essence. When Jesse's mind subconof the civil rightsleader, sciously replaysthis scene afterhis torture andpersistenceof Southernterrorist we recognizethe transmission violence as a continualprocess of culturalreinforcement. Recognizing, as social psychologists point out, that the we begin ontogenesisof knowledgeoccurswithina social context,4 the functionof the protagonist'sreveries:to unravel to understand for readershow Jesse self-destructivelyincorporatesthe ideology of his community.The series of flashbacksdefine him as a psychological productof the deep forces within the dominantWhite culThey function to underline the ture's "collective unconscious."5 of historyandculture,the means wherebyracformativecharacter in the AmericanSouth. ist myths have been harmfullyperpetuated of point of view thatthe style permits Thus,the style andtreatment of time are organicallyrelatedto Baldwin's tropologicaltreatment and culture andhistory.In his judgment,the force of historyshapes psychology, collective norms, and individual sensibility. On this score, Baldwin (1966) warned:
Historydoes not referprincipallyto the past.The greatforce of history comes from the fact thatwe carryit within us, are consciously controlledby it in many ways, and historyis literallypresent in all thatwe do. It is to historythatwe owe our framesof reference,our identities, and our aspirations.(p. 174)

Baldwin's strategyof unravelinghis protagonist'sexperienceis connected to his recognition of this ever present influence of the force of history.Significantly,accordingto the flow of impressions that comes to the readerthroughthe mind of the protagonist,the distinctionbetweenpastandpresentis diminished.Mixed ordinary in the surgingsensationsof Jesse's mind are reminiscencesof the past that,broughtto the surfaceby the stimulusof the presentsensations, impinge on the present and become part of it. Jesse's left on his psychosexualailmentbecomes evidence of the traumata mind and body by the burdenof anxiety and guilt he carries.It is this disability thatLouis H. Pratt(1978) recognized:

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 513

The black manhas hadhis genitaliaremoved.... Yet,Jesse, too, has been emasculated,froman emotionalperspective.He has been consumedby hate, andconsequently,his sexual impotencesymbolizes the incompleteness resultingfrom this corruption.... His inadequacy in consummatingthe sex act symbolizes his inabilityto look at himself andrecognizethe ugly, unspeakablecrimeswhich he has in the name of white supremacy.(p. 49) perpetrated

Focusing on an Americansexual mythology derivedfrom a tradition of negativebeliefs aboutthe humanbody, Baldwin invites his Southernaudienceto examinethe beliefs aboutsexualityit projects on othersand to recognize them as a manifestationof its most fundamentalvision of itself. He takes a close look at Jesse's mind, at his anxiety state,to underlinethe disablingimpactthatsuch a troublesome mythology has on the psyche of the individualas well as on the entire Americansociety. Jesse, who applies the cattle prod to the Black man's testicles, revealshimself a productof the greatlytroubledandtroublingmoralism thathas evolved out of the raciallydefined, sex-negativeculturein the South.The terrifyingspectacleof the handwielding the knife constitutesa synedochicrepresentation castrating of the personalized force of evil now reappearing in Jesse's own dehumanized anddehumanizing conduct.His sexualparalysissymptomizes his being consumed by virulent hatredthat vitiates the soul and thwartscreativerelationshipswith others.Ultimately,like the selfwounded and impotentFisher King in a spirituallycorruptedand sterile land (according to the folk myth described by Jessie L. Weston, 1957), Jesse, Baldwin's protagonist,is himself a casualty of myth. An ultimatecreationof his culture'smythic imagination, he, "theMan,"self-centeredin Southernracisthistory,lies psychically and sexually woundedin his bed, languishingin the anguish of his devitalizedpresentcondition. What Baldwin (1972) called a "terriblepower"has been born out of attitudesthatarisingfrom Southernsexual mythology have become socialized into custom. In racializingsexuality and equating sexual activityamongBlacks with animallust, this culturejustifies its sacrificialremoval of "the dreadfulthing"owned by the Black man, the sex organas agentof vice. Accordingto such theo-

514 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MAY 2002

into socioculturalas well as rizing, biology and race are translated supremacistsvalidate codes ethical imperatives.On such suspect their"civcontrasting themselvesas the prototypefor all humanity, to Black people's behavior,allegedlynot a resultof ilized restraint" free choice but a necessary and impulsive response to sex organs and genes. The AmericanSouth, as these self-valorizingattitudessuggest, doggedly bases its attitudesand ethical judgments on a morality thatgrew out of a misguidedmythology-obsolescent notionsthat still have immense authorityon the mid-20th-centurySouthern mind. Although the basis of the mythology has been demystified, the dogmas born out of the belief system still survive.' Consemode of culturalexpresquently,racismhas become an entrenched as sion as unquestionedand as impassioned an expressionof faith. This is what Baldwin (1972) meant in declaringthat "thenigger" "actually exists; for we believe that he exists. Whenever we encounterhim amongstus in the flesh, ourfaithis madeperfectand his necessaryandbloody end is executedwith a mysticalferocityof joy" (p. 29). Bloodlustis motivatedby heinousfallacies sanctioned of religion, science, andlaw. On these in the Southby the authority grounds, supremacistsrefuse to relinquishtheir ruthless intolerance despitetheirrealizationthatthe notions they projectonto othof theirown imagination.7 ers areclearlythe collapsedparadigms Baldwin (1972) suggested that in the sexual assumptions informingthe Christianworldview are to be discoveredformative influences behind the Southernmyth that regardsthe body as a basis of defilement. Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe, 1852), he is illustrativeof a culturalmind-setactivatedby "atheoremarked, thatbreathesin The "spirit the terrorof damnation": logical terror, "is this book, hot, self-righteous,fearful,"he stated, not different from that spirit of medieval times which sought to exorcize and bum witches; and is not differentfrom thatterrorwhich activatesa is the ideathatcreto Christianity lynch mob"(p. 13). Fundamental into this myth Factored elements. and sacred profane ationcontains is the belief thathumanbeings possess a twofold naturein conflict with itself: godlike goodness anddiabolicevil. To strivefor a life of

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 515

humanbeings mustrejectthe body, a purityandattainimmortality, defiling prison that inhibitsthe divine pursuitsof the soul. Against a backgroundof such Christiantropes, the lynching is carriedout. Whitlow (1988) highlightedthe religious symbolism informingthe rite. Jesse has in thedestruction/communion participated of thatfigurewhichhis societyhaddeemedan objectof bothannounced fearandsecret andhe, with his community, has symbolically admiration; eaten (beaten, burned, cut)thefleshanddrunk the (brought pouring forth) blood.(p. 197) Attendingthe brutalevent (imagedtoo as a sexual/spiritual rite) is synonymous in Jesse's mother's mind with performinga sacred duty (Baldwin, 1998b, p. 944). The surrealquality of the images implies, moreover,the evil character of the castrationandprovides a curious twist to the Gardenof Eden story of original sin that in Christianmythology taintedsubsequentgenerationsof humanity. The Whitehandsreachingup to caressandcut off the privatesof the Black man hanging from the tree rendersa pictureof strange and forbidden fruit being plucked from the tree of life. In this oblique version of the Southern community's fall from grace, Baldwin ironically coalesces biblical and Southern stories. The originalmythof man'sfall was connectedto humanpursuitof selfknowledge and discovery of procreativepotential. The Southern mythreversessuch insightandlife vision. Here, "theMan's""fall" is essentially a conditionof self-estrangement, threatening himself and society with impotence and sterility. Southern "reality," in Baldwin's (1972) words, is based on a "medievalmorality"thatproblematically correlates"black,white, the devil, the next world"(p. 9). An insufferablebrainchild of this "contrastconception,"8 Uncle Tom cannot escape being asked to shed his physicality-his badge of shame, in his creator'sjudgment. As Baldwin comments,it is onlythrough humility, theincessant mortification of theflesh,that hecanenter intocommunion withGodorman.Thevirtuous rageof Mrs.Stoweis motivated by ... a panicof beinghurledinto the

516 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MAY 2002

flames, of being caughtin trafficwith the devil. She embracedthis shamelesslybefore mercilessdoctrinewith all herheart,bargaining the throneof grace [italicsadded]:God and salvationbecomingher purchasedwith the coin of her virtue.Here black personalproperty, equates with evil and white with grace [italics added]; if being mindfulof the necessity of good works, she could not cast out the blacks-a wretched, huddled mass, apparently,claiming, like an obsession, her innereye-she could not embracethem eitherwithout purifyingthem of sin. She must cover theirintimidatingnakedness, robe them in white, the garmentsof salvation; ... only thus could she bury,as St. Paul demanded, "the carnal man, the man of flesh [italics added]."Tom, therefore,her only black man, has been robbedof his humanityand divestedof his sex [italics added]. It is the price for that darkness with which he has been branded. (pp. 12-13) The dreadful reputation sex received via Christian dogma engendered a sex-negative ideology that in Baldwin's narrative is seen to be incorporated into Southern secular myths. Cast over this outline of the White woman in Southern consciousness is the shadow of a male-dominated religious mythology transforming her body into a temple of the holy ghost. This disabling dualism proceeding out of Christianity Baldwin has embodied in the image of Grace as "frail sanctuary."She is White woman framed in the imagination of Southern myth makers entrusted with the virtue and purity of the race. As symbol of this ideal or fiction, however, she is "dead." The moonlight reveals this ambiguity. Reflecting her apotheosized saintliness, it "covers her like glory," but it also envelops her in beams "grown cold as ice," signifying her condition as a thing abstracted from passion and from life. So deeply rooted is the Southern sex-negative mythology that Jesse cannot simultaneously conceive of his wife as both God fearing (pure) and an object of sexual desire. It was by deifying Whiteness, especially the White female, that such individuals sought relief from the anxieties that accompanied their vilifying the sex act. The Puritanical strictures that accompanied this ascetic version of sex having led to a belief in a "pure"sex act devoid of pleasure, a compensatory myth was demanded. To the extent that the ideal of purity was associated with Whiteness and personalized in White

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 517

women, sensuality was commensuratelydamned and projected onto Blacks. Southern society objectified into anatomicalmetaphors its phobias and self-hatred,detachedthese from itself, and yoked them to the Black race it stigmatized as scapegoat, or "phobogenicobject,"in FrantzFanon's (1952/1967) phrase. Via the inverse construct,Blackness came to signify excessive libido: mindlessbody given to free andunbridled expressionof sensuality. In the context of these harmfulnotions, Blacks were renderedsubhumanbeasts:"bulls" or "African jungle cat, as Jesse describesthe victim of the castration.These alleged sexually aggressiveanimals hadto be violently desexedto preservethe purityof Whitecivilization and shore up the egos of sexually insecuremales. Baldwin'sremark thatWhitemen areobsessed by the nightmare of the big Blackpricktheywantto maketheirown has been reduced to his being obsessedby this discovery(Freeze, 1977). Moreappropriately,however,Baldwin is indignantlypointingto the real harm causedby the pernicioussexualmythologyof the South.He has set out to analyze and demythicize the pervasive,obsessive, and disturbingillusions that sanctionsadisticrites of castrationand rape. Because in the context of such perverse fabricationsthe Black woman too becomes an obverse representation of the desensualizedWhite female, Jesse accepts withouthesitationthat the "spice"his wife cannotgive him he can obtainby "pick[ing]up a blackpiece or arresting her." Such thinkingatteststo pathologythe mental dis-ease that from the opening scene the protagonist betrays:
Excitementfilled him like a toothache,but it refused to enter the flesh.... This was his wife. He could not ask her to do just a little thing for him,just to help him out,just for a little while, the way he could ask a nigger girl to do it. (Baldwin, 1988b, p. 933)

Although Genesis may be regarded as a source of deeply ingrainedWesternmythologicalassumptionsthatcame to serve as the norm for sexual relations,these religious attitudeswere later influencedby a historyof scientificthinkerssuch as Darwin(1962) and Freud(1953). Darwin'sideas, encouragingthe searchfor the

518 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ MAY 2002

animalin humanbeings, foundthis connectionin humansexuality. Freudreenvisionedthis struggleas a contest of mind (civilization) and sexuality (instinct). The Freudiantraditionemphasized the to image of the sexualdriveas a biological necessity thatattempted express itself despite the rules devised to control it by cultureand civilization. Freud's (1953) view of sexuality "as an innate and dangerous instinct"andthathumanbeings arecivilized only to the extentthat they have been able to suppresssuch essentially animalisticdrives inform Jesse's diatribe.On the basis of this myth, Jesse rules the Black race out of humancivilization: what animals, than theywerenobetter wereanimals, They[Blacks] Heretheyhadbeenin a civicouldbe donewithpeoplelike that? houses Their andtheystilllivedlikeanimals. foryears lizedcountry thesmellwas inthewindows, withoil clothorcardboard weredark, theysat,a whole to makeyoupukeyourgutsout,andthere enough out kids, it lookedlike, everydamnfive minutes. tribe,pumping 1988b,pp.934-935) (Baldwin, An ironic qualificationto this self-defense of White civilization is thatit comes from a manguilty of repeatedacts of rapeandresponof social oppressionhe scorns.Jesse charsible for the stranglehold fanthe supremacists' acterizesa traditionof moralcontradictions: nowhere that connect conduct of tastic boasts of superiorcodes with the reality of theirbrutallyoppressivepractices. Jesse's malevolenceis a resultof hatredthatevolves into a neupersonhood,andsense of stable rosis andeats awayathis humanity, Baldwin (1963) philosophically identity. Such an insight advanced:"Whoeverdebases others is debasing himself. That is buta mostrealisticone, whichis provedby not a mysticalstatement the eyes of any Alabamasheriff"(p. 113). Jesse, commissionedas law enforcementofficerto keep Blacks in theirplace, is an embodiand obtuse system that Blacks will ment of the self-contradictory confront when they vie for liberty and equality in America. This absurdirony (which he fails to detect) also underlieshis sensing as a boy an equation between the community's euphoria over the lynching andthe spiritof the July 4th celebrations.The institution-

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 519

alized practices of racial injustice he represents underline the nationalparadox:the pervasivedelight of Americansin dishonoring the democraticideals andhumanistprinciplesthey celebrateas constitutionallyenshrinedethical codes. Jesse, then,exemplifiesa communityout of touchwith itself and out of touch with real life. This innate contradictionis effectively dramatized throughthe schizoidtensionsin his mind.In his anxiety to gratify his wife sexually, Jesse imagines himself as "nigger." This is an act of self-retrieval via whichJesse shows thatthe stigmatized image of Blackness is a projectionembodying his personal angst of self-denial. The "nigger"is a creation of supremacists' insecureimaginations,thebody disgracedandrejected,butwithout which those who so disclaimit cannotfunction.The ramblingtime dislocations in Jesse's consciousness result thus not from Baldwin's problem with form but from the irrefutablelogic of Jesse's perverted imagination. Because the tortured psyche (trapped in a "nightmare" inducedby bigotry)is in no conditionto ordermeanings logically or realistically,the time disjunctionsare appropriate.In essence, the perspectival arrangementhelps to reflect the powerlessnessof a diseased mind to grasp and identify its illness. Thus style is tunedto character. Jesse is "Man" demoralized (emasculatedand dehumanized)by the myths that drive his violent culture. Because of White supremacists' refusalto face themselves, the burdenof the past continues as a heavy and oppressiveweight on the present, on the individual and collective psyche. This is an effect of the pervasive flashbacks. Past realities that, ghostlike, hauntthe presentSouth,explainJesse's momentof personalcrisis, and point to the source of America's moral paralysis. For Jesse, who must do what his forefathersordainedfor him, is unable to escape the burdenof his heritage;and inevitably,violence continues as automatic response to fear and guilt. For this reason, Baldwin seeks to remindus thathistorydoes not refer"principally to the past;"it is by the weight of history as a "greatforce"within that Jesse is controlled.Thus, the story's perspectivefunctions to fuse togetherthe two elementsof time andperceptionso vital to the narrative's development: its concernwith the specialcircumstances

520 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MAY 2002

of the past that shape human perceptionand that are themselves of presentreality.The boy's perceptionof gothic vital determinants detailat the lynchingplaces emphasison the hauntingperversityhe internalizesand thatdistortshis humanity. Seeing himself as the nigger,Jesse acknowledgesthathe is the brutalizedconsciousness of the Southconfrontedwith its own perversion.Thathe is arousedby identifyingwith the sexually aggressive "savage"producedwithin the paranoidimaginationof Southernculturereflectsthe extentto which sadomasochismhas become a prominentelement in his community'seroticism.Out of Jesse's warped boyhood (the conditioning experience of orgasm at the lynching), sadisticimpulses areretainedas unconsciousimages of of the Black prisoneris illustrative.Healthyand bliss. His torturing withinthe vortex creativehumancoexistencehavingbeen thwarted of emasculatingviolence engenderedfrom Southernsex-negative myths, Jesse becomes a psychoneuroticin the terms defined by Freud (1953), who wrote that "every pathological disorder of as an inhibitionin development" sexuallife is rightlyto be regarded (p. 208). thatof AfriThe story,then, is abouttwo tragicconfrontations: andthatof White supremacist) the "Man" (the with can Americans the "Man"in conflict with a neuroticallyinflated self:
People who imagine that history flattersthem (as it does, indeed, since they wroteit) areimpaledon theirhistorylike a butterflyon a pin and become incapableof seeing or changingthemselves or the world.... This is the place in which, it seems to me, most white Americansfind themselves. They are dimly, or vividly, awarethat the historythey have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not knowhow to releasethemselvesfromit, andthey sufferenormously from the resultingpersonalincoherence.... Moreover,the history of white people has led them to a fearful,baffling place where they have begun to lose touch with themselves-and where they certainly are not happy. They do not know how this came about; they do not dare examine how this came about. (Baldwin, 1966, pp. 175-176)

Racism, then, is an outcome of the White community'spersonal and social disorganization-a productof an "appallinglyoppres-

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 521

sive and bloody history"thatcontinuesto menace membersof the White community. Jesse's thoughts reflect the deep-seated and troublesomecommunityangst he has inherited:
Each man, in the thrilling silence which sped outwardfrom their andtheiranecdotes,seemed wrestling,in exchanges,theirlaughter, variousdegreesof darkness,with a secretwhich he could not articulate to himself, and which, however directly it related to the war, relatedyet more surely to his privacy and his past.... They had never dreamedthattheir privacycould contain any element of terror,could threaten,thatis, to reveal itself, to the scrutinyof a judgment day, while remainingunreadableand inaccessible to themselves; nor had they dreamedthatthe past, while certainlyrefusing to be forgotten,could yet so stubbornlyrefuse to be remembered. (Baldwin, 1998b, p. 941)

Generally,Baldwin successfully fuses narrative point of view with characterperspective.Jesse, though, is incapable of this type of self-conscious attemptat self-analysis:this searchfor the sourceof the "nightmare" that motivates men to blind repetitionof crime. This authorialintrusionis meantto highlightthe morallydarkand psychologically turbulentforces by which supremacistsare controlled.The evidence of theirfell deeds breedstormentingfear and guilt, and the crimes executed as defense of civilization constitute an avenue of flight, a cry for help from desperatemen, as Jesse's flashbacks show, haunted by complexes of insecurity and selfabasement.The "nigger"as incarnationof these fears is explored throughBaldwin'srepresentation of this constructionas metaphor. Supremacists' encounter with the "nigger"is a self-encounter. Such oppressivegroups,in acknowledgingthis, Baldwin suggests, may lay claim to a new historyin which they may find themselves and be transformed from tyrantsinto humanepersons. The characters in "Goingto Meet the Man"are underthe threat of a macabreforce pervadingtheir world. This threatarises from the anxieties of individuals whose unrequitedguilt is palpably capableof bringingcatastropheon themselves and others.Consequently,the lynching becomes a pivotal episode in the plot and in Jesse's development,telling how the storyturnson thatmomentof

522 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MAY 2002

crisis when charactersin this world find themselves driven to do only vaguely.Underscoredis the things by forces they understand tragic feeling thatpersonalrelationsamong individualsshould be determinedby a virulentmyth overshadowingtheir lives with the inevitabilityof imminentevil. For this reason,the society remains hauntedby the threatof violence. The luridlights againstthe blinds so terrify that Jesse impulsively reaches for his gun. Thus, the in this worldcan be said to move not in two minds of the characters over in three;theirconstantapprehension but planes mergingtime what is imminent constitutingwhat amounts to a third temporal
dimension.

The demandsthatBaldwinmakeson his readerthroughpoint of view andtime handlingareso closely relatedas to be aspectsof one another.It is the omnipresenceof this always imminent,nameless fearassociateddirectlywith the centralsymbol of the lynchingthat terrorizesthe mind and, as Baldwin shows, derives from and continuallydemandsthe powerof mythto relievewhatis a deep-seated anxiety,a communalurgefor absolution.The mythbecomes, ironiby the very cally, an illusoryprincipleof orderin a worlddisturbed myths that are the source of the disorder. Baldwin's conception of time in such a way permits the existence of two interlockingplanesof actionin the story-one present anddramatic,the otherpast andexplicativebut always influencing the presentthatforms the framingpatternof the story.The present plane is thatwhich catches the action at the beginningof the crisis (the point of Jesse's personalbreakdown).The flashbacksfollow the innerdrama)to the sourceof the catastrophe the action(through the forces thatmadethe catasin the past.The reveriesrecapitulate functions in terms of the recall Such memory trophe inevitable. movie-like flashbackthatexplains the presentturnof events in the narrative.But for the reader,the recall is much less background thanpartof the presentbecause Jesse's presentdoes not disappear fromthe scene as it would duringthe movie flashback;instead,the two planesof actionare,as it were, projectedon the screensimultaneously.The actionof the presentplaneis limited,yet it moves with the concentrationand rapidityof good drama.The story covers, Jesse's discomfortin bed and practically,a few hours surrounding

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 523

his consciousness of the tense Southernrace dramain which he anticipatesactinghis brutalrole once againthe following morning. Meanwhile, on the other plane, we have the tortuouslyunfolded stories of how he, the principalcharacter, got the neurosisthathas broughthim andhis society to this crisis, accordingnot so muchto the inexorablelaw of his own personalitybut of his history.Out of the detailsrelatedto his own personalpastcome the obsessions and anxiety states that stand in the place of motives, determininghis violent conduct. This past is the historyof the South, treatednot so much as legend but as myth: myth being a narrativeaccount of origins that explains why things must be as they are. The evil in Jesse is a psychological product,not the resultof nature'sslip butof social conditioning.He is what he is because of the belief system into which his father-ancestor has initiatedhim. His role is determined for him by a communityinto whose codes he, like the youth in primitive societies, had to be rituallyinitiatedfor the system to be perpetuated.Baldwin's interestin not only how such balefullyevil charactersareproducedbutalso theirtragiclegacies may be further examined in the context of his (1972) observationsin Notes:
In our image of the Negro breathesthe past we deny, not dead but living yet andpowerful,the beastin ourjungle of statistics.It is this which defeatsus, which continuesto defeatus.... It is a sentimental error,therefore,to believe thatthe past is dead;it means nothingto say thatit is all forgotten,thattheNegrohimself has forgottenit. It is not a question of memory.Oedipus did not rememberthe thongs thatboundhis feet; neverthelessthe marksthey left testifiedto that doom towardwhich his feet were leading him. The man does not rememberthe hand that struckhim, the darknessthat frightened him, as a child;nevertheless,the handandthe darknessremainwith him, indivisiblefromhimself forever,partof the passion thatdrives him whereverhe thinksto take flight. (p. 22)

This idea of the past as inexorable force is crucial to Baldwin's vision of Americanrealityas essentially tragic.Man's fate is to be an agentof evil thatis perpetuated inevitablyout of his own history. He becomes bothvictim andworkerof evil; andas in Greekdrama, the sign of evil is the violence it bringsforth.Evil comes out of the

524 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MAY 2002

past that the individualhas failed to control responsibly-hence, of the fear-engendered essential to the dramais the recapitulating myth from which it grows. For Baldwin, this means retracingthe Southernviolence, a criticalsituagenesis of the mid-20th-century tion thatforedoomedgenerationspriorto thatin which his protagoJesse is entangledin the forces of historyand nist wreakshis terror. a traditionof myth thathis communityrefuses to deny or put from itself. The charactersof this world feel the impactof the violence that they all witness, perform,or receive. They are awareof being the agentsor in dangerof an evil thatman sets abroadin this world.It is undoubtedlythe presence of this always imminentevil associated in the Southwith racisthatredthatfor Baldwinhas the powerto fascinate and paralyze.Its ability to attractand terrifyat once creates the tortured,evil world he depicts. "Going to Meet the Man," thereby,gives us a glimpse of humantragedy,a cultureof dark,irrational fear and humanprivateanguish. Controloverpointof view is a majorcause of Baldwin'ssuccess. His experimentsin perspective,in time handling,and in revealing (the latter clearly not the same thing as developing) character(a point Jones, 1977, did not acknowledge) function as aesthetic medium for revealing a mind twisted by guilt and seeking flight fromresponsibilitythroughoutdatedmyths.Because it is fromthis point of view thatBaldwin is generallyable to merge his narrative protagonist,the voice with the consciousness of the anxiety-ridden that effects dependon the disstory is given credibilityandpower, closure of what is happeningin the protagonist'smind. His narrative methodis to establishframesof subjectiverealityandtime for perceptionsof reality his protagonistandthento rendercontrasting and time. Reality appears,therefore,to lie outside the events and exists in the protagonist'sdistortedperception. Baldwin's intention is deconstructive,to offer a vision of the painful process by which the individual may begin to approach Baldwin healthfulself-awareness:"Itis with greatpain andterror," has which placed (1966) said, "thatone begins to assess the history one where one is, and formedone's point of view" (p. 174). As he ouralso insists, only by confrontingourhistorycan we understand

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 525

selves andbringaboutchange. The flashbacks,then, signify a process of therapeuticpersonal and collective psychoanalysis. The buried neuroses of the protagonist,the American imbalancedby racistmyths, must be broughtto the surfaceto allow him to repair his own distortedsensibilityandrecognizethe humanityof his victims. The flashbacks structuringthe story, therefore,carry epistemological weight. Baldwin (1972) assertedthat,
To tell his [the "nigger's"]story is to begin to liberateus from his image and it is, for the first time, to clothe this phantomwith flesh andblood, to deepen,by ourunderstanding of him andhis relationship to us, our understanding of ourselves and of all men. (p. 35)

The reveriesin "Goingto Meet the Man,"then, delineate the disablingmythsthatderivefromthe Southerncommunity'sracialized assumptionsaboutculture,biology, andsex anddemystifythe troublesome illusions it shows up as effusions of the protagonist'smorally darkenedmind.

NOTES
1. Jesse recallsthat,when he was debtcollectorin the Black community,he had a feeling of being "caughtup in a nightmare, a nightmare dreamedby a child,"and "everything familiar, without undergoing any other change, had been subtly and hideously displaced" (Baldwin, 1998b, p. 937). 2. Jesse's finalarousalis a productnot of calculatedwillpower,accordingto RogerWhitlow's (1988) reading(p. 195), butof psychosis. Jesse is controlledby a brutalpastthatlimits his emotionalfunctions.Conditionedto experiencepleasureonly throughabnormalbrutality, he becomes a sadomasochist.The orgiasticsensationshe experiencesfrom torturing the prisonerareillustrative: "Iput the cattleprodto him andhe jerkedsome moreandhe kindof screamed." The victim's intense pain bringshim sexual satisfaction."Forsome reason, he [Jesse] grabbedhis privates" in responseto the man's sufferingwhen he appliedthe prodto his testicles. The feeling Jesse experiencedwas "veryclose to a very peculiar,particular joy; [and] somethingdeep in him and deep in his memory was stirred,but whateverwas in his memoryeludedhim"(Baldwin, 1986b,pp. 936-937). This foggy dejavu is the lynchingthat has disturbedhim mentally and emotionally. 3. The boy's mind recordsthe absurd,eerie, and ominous setting:the barkingdogs, the smoke,the light fromthe sungrowncold andeffecting a surreal("under-water") illusion;the humansuffering:the moaning,pain, the death;and the final, intense orgiasticrelease.

526 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ MAY 2002

4. The theoryof social psychology providesvalid principleson the acquisitionof knowlof the mental processes Baldwin seeks to trace edge that can facilitate our understanding throughJesse's reveries. Social psychologists argue that a subject is a purely sociological being whose consciousness takes shape only when it has been filled with ideological (or semiotic) content.Among such thinkersis DavidHamlyn(1982), who positedthatthe social context alone functionsto determine"anyintelligibilityin the idea of the emergenceof the (p. 31). force of a norm.Only with thatcan one speak of knowledge and understanding" to the collective unconsciousa pri5. ArguingthatCarlJungwas mistakenin attributing mary biological component, FrantzFanon (1952/1967) redefinedthis idea as "the sum of prejudices,myths, collective attitudesof a given group"(p. 188). White persons, he said, used theirmyths of a superiorcivilizationand cultureto depriveotherpeople of humanstatus. Blacks were turnedinto the phobogenicobject throughsuch myths and made to reprepsyche. By thus stigmatizing sent the latentdesires andimpulseslying deep in the European Black people as the symbol of the biological, of everythingEuropedesiredto rejectas evil, theirdesires as thoughthey were not theirown (Fanon, Europeansconvenientlyrepudiated 1952/1967). 6. Baldwin (1972) spoke directlyon this point: Today, to be sure, we know that the Negro is not biologically or mentally inferior;thereis no truthin those rumorsof his body odor or his incorrigible sexuality;or no more truththancan be easily explainedor even defendedby the social sciences. (pp. 19-20) 7. James WeldonJohnson(1990) made this point succinctly in an exchange between a Texan planterand a Northernsoldier. The soldier's explanationof the false premises on elicits the latter'sintransigence: which the Texanbases his belief in White racialsuperiority "Wedon't believe the niggeris or ever will be the equalof the white man,andwe ain't going to treathim as an equal;I'll be damnedif we will." It is the mythicalbasis of this insularity that reassuresthe narrator: The Texan's position does not renderthings so hopeless, for it indicatesthat the maindifficultyof the racequestiondoes not lie so muchin the actualconof the whites.(pp. 120-121) ditionof theblacksas it does in thementalattitude 8. RalphBunche (1990-1992) referredto this idea also as the conceived in terms of good and evil, long familiarto counter-conceptions, humanrelationsinvolve a polarreligion, [and] when employed to interpret moralsignificancewhich mustordinarily izationof values anda comparative portrayone of the groups in an unflatteringlight. Thus in America, whites legend and andblacksareplacedinjuxtaposition,andthe blacksby tradition, belief, are the antonym in antithesisto the whites, in whom are found the highestmoralvalues, the virtues,the creativeurges andthe intelligence.The moral virtues find themselves personalizedin the guise of white men and women. (p. 76)

REFERENCES
Baldwin, J. (1963). Thefire next time. New York:Dial. Baldwin, J. (1964). Bluesfor Mr Charlie.New York:Dial.

Griffith/ PSYCHONEUROSIS 527

Baldwin, J. (1966). Unnameableobjects, unspeakablecrimes. In Ebony (Ed.), The White problemin America (pp. 173-181). Chicago:Johnson. Baldwin, J. (1972). Notes of a native son. Boston: Beacon. Baldwin, J. (1998a). Alas, poor Richard. In Collected essays (pp. 247-268). New York: Libraryof AmericaPress. Baldwin,J. (1998b). Going to meet the man.In Earlynovels and stories (pp.933-950). New York:Libraryof America Press. Bunche, R. (1990-1992). Conceptionsand ideologies of the Negro problem.Contributions in Black Studies, 9/10, 70-114. Darwin,C. (1962). Theorigin of species and the descent of man and selection in relationto sex. New York:RandomHouse. Fanon, F. (1967). Black skin, Whitemasks (C. L. Markmann,Trans.).New York:Grove. (Originalwork published 1952) Freeze,P.(1977). JamesBaldwin:Goingto meet theman.InP.Bruck(Ed.), TheBlackAmerican short story in the 20th century: A collection of critical essays (pp. 171-185). Amsterdam:B.R. Gruner. Freud,S. (1953). Threeessays on sexuality.In J. Stracey(Ed.), Standardeditionof the complete psychological worksof SigmundFreud(Vol. 7, pp. 124-145). London:Hogarth. Hamlyn, D. (1982). What exactly is social about the origins of understanding.In G. Butterworth & P. Light (Eds.), Social cognition: Studies in the developmentof understanding (pp. 17-31). Chicago:Universityof Chicago Press. Johnson,J. W. (1990). Theautobiographyof an ex-coloredman. New York:Penguin. Jones, H. L. (1977). Style, form, and contentin the shortfiction of JamesBaldwin. In T. B. O'Daniel (Ed.), James Baldwin:A critical evaluation (pp. 143-150). Washington,DC: HowardUniversityPress. Littlejohn,D. (1965). Exemplaryand otherBaldwins. Nation, 201, 478-480. Pratt,L. H. (1978). James Baldwin. Boston: Twayne. Stowe, H. B. (1852). Uncle Tom'scabin: Or life among the lowly. Boston: John P. Jewett. Weston,J. L. (1957). Fromritualto romance.Cambridge, UK:Cambridge UniversityPress. Whitlow,R. (1988). Baldwin's "goingto meet the man":Racial brutalityand sexual gratification. In F. L. Standley& N. V. Burt(Eds.), Criticalessays on JamesBaldwin(pp. 194198). Boston: G. K. Hall. Wright,R. (1940). Native son. New York:Harperand Row.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 1995, Dr. Paul Griffith taughtAfricanAmerican literatureandpostcolonial literatureat the University of Georgiafrom 1996 to 1997. He movedinto a tenure-track position at Lamar Universityin thefall of1997, wherehe also teachesAfricanAmericanliteratureand postcolonial literature. In the 1980s, he taughtCaribbeanstudiesat the University of the West Indies. Dr. Griffith has published articles on the poetry of Edward Brathwaite (Caribbeanpoet); on 19th-centuryAfro-Americanwriters John Jea, JupiterHammon,and BenjaminBanneker;on Jean Toomer's"Esther; " on Herman Melville's "BenitoCereno;" and on colonial Americanhistory.