The Relationship between the City and Self: An Analysis of Critical Article #1

In “The Tale of Two Cities in James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain,” Charles Scruggs of the University of Arizona argues that while many view Baldwin’s work as a Bildungsroman or as a particular sociological or psychological conflict, Baldwin places his characters in a “recognizable intellectual tradition” a tradition of “the city as an idea” (1). Baldwin, however, uses the cities to expand on numerous conflicts within the book as “Baldwin juxtaposes two cities, the earthly and the heavenly, and together they help to focus the novel’s various themes: father and son, individual and community, the sacred and the profane” (2). The two cities that Baldwin conceptually juxtaposes are Harlem and New York.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

In my opinion, I found the point which Scruggs makes in the second part of the article regarding how Richard and Elizabeth reflected New York with their own personal experiences, especially regarding the south, as “For Elizabeth, it meant release from a tyrannical aunt; for Richard, from a racist society” (10). For me, I live in the north and the south and I enjoy how Baldwin relies on earlier traditions of the conception of the city to shine a light on the individual as an Augustinian perspective views that one “is capable of achieving a heavenly city within [themselves]” (2). Scruggs goes on to point out that “Elizabeth viewed New York as a refuge for her innocent love, and Richard imagined it as a crucible containing the intellectual and aesthetic heritage of Civilization” (10). If you get a chance to watch “I am not your Negro” the James Baldwin documentary, it is interesting to see the role of the city, from the past and the present in presenting an image of Baldwin’s life.

Regarding Prompt 13, I am interested to see how the verse “He made me a watchman / Upon a city wall / And if I am a Christian / I am the least of all” fits with Scruggs’ critical article which as the city wall emerges in an Augustinian tradition of the wall within an individual that separates the inner heavenly city from the “evil forces outside” (2). Scruggs proposes that the city wall within this text serves as a divide between Harlem and the church, so the wall is point of divide within the book as John struggles to cope with the divide that is created by this socially constructed wall.

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