Writer: James Baldwin
Year of publication: 1995
Pages: 143 (epilogue included)
Tish (Clementine Rivers): She's a black negro girl who lives in Harlem (many negroes live there). She's 19 years old, for getting money she works at a parfume counter. She's the main character in this book and also the one who tells the story. She wants to marry Fonny. She knows Fonny well, because they used to be good friends when they were kids. She thinks the people in this world aren't good nor honest, that's why Fonny is in jail.
Fonny (Alonzo Hunt): He's a black person too. He is a boy of twenty-two years old. He's a cook and he's also a sculptor. He forms a main character in this book, because he's the father of the baby, Tish is going to have. They are planning to get married, which his parents don't like.
This book is a novel that belongs to the negro literature. See the following text:
Fiction by black Americans attained considerable literary stature. 'Invisible Man' (1952), by Ralph Ellison (born 1914), and many of the books by James Baldwin (1924-87) for example, 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' (1953), 'Another Country' (1962), and 'If Beale Street Could Talk' (1974) were all vivid portrayals of the plight of blacks in a white society.*
The main character Tish (her real name is Clementine Rivers) lives in Harlem, New York, in an area where many negroes live. It's only some decades ago that this story could took place. She falls in love with Fonny (his real name is Alonzo Hunt), who lives in her neighborhood (they are both black persons). She remembers him from the time they were in the same school. His father (Frank) is a kind man, she meets him regularly in the shop, but his mother (Mrs Alice Hunt) is not very friendly as well as his sisters. The mother find Tish a good punishment to Fonny, because she thinks Tish is not good enough for Fonny. Right in the beginning of the story Fonny is in jail, because someone charged him for a rape, which isn't true. Tish is pregnant while Fonny is still in jail, so they intend to marry. When the parents of Tish tells the parents of Fonny that Tish is going to marry Fonny, Mrs Hunt is not very happy and even angry.
Before Fonny was in jail they have looked for a place where they could live together, but that was very hard to find (because of racism against black persons). When they finally found one, Fonny has to go in jail. A policeman (Mr Bell) who is famous for his lies (he's a racist) charges him for a rape. Tish remembers many moments from the time Fonny was a free man, for instance that they were going to the Sanctified Church (she was a Baptist) and to the Spanish restaurant (Fonny knew the waiters very well there). Fonny is actually innocent and he even has an alibi. It's very difficult to get Fonny out of jail. The parents of Tish take a lawyer (Mr Hayward), but this case is even very hard for him to solve. Suddenly Mrs Rogers (she's the woman who was raped) disappeares, so they have to find her. That's very expensive for the parents of Tish, so they have to take extra jobs and have to steal. When the mother of Tish finds Mrs Rogers (in Puerto Rico), she doesn't want to change her witness. She only becomes a nervous prostration, that makes sure Fonny is allowed to go on bail (but that costs a lot of money). In the end of this novel the baby is finally born.
In this book there isn't an omniscient narrator, because, for instance, in the end we still don't know the sex of the baby. We only know a baby is coming. Furthermore we don't even know if they will win the trial. In this book there are many flashbacks, because Tish (the main character) tells us many things from the past and the present at will.
The racism against negroes is a momentous theme in this book. But more important is the question if negroes have to accept the racism or have to battle against it. In the decades after World War II many negroes fought against it (see the text below).
At the end of World War II, black Americans were poised to make far-reaching demands to end racism. They were unwilling to give up the minimal gains that had been made during the war.
The campaign for black rights went forward in the 1940s and 1950s in persistent and deliberate steps. In the courts the NAACP successfully attacked racially restrictive covenants in housing, segregation in interstate transportation, and discrimination in public recreational facilities. In 1954 the United States Supreme Court issued one of its most significant rulings. In the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kan.), the court overturned the "separate but equal" ruling of 1896 and outlawed segregation in the nation's school systems. White citizens' councils in the South fought back with legal maneuvers, economic pressure, and even violence. Rioting by white mobs temporarily closed Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., when nine black students were admitted to it in 1957.
Direct nonviolent action by blacks achieved its first major success in the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955-56, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. This protest was prompted by the quiet but defiant act of a black woman, Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. Resistance to black demands for the desegregation of Montgomery's buses was finally overcome when the Supreme Court ruled in November 1956 that the segregation of public transportation facilities was unconstitutional. To coordinate further civil rights action, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was established in 1957 under King's leadership.
Within 15 years after the Supreme Court outlawed all-white primary elections in 1944, the registered black electorate in the South increased more than fivefold, reaching 1,250,000 in 1958. The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first federal civil rights legislation to be passed since 1875, authorized the federal government to take legal measures to prevent a citizen from being denied voting rights.
Beginning in February 1960 in Greensboro, N.C., student sit-ins forced the desegregation of lunch counters in drug and variety stores throughout the South. In April 1960 leaders of the sit-in movement organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In the spring of 1961 "freedom rides" to defy segregation on interstate buses in Alabama and Mississippi were organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), under its national director, James Farmer.
The NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, and CORE cooperated on a number of local projects, such as the drive to register black voters in Mississippi, launched in 1961. In April 1964 they worked together to help found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party, which later that year challenged the seating of an all-white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.
Blacks adopted "Freedom Now" as their slogan to recognize the Emancipation Proclamation centennial in 1963. National attention in the spring of 1963 was focused on Birmingham, Ala., where King was leading a civil rights drive. The Birmingham authorities used dogs and fire hoses to quell civil rights demonstrators, and there were mass arrests. In September 1963 four black girls were killed by a bomb thrown into a Birmingham church.
Civil rights activities in 1963 culminated in a March on Washington organized by Randolph and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. King addressed the huge throng of 250,000 demonstrators. The march helped secure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbade discrimination in voting, public accommodations, and employment and permitted the attorney general of the United States to deny federal funds to local agencies that practiced discrimination. Efforts to increase the black vote were also helped by the ratification in 1964 of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned the poll tax.
The difficulties in registering black voters in the South were dramatized in 1965 by events in Selma, Ala. Civil rights demonstrators there were attacked by police who used tear gas, whips, and clubs. Thousands of demonstrators were arrested. As a result, however, their cause won national sympathy and support. Led by King and by John Lewis of SNCC, some 40,000 protesters from all over the nation marched from Selma to Montgomery, the Alabama state capital. Congress then passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which eliminated all discriminatory qualifying tests for voter registrants and provided for the appointment of federal registrars.*
There's not much symbolism in this book. You can only say the fact that Fonny and Tish were called "Romeo and Juliet" is symbolism. "Romeo and Juliet" refers to a play of Shakespeare.
Explanation of the title
Beale Street is the street where Tish (and Fonny) grew up. "If Beale Street Could Talk" refers to the fact that the world would be better if there wasn't discrimination against negroes.
When I first saw the cover, I thought it was about a boy who falls in love with a girl. In fact, it was about a girl who falls in love with a boy! I think this book is well written, and it's also understandable. I think it's very good that Baldwin wrote this book, because many native Americans must have doubted their Declaration of Independence (see the text below).
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. On July 4, 1776, the members of the Continental Congress assembled at the State House in Philadelphia to take up a matter of vital importance. Two days earlier the Congress had voted to declare the colonies to be "free and independent states." Now they were considering how to announce that fact to the world. By the end of the day, the final wording had been determined and the Congress voted unanimously to adopt one of history's greatest documents the Declaration of Independence.
The stirring phrases of the Declaration inspired the patriots to defeat the British, thus guaranteeing independence. Since that time the Declaration has been a source of pride and strength for every generation of Americans.
TEXT OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (This text follows exactly the spelling and punctuation of the original document.)
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776.
THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WHEN in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.*
In this declaration the Americans wants that everybody has certain rights, for example the rights of happiness and liberty. But the white Americans must have realized that negroes in their own country don't have those rights these days. In the book Tish tells us that America isn't a good country.
Questions of Survey
1. See the explanation of the title.
2. Perhaps he isn't married, so he didn't exactly know the atmosphere in a family when
daughter is going to have a baby. But in his book the atmosphere is well written.
3. Lawyer Hayward: He isn't a racist, because he wants to help negroes. Policeman Bell: He was a real racist, because he accused Fonny, while he knows he's not guilty.
4. He's certainly against racism and against people like Mrs Hunt.
Information on the writer
BALDWIN, James (1924-87). An American novelist, essayist, and playwright, James Baldwin wrote with eloquence and passion on the subject of race in America. His main message was that blacks deserve to be treated like humans and that the civil rights problem derives from the insecurity of the white man, who needs a "Negro" to whom he can feel superior.
James Arthur Baldwin was born on Aug. 2, 1924, in the Harlem section of New York City, to David and Berdis Jones Baldwin. His father, a Sunday minister, was very strict with his nine children, of whom James was the oldest. Teachers remembered James as a slight, intelligent, sad-looking boy. After graduating from high school in 1942, he worked at various jobs. A literary fellowship in 1948 enabled him to go to Europe, where he lived mostly in France. 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' (1953), an autobiographical novel, helped establish him as a writer.
After his return to the United States in 1957, Baldwin became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. 'Nobody Knows My Name' (1961), a collection of essays, brought him awards. His play 'Blues for Mister Charlie' was produced on Broadway in 1964. Baldwin also wrote the essay collections 'Notes of a Native Son' (1955) and 'The Fire Next Time' (1963); 'Going to Meet the Man' (short stories, 1965); and the novels 'Giovanni's Room' (1956), 'Another Country' (1962), 'Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone' (1968), 'If Beale Street Could Talk' (1974), and 'Just Above My Head' (1979). He died in St-Paul de Vence, France, on Nov. 30, 1987.
Contributions to American Life:
In protesting the abuse of human rights, King's leadership and the black power movement brought high visibility to African Americans. In the Invisible Man's era, left-wing causes had exploited them as anonymous symbols of oppression, but the media made celebrities of 1960s activists for example, Black Panther supporter Angela Davis and SNCC's Julian Bond, at 28 in 1968 put forward for the Democratic vice-presidency. In the forefront of the civil rights marches were author James Baldwin, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, folksingers Harry Belafonte and Odetta, and comedian Dick Gregory.
Many New Yorkers have made notable contributions to the culture of the nation. They include Mortimer Adler, Edward Albee, John James Audubon, James Baldwin, James Fenimore Cooper, Aaron Copland, Agnes de Mille, George and Ira Gershwin, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Eugene O'Neill, Edith Wharton, and Walt Whitman.
The New Yorker was founded by Harold Ross in 1925. It has been both a source of entertainment and a powerful influence on American literature. It is famous for its cartoons, but it has also published stories and serialized books by such authors as Saul Bellow, James Thurber, E.B. White, Edmund Wilson, Rachel Carson, John O'Hara, John Cheever, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, John Hersey, and many others. The New Yorker also covers politics, sports, movies, fashion, art, concerts, and plays.
The second half of the 20th century saw the rise of many black writers, including James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, and a growing literary sophistication was reflected in the popularity of regional and experimental fiction.
Angelou, Maya (Marguerita Johnson Angelos) (born 1928), African American poet, playwright, performer, composer, and author of candid autobiographical works, born in St. Louis, Mo.; encouraged to write by James Baldwin and other professionals who heard her stories of rough rural life with her storekeeper- grandmother in segregated Arkansas.
North of Central Park the landscape of Manhattan changes dramatically. On the east side above 96th Street is East, or Spanish, Harlem. This much blighted area of tenements is predominantly Hispanic (Puerto Rican) and has, through successive immigrant migrations, housed only the poor. To the west is Central Harlem, a once well-to-do neighborhood that features some of New York's most beautiful brownstones, spacious tree-lined avenues, and such tidy middle-class precincts as Sugar Hill, Striver's Row, with its townhouses designed by Stanford White, and the Gold Coast. Harlem's predominantly black population engages in rich community life that belies its stereotypical image as a crime-ridden slum, though poverty is plainly etched in the neighborhood's excess of abandoned and decayed buildings.
Spanish Harlem in New York City has become home for thousands of Puerto Ricans since the late 1940s.*