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The Fire Next Time is a non-fiction book, written by James Baldwin. The book consists of two parts: the first is called “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and the second is named “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind”. The author talks about racism, inequality, hypocrisy and the role of religion in this. Every new chapter or part like the first one begins with the big letter, which overlays letters nearby. The first part is the letter-warning from rash violent actions against white people with some encouragement, that everything will change, from the uncle of James. Uncle also says that not every white man is the same, and those, who do terrible things to blacks, are just afraid of “losing their grasp of reality” (Baldwin, 12). The second part is more complex and consists of three chapters, which are not named and can be recognized only by big letter. The first one is about James and his crisis of belief in God. The second part is about Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. And the last one is about people, who are interested in the Civil War and how “the American Negro past can be used” (Baldwin, 61). The ending words are that everything is in the hands of blacks now, and only they can “end the racial nightmare” (Baldwin, 63). The name of the book is a reference to the Bible and what happens if the inequality will continue. Although James Baldwin writes in such a way that the reader feels, he is not focused on aggression as the solution.
The author pays a lot of attention to religion and its role. At the age of fourteen he used the word “God” as synonymous to “safety”, but later James began to use it more carefully. He began to question Christianity and found some unpleasant things. First, he does understand that white people treat the black badly, because of their superiority, established by God (Baldwin, 20). The main reason why God decreed it so is because He is white (Baldwin, 23). Second, James found out that the principles and customs of both black and white churches are similar, cultivating blindness, loneliness, and terror in the hearts of Christians instead of faith, hope and charity (Baldwin, 20). Also, the persons, who are not Christians, are lost in these blindness, loneliness, and terror, and the only cure for this is becoming Christian. Third, Christianity values only the soul, while the body means nothing (Baldwin,31). It also means that every soul is precious regardless of religion and race, but this contradicts the second and first observations, made by James. As a result, James saw in religion some hypocrisy and duality, which has a huge influence and can be used by the people, who rule the country. Also, if these people will be questioned, then the faith also is questioned as well, which makes the religion more the realm of power, than the realm of morals. But at the same time James sees in religion some mechanism of restraining aggression (Baldwin, 47) and a tool for becoming equal through sharing joy and pain of each other (Baldwin, 24).
Such duality of Christianity forced some people to find a completely new religion, which will proclaim their interest as superior. This desire gave birth to a thousand religions, which consider white people as evil. The one, that interested James Baldwin, was the Nation of Islam movement, created and leaded by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (Baldwin, 32). The main reason for such interest is the fact, that the policemen did not disperse their crowds. Their movement claims that God is black, and all the black people belong to Islam. Also, religion supposes that black people will rule the world in the next ten-fifteen years. The speeches of the Nation of Islam were very popular, because they said everything, that blacks wanted to hear, and James knew it. He saw some illusory and impossibility of their promises and demands, such as separation of the black economy in America (Baldwin, 32), while Negroes are only a ninth of the nation and USA government hardly allow to do it (Baldwin, 51). Some of the rumors are that Texas oil millionaires contribute money to the organization (Baldwin, 50). The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who is a prophet of Allah, was “small and slender” with big eyes and beautiful smile, which was the central figure, because of the pain in his face (Baldwin, 40). James marked his habit to answer question by question, and his single-mindedness, which gives him power (Baldwin, 41). Because of that single-mindedness, James is afraid of that movement, because he thinks that they consider all the white people evil despite that some of them can be friends with black people (Baldwin, 45). The author admires the Nation of Islam movement, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who has done more than any government or teachers, but sees the time as the main reason for such rise of the movement (Baldwin, 33-34). James Baldwin is afraid of the radicalism of the movement and its thoughtlessness in some issues, that’s why he does not support the movement and decline to join them.
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