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Social Context of The Fire Next Time

Social Context of The Fire Next Time

The Fire Next Time was published in a time of great chaos. A civil rights revolution was sweeping the country. Many of the institutions of American life were being challenged, including religion. Author James Baldwin saw power as a key to African-American success in the civil rights movement.

In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to sit in the Negro section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. Martin Luther King transformed a racial protest into a massive resistance movement in the late 1950s. In the early 1960s, the sit-in tactic was launched in Greensboro, North Carolina, when black college students insisted on service at a local lunch counter. “Freedom Riders” were sent to the South in 1961 by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to test and break down segregation laws.

In a few years, there would be a sexual revolution, as well as a trend toward peace and love. For the time being, however, hatred and misunderstanding were widespread. Baldwin realized the importance of these events and movements and answered them with The Fire Next Time.

As Baldwin became a teenager in Harlem, he began to realize the presence of temptations such as sex and drugs. In order to fight these evils, he fled to the church. Eventually Baldwin realized that the church didn’t preach love to everyone, but only to the ones who believed as they did. Despite this bad experience in the church, Baldwin never forgot the positive elements of religion.

According to Kenneth Kinnamon, Baldwin realized that Christians had kept blacks down through history, but he still understood the need for religion. “However much he may revile the historical role of Christianity in the enslavement of black people, The Fire Next Time attests that [Baldwin] has never forgotten the compensatory values of his [adolescent] religious experience,” he writes (3). After a meeting with Elijah Muhammad, Baldwin realized that Christianity wasn’t the only flawed religion. Baldwin saw that both Islam and Christianity needed to compromise their strong beliefs for a unified black movement to have any real power.

Baldwin knew the acquisition of power would have to play a key role if blacks were to achieve full civil rights. Baldwin writes, “The only thing white people have that black people need, or should want, is power–and no one holds power forever” (96). He recognizes that whites would be reluctant to relinquish the power they had over blacks.

The Fixer: Irony

The Fixer: Irony

Irony is an overpowering force in Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer. The sequence of events which Yakov Bok goes through makes the entire novel ironic. The chief irony of the novel lies in the fact that what Bok is attempting to escape, he cannot escape. To understand the irony in the novel, it is necessary to examine two major events in the circular life of Yakov Bok. Bok is attempting the escape his life in the shetl. He is wrongly persecuted for a ritual murder and attempts to escape his physical and mental torture. In each case, Bok is attempting to escape his Jewishness. The novel has an overall ironic tone.

Bok leaves the shetl in which he has lived the majority of his life to go to Kiev. In Kiev Bok hopes to find opportunities for work and education. Mainly, though, Bok seeks relief from his earlier shame of being cuckolded. While in the shetl Bok sees himself as a victim of his wife’s barrenness (Unger 447 ). The irony lies in the fact that that even after escaping the shetl and being in a different kind of hell, prison, Bok’s life in the shetl comes back to haunt him. Bok learns of a child that Raisl has had with her lover and gives his bitter sentence of “a black cholera upon her” ( Malamud 254 ). The one thing that might have given him happiness in his life before has now gone to someone else. This event brings Yakov shame that he could not father a child with Raisl while another man could. Thus, the problems of the shetl which Bok has tried so desperately to escape have come back to haunt him once again. Bok’s life is very circular.

Later in the novel, Raisl visits Yakov in prison in an attempt to end her own ostracism in the shetl. Yakov could here exact some kind of revenge upon Raisl by allowing her to be ostracized for having an illegitimate child the way he was ostracized for being cuckolded. However, Yakov eventually signs the document which says “I declare myself to be the father of Chaim, the infant son of my wife Raisl Bok… Please help the mother and child, and for this, amid all my troubles, I’ll be grateful” ( 262). Bok, now having on paper what he once wanted most, a son, cannot enjoy it.

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